SA hockey men to tackle Ireland
“Ireland’s results don't reflect their quality and Tuesday’s match against them will have a big bearing on who we play in Thursday’s quarterfinals, which is looking like [Pool A leaders] Korea or Malaysia.”
These were the words of South Africa men’s hockey team head coach Gregg Clark as he looked ahead to Tuesday’s 6:30pm (SA time) Champions Challenge match against Ireland in Quilmes, Argentina.
SA, the most inexperienced team in Quilmes by some distance, drew 4-4 with Japan after leading 4-1 and were edged 2-1 by Argentina in their opening Pool B matches last Saturday and Sunday respectively.
SA have an average of 32 tests per player to Ireland’s 83, while the average age is 24 (SA) compared to 25.
“We were a bit slow out the blocks [against Argentina] but got ourselves into the game well after they had put us under early pressure,” said Clark. “We battled for quality circle entries in the first half but improved this in the second, although neither keeper was especially busy from open play.”
Clark said his side’s defensive organisation and intensity were better against Argentina, “but we're still not slick enough technically or offensively, although I'm sure we will improve as the tournament goes on”.
SA assistant coach Darryn Gallagher said the Argentinians played with hunger while the lads in green and gold looked flat in the early stages. “The team showed real character in only conceding one goal by halftime, though, after large periods of Argentinian dominance.”
The Beijing 2008 Olympian said SA played with better control after the changeover and created good scoring chances. He praised the performances of captain Austin Smith and Rhett Halkett.
“It was also good to see Matthew Guise-Brown get his first international goal [from a penalty corner] while he also had one shot saved on the goalline,” said Gallagher.
“We need to see improved decision making in the final third of the pitch; poor decision making results in too many soft turnovers and missed opportunities.”
Gallagher pinpointed Ireland’s organised, physical style of play. “They have put in some good performances but their finishing has let them down. They will probably look to break us down as much as possible, try to frustrate and stop us from playing a flowing brand of hockey.”
Whatever Tuesday’s result, Irish player Geoffrey McCabe pointed out the safety net available to both teams. “The tournament’s format suggests that you don’t have to win your first three games. The fourth game [quarterfinal] is the most important, so we have [had] time to improve our skills.”
Ireland’s fortunes mirror those of SA at London 2012. The men from the emerald isle’s 4-3 defeat to Argentina could quite easily have gone the other way, while 28 entries into the strike zone, 16 fruitless shots on goal and eight unconverted penalty corners in the 3-0 loss to Japan - who were lethal on the counter-attack - paints the perfect picture of the Irish lads’ woes.
New head coach Andrew Meredith, who was a forwards consultant to the Investec SA women’s hockey team at a national camp in Bloemfontein two years ago, cited below-par technical skills and unforced errors among his concerns in the defeats.
Referring to the Japan match, the Australian said, “We don’t see the games through. We have to be more clinical. If we don’t finish the opportunities we create we don’t win games."
History tells us that South Africa/Ireland test matches have always been highly competitive, close-fought affairs and this one should be no different.
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, Nic Gonsalves, Grant Glutz (all Northern Blues); Lloyd Madsen, Tim Drummond, Taine Paton (all KZN Coastal Raiders); Robin Jones (KZN Inland); Ignatius Malgraff (North West). Coach: Gregg Clark. Manager: Darryn Gallagher.