Jones leads SA to qualify for world cup

2012-10-26 00:00

IT is quite likely that Maritzburg Varsity student Robin Jones might be seen walking around campus with a quiet smile on his dial this week.

Jones led the South Africa U21 hockey team to the Africa Cup of Nations junior title in Randburg six days ago, and with it qualified as the continent’s primary representative at next year’s Junior World Cup finals in New Delhi, India.

In what was a heart-stopping final, unbeaten South Africa edged Egypt 4-2 on penalty shootouts, after the scores were locked 1-1 following golden goal extra-time.

“It was very satisfying, especially winning the shootout,” said Jones. “Knowing we were the favourites, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. So winning the shootout made it even sweeter.

“I always said to the guys that our character would be defined by how we dealt with situations that didn’t go our way, which was especially the case with the umpiring. But we got better as the tournament progressed on,” said Jones, who was one of eight current or recent Maritzburg players in the side.

Jones loves challenges and the SA U21 captaincy was one of them.

“It was a dream come true to make the team and to be appointed captain was the icing on the cake. I enjoyed it and would like to lead more teams if the opportunity arises.”

Jones, who turns 21 next month, won’t be eligible for India, the requirement being a player must be 20 on December 31. “The team will lose eight players, but I think the replacements will be good enough to form a strong side for India.”

One area where Jones was not satisfied with, was the team’s ability to convert their chances in Randburg. “We spoke about it in the de-brief. We trained our build-ups, were well-prepared. But goal scoring is an attitude and we let ourselves down in the attacking third.”

As for SA U21 head coach Darryn Gallagher — the former PMB Varsity coach and Beijing 2008 Olympian — Jones could not praise the Maritzburg College product enough.

“Gally commands huge respect from those he coaches and had the backing of all 18 players. He is not just a coach. His understanding of different personalities, the way he gets along with players, respects them, gives them the freedom to make their own decisions on and off the field, which is probably why he has such a high success rate.”

At centre back, Jones is a key player in the unbeaten PMB Varsity first side. “We went unbeaten this season, won the KZN Inland league and cup double.”

Varsity were also edged out of first place by Durban North club Riverside in the KZN Super League.

“Coming to Maritzburg Varsity was the right choice for me,” said the East London-raised Jones. “I came to Maritzburg because Gally was the coach and there was the opportunity to be exposed to top interprovincial hockey at an early age.”

Never one to stay in a comfort zone, Jones knows that the challenge of playing in one of the top European club leagues could be key to taking his hockey to the next level — the South African senior team — but right now the student is happy with the KZN capital and what it is giving him.

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