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Austin Smith © Stanislas Brochier

SA hockey men open Champs Challenge campaign



There will be much interest for SA hockey fans in the South Africa men’s team’s matches against Japan and Argentina on Saturday and Sunday respectively, in the opening weekend of the Champions Challenge tournament in Quilmes, a town 17 km outside Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina.

The matches will not be broadcast on South African television.

Head coach Gregg Clark’s world number 12 SA side have four new caps in exciting young strikers Grant Glutz and Ignatius Malgraff, plus a pair of no-nonsense, youthful defenders in Robin Jones and Matthew Guise-Brown, while the dynamic double Olympian and former World All Stars midfielder Austin Smith will captain the team once again.

With an eye on the 2014 World Cup and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Clark is looking at new players and combinations to take the team forward at this the start of a new Olympic cycle.

Smith’s experience will be a big factor for SA, who are missing a host of standout players in double Olympian wing back Andrew Cronje; the team’s biggest attacking weapon, Justin Reid-Ross - arguably the world’s best drag-flick penalty corner exponent; outstanding London 2012 goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse, double Olympian forwards Marvin Harper and Thornton McDade, world-rated midfielder Wade Paton, as well as other London 2012 Olympians, all of whom aren’t in Argentina for various reasons, including work commitments.

Saturday’s 8pm (SA time) match against Japan is a replay of the heart-stopping Olympic Qualifier Tournament final almost seven months ago, which SA won 2-1. World number 16 Japan, thirsting for revenge after that heartbreaker, will be lightning-quick on the counter-attack. Kazuyuki Ozawa (154 caps), Koji Kayukawa (135), Kazuhiro Tsubouchi (135) and captain Kei Kawakami (127) have all played over 100 test matches while SA only have one centurion in Smith.

Sunday’s 10:30 pm (SA time) match against world number 10 Argentina is a replay of the London 2012 clash that saw SA 2-0 up inside 10 minutes before losing 6-3. Clearly targeting this tournament as a must-win in front of their adoring fans, Argentina have 12 players back from London 2012 compared to South Africa’s eight. Brothers Matias, Rodrigo and Lucas Vila will be a handful on attack.

SA fans will also be following the fortunes of Malaysia under their new coach, Paul Revington, who was the South African men’s team’s mentor at the Athens 2004 Olympics and 2006 World Cup. Revington moved recently from the top job with Ireland, who he built into a serious threat on the world stage during his three-and-a-half-year tenure.

Meanwhile in other news involving South African coaches, Gene Muller, who resigned recently as head coach of the Ireland women’s team, has just been appointed general manager of Hockey Canada, where he will spearhead the north American country’s high performance strategy and manage the national team programmes.

SA TEAM

Austin Smith (capt), Lloyd Norris-Jones, Jacques le Roux (all Western Province); Michael Smith, Ricky West, Clinton Panther, Owen Mvimbi, Miguel da Graca (all Southern Gauteng); Rhett Halkett, Matthew Guise-Brown, Jonty Robinson, Nicholas Gonsalves, Grant Glutz (all Northern Blues); Lloyd Madsen, Tim Drummond, Taine Paton (all KZN Coastal Raiders); Robin Jones (KZN Inland); Ignatius Malgraff (North West). Head coach: Gregg Clark. Manager: Darryn Gallagher



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