A year of success and disappointment for SA hockey

2013-12-21 00:00

IT has been a year of success and disappointment for the South Africa women’s hockey team and the SA men’s side.

At international level it is well to remember that for various reasons, senior players do not play in all the matches — rest being one which has an influence on results — while certain tournaments are part of building processes towards greater goals. The aim to build a bigger pool of players is an example.

In January, the SA women lost a Test series 4-0 to Belgium before winning the World League Round 2 event (WLR2). In February, the world number 11 SA women were beaten 4-2 by world number one The Netherlands in the final of the Investec Challenge. All took place in Cape Town.

In February, talismanic SA men’s captain Austin Smith’s Ranchi Rhinos won the inaugural Hockey India League.

In March, the world number 12 SA men under new head coach Charlie Pereira came second at WLR2 in Brazil while Marsha Cox (née Marescia), the iconic SA women’s captain, was honoured by Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula for reaching the 300-Test milestone during WLR2.

In April, Mugg & Bean joined the SA men as a co-sponsor, and in May, the SA men beat Malaysia 3-0 in a four-Test series at home.

In June, the SA women beat Scotland 2-1 in a four-Test series in Edinburgh before ending a disappointing seventh at the Investec World League Semi-Final event in London, this after losing 3-1 to world number two Argentina in the quarter-finals. SA head coach Giles Bonnet remarked that two gilt-edged chances let the team down in the quarters.

In July, the SA men ended a disappointing eighth at their WL Semi-Final event in Johor, Malaysia. Despite losing key players Smith and Jonty Robinson to Dengue Fever, meltdown at key moments cost SA dearly. Against Japan in the quarter-finals, SA — after leading 2-1 until 90 seconds from the end — conceded a gratuitous own goal. The Japanese won a remarkable penalty shoot-out 1-0.

SA then imploded to lose to world number five Pakistan, conceding three goals in five minutes to end eighth. An exasperated Pereira said that unless a main sponsor was found to enable SA to play 50 Tests a year and regularly train as a group, the players would find it very difficult to learn how to handle high pressure at major events.

In November, the SA women qualified for the 2014 World Cup by beating Ghana 3-2 in the Africa Cup final in Nairobi after trailing for much of the game, this despite having a massive 22 goalshots, while the SA men qualified by beating Egypt 2-0.

In December, the SA men, coming off an intense week-long camp, were whitewashed 5-0 by a polished Argentina in a Test series in KwaZulu-Natal.

The SA women have 11 Tests from mid-January in Cape Town against world number one The Netherlands, Australia and Belgium, and a lengthy series against Scotland in Johannesburg in early February. The SA men’s plans have not yet been revealed. World Cup 2014, from May 31 to June 15 in The Hague, Netherlands, is the focus for both teams.

The quality of player rising through the ranks is promising — the SA U21 women finished an impressive eighth at the 16-country Junior World Cup in Germany, while the goal-shy SA U21 men should have ended much higher than 12th of 16 nations at their JWC in India.

At schools there is also much talent — but world-level hockey, from junior to senior, is improving at a remarkable rate. Countries ranked below the African champions are making massive strides.

Much work needs to be done on multiple fronts if SA are to improve, or at least maintain, their rankings at world level.

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