SA Hockey have done it once again, South Africa are the champions of Africa and have successfully qualified for the 2014 World Cup to be staged in Holland. They may not have been recognized as the Federation of the Year, but hockey has been doing a lot for the development of the game and it is visible in the increased support and demand for coverage that they are succeeding.
The Lads and the SA Womens Hockey side embarked on a trip to Kenya, a trip delayed by more than 2 months due to safety concerns in the country. They were met on arrival with a turf that had seen water than was necessary for international quality practice, they were also met with a waterlogged turf on an occasion. This is part and parcel of the game of hockey in Africa, a sport that is merely a blip in the ocean in Africa compared to football.
The SA Womens Hockey Team
The SA Womens Team faced much difficulty before they even left. Marsha Cox, Pietie Coetzee, Dirkie Chamberlain, Sanani Mangisa, Mariette Rix (retired), Kate Woods(retired), Jen Wilson, Leslie-Ann George, Nicolene Terblanche, Lenise Marais, Kathleen Taylor and Tarryn Bright all represented South Africa at the 2012 Olympics but were left out for various reasons. It meant that a young side went to Kenya with many players still establishing themselves. The team was led by the brilliant Marcelle Keet who also went to her 100th game for South Africa.
Their tournament got off to a solid start with a 3-1 victory against the hosts, but they were then given a mighty scare when inability in front of goal meant they were held to a 1-1 draw against Ghana. The team worked on the lack of ruthlessness in front of goal (missing superstar Pietie Coetzee and Dirkie Chamberlain would hurt most sides) and produced a performance of the highest quality to annihilate Tanzania 25-0. Tanzania are still growing in hockey and will continue to develop, but they were there for the taking and SA, largely through Lilian du Plessis (8) and Sullette Damons (4), didn’t hesitate to win. A place in the final was confirmed where they would get revenge against Ghana.
But at half-time Fabian Gregory’s team were stunned as they trailed the West Africans 2-0. But Celia Evans first and Bernie Costin, after great work by Jade Mayne, second brought SA level. With the kind of grit that is so often associate with South African sport, the ladies dug in deep and Tanya Britz arrived in the 68th minute to prod home the winner and send our women’s team to Holland as African champions again.
The Lads went with a relatively strong side as all they could call on the likes of Austin Smith, Wade Paton, Lloyd Norris-Jones and Clinton Panther. The delay in the tournament had meant that arch nemesis Egypt were able to compete in the tournament.
Although they had to practice on an uneven turf as well as in sweltering heat, the Lads were, from day 1, the strongest team in the tournament. In the long term absence of Justin Reid-Ross, the Lads have truly seen the quality that skipper Austin Smith adds to the penalty corners and he shone once again in the tournament.
South Africa’s run to the title was a little more straight forward than that of the ladies and they dominated there way through the group with a 6-2 victory against Ghana, a 6-1 victory against Egypt and a 5-1 victory against the hosts Kenya.
The final was marred with some horrible officiating and Egypt employed strong-arm tactics that would make Stoke City football club proud. The officials allowed it and turned the game into an exceptionally physical affair. Julian Hykes put SA up early on and they defended with class and heart to hold out until late on before Clinton Panther sealed the game, the title and the place at the World Cup.
SA hockey is growing stronger and the teams will look to have great World Cups. That will only be possible with their sponsors and just as important, our support. Get behind SA Hockey as they consistently make SA proud on the World Stage.