SA hockey mix: tried, tested and new

2012-09-28 00:00

A NEW combination of the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team, featuring the tried and tested, including captain Marsha Marescia in her 300th Test match, and a crop of promising newcomers, embark on a new phase as they go into tomorrow’s opening Champions Challenge match against host country Ireland at the National Hockey Stadium in Dublin.

The 4 pm (SA time) start will see the South Africans facing an Irish side that is also rebuilding as countries look ahead to the 2014 Hockey World Cup in The Hague.

“Given the calibre of teams involved in this tournament, it is a really exciting challenge for this emerging squad,” said Ireland’s interim coach, Denis Pritchard.

“The players have been excellent in their application and focus; led well by the more experienced players, the younger ones have made a serious impact, and we will enter the competition with a good team spirit and fearing no one.”

SA assistant coach Fabian Gregory said the team would be challenged by the Irish as well as the United States on Sunday (7 pm SA time) before their last Pool B encounter against Scotland on Tuesday (5 pm SA time).

The teams then go into the quarter-finals next Thursday before the semi-finals and cross-pool playoff matches next Saturday, followed by next Sunday’s finals.

“We are trying to change our playing style, more direction, more explosive, emphasis on elimination skills,” said Gregory.

“A large proportion of the tactics in modern hockey have evolved, the game is built on speed and we want to bring pressure.”

“Teams will be looking to develop their playing structures over the next two years, expose new players, like us, and Champs Challenge will give an early direction.

“If you look at the Olympics, we got a rude awakening.

“A few girls were in awe of the Games and we were quite disappointing against Argentina and the first half with New Zealand.

“But the second half we played exceptionally well against the Kiwis and our performance increased as the tournament wore on,” said the man who has been the SA assistant coach since late 2006.

“We played fantastic hockey against Australia in London, while the win against the USA was some of the best hockey I have seen from the SA women’s team.”

Gregory said in the ninth/10th playoff SA were deservedly 1-0 up at half-time against Japan, but a combination of bad fortune and missed chances saw the team end 10th; nevertheless SA went from 12th to 10th in the world rankings, the best since 2003.

“If you look at the progress in just 22 months after there was no programme in place for a significant time, it has been exceptional and the World Cup and Commonwealth Games in 2014 we will be best-placed to see the progress over international hockey’s traditional four-year cycle of team and management staff.”

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