Hockey: SA men must find rhythm ahead of final Games qualifiers

2012-04-23 00:00

THE first contingent of the South Africa men’s hockey team, who have arrived in Kakamigahara, Japan for the final 2012 London Olympic Games final qualifier tournament, took an immediate liking to the playing surface after two light practices at the weekend.

South Africa head coach Gregg Clark said the smooth surface allowed them to be accurate and efficient with their technical skills, and the pace of the pitch suited their ball movement. SA must win the tournament that takes place from April 26 to May 6, in order to clinch the last berth available for the summer showpiece.

England-based Ian Haley joined the 10 South African-based players on Friday. Clark is awaiting seven more European-based players today to tally his full team — hoping that they got through yesterday’s Euro club matches unscathed.

SA captain Austin Smith and Rhett Halkett played for Dutch club Den Bosch in Holland, and Justin Reid-Ross and Lloyd Madsen for Amsterdam’s Pinoke.

Clinton Panther and Taine Paton (both Gantoise), and Jonty Robinson (Braxgata) turned out for their Belgian clubs in important league matches.

“We are looking to settle into a rhythm before facing the three higher-ranked teams,” said Clark, turning his attention to South Africa’s two games this week.

World No. 12 South Africa tackle No. 42 Brazil on Thursday, before meeting No. 23 the Czech Republic on Saturday.

Clark said that while they must obviously not drop points against Brazil and Czech Republic, games three and four would secure their place in the May 6 final.

South Africa captain Austin Smith’s men face world No. 17 China on April 30 before tackling No. 15 Japan on May 2. The last match in the league round is against No. 21 Austria on May 4. The top two teams qualify for the gold medal match.

The winners will slot in alongside world No. 1 Australia, No. 4 Great Britain, No. 6 Spain, world No. 8 Pakistan and No. 10 Argentina in Group A at London 2012, while Group B features Germany, Holland, Korea, New Zealand, India and Belgium. The Olympic groups are determined by the world rankings.

SA SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Rassie Pieterse (Southern Gauteng), Michael Smith (Witwatersrand).

Defenders: Andrew Cronje (Western Province), Justin Reid-Ross (Northern Blues), Lance Louw (SG), Lloyd Madsen (KZN Coastal Raiders), Rhett Halkett (NB).

Midfielders: Jonty Robinson (NB), Clinton Panther (SG), Austin Smith (capt, WP), Tim Drummond (KCR), Wade Paton (KCR), Taine Paton (KCR).

Strikers: Ian Haley (WP), Marvin Harper (KCR), Lloyd Norris-Jones (WP), Julian Hykes (Amathole-Border), Thornton McDade (SG).

MATCHES

April 26: vs Brazil (11.30 am SA time);

April 28: vs Czech Republic (3 am SA time);

April 30: vs China (11.30 am SA time);

May 2: vs Japan (9 am SA time);

May 4: vs Austria (11.30 am SA time);

May 6: Classification matches (5/6 places); (3/4 places); final (8 am SA time).

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