South Africa recently completed a fine series victory over Malaysia without losing a game. In the 3-0 series victory there were some quality performances and some great crowd appreciation. Here I present my list of things we learnt from the International test series.
Clinton Panther is the next big thing
The young South African midfielder dominated in the opening game and turned in a display of the finest quality. There is a lot of excitement that surrounds Clinton and we are excited to watch how he has developed in his 49 caps so far. The most exciting thing about watching Panther play is the ability he has to find space in the most condensed areas of play. At the one test I heard a member of the public state that he is willing to put money on Clinton making the FIH Team of the year in the future. I would not be surprised if he is right.
Rassie Pieterse has immense quality
Although Rassie only played 2 games in the series, he also only conceded two goals. At the Randburg game there were a few fantastic saves early on, however there was a pivotal moment in the game later on. SA led 2-1 and after keeping out a Penalty Corner, Malaysia broke and had two incredible chances to score, Pieterse would have none of it, saving twice brilliantly. It was from the second save that SA broke and Julian Hykes cemented the victory. Rassie will be hugely important as South Africa take on the likes of Argentina, England and Germany in the World League Semi-Finals.
Austin Smith is world class
South African hockey is currently without the services of one of the most dangerous weapons in World hockey, Justin Reid-Ross. But in his absence our captain Austin Smith has taken on an extra level of responsibility and has taken it on like a duck to water. Austin was always a star midfielder and the driving force as South Africa moved defence to attack, but in the absence of Lloyd Madsen and JRR, he has moved into defence and anchored the team. His hat-trick in the second game was a site of pure beauty and he added another strike to level the third test at 3-3. On top of his on-field ability, Smith was incredible with his patience as he signed autographs and posed for photos with each fan who wanted a moment with the inspirational skipper. He was rewarded with the player of the series, deservingly so.
We just keep producing exciting prospects
Another series and another opportunity for Charlie Pereira to include some new faces in his squad. In Argentina we saw the likes of Matthew Guise-Brown get a first cap and in this series we saw Taylor Dart, Brandon Panther and the very impressive Matt Botha earn their first caps for the Lads. As SA continue their march towards the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, the continued inclusion of the members of the all conquering African Under 21 Qualifying side will be of paramount importance.
South Africa’s love for hockey is growing
South Africans are getting behind hockey as a sport at a level that is constantly exceeding expectations. In the recent few weeks SA players have been featured on Ballz Radio, Supersport Blitz, SA fm, SABC and even starring on the back page of the Mercury and the Star newspapers. For the real defining sign that South Africans are getting more behind hockey, you need look no further than Randburg Astro on Tuesday night. The crowd for the final test match was arguably the biggest crowd in SA Hockey history as space was at a minimum as SA wrapped up the series with a 3-1 win.
Mugg & Bean are one of the most exciting sponsors ever
The sponsorship by Mugg and Bean of SA Hockey surely has set about changing the approach to sponsorship in SA Sport. The brand has not only put money in, they have increased their visibility and offered spectators a fantastic variation of the standard beer or coke environment at sporting events. Their presence on twitter and their embracing of fans has also been fantastic and I think this relationship will lead to great things in the future of SA Hockey
We miss our absentees
It is extremely challenging to coach the SA Hockey side as the lack of a professional structure in SA means that our pool of talent to draw from is not often exposed to the highest level of coaching and competition. Yes many of our players have moved overseas to play hockey on a professional basis, but many others keep their day jobs too. But what makes the job harder for Charlie and his coaching team, is the unavailability of certain stars. Justin Reid-Ross is on a year long sabbatical from SA hockey, Lloyd Madsen has been unavailable due to work commitments and Lloyd Norris-Jones was unavailable due to exams. LNJ was specifically noticed as missing in the Malaysia series as although SA scored 12 goals, only four of those came from the strikers. Lloyd who was outstanding in the Hockey India League and our top goalscorer in the World League Round 2 will be back for the Semi Finals, but was definitely missed in the Malaysia series.
Get behind the Lads and support them on their quest to succeed in the World League Semi Finals. Follow them on twitter and let them know you are behind them!
Click here to view photos taken at the 3rd test and here for photos from the fourth test. Also check out All Things Jabu tomorrow as we will be running a competition with Mr Price Sport and SA Hockey!