In the last week of November Kapersky Randburg Astro played host to the Champions Challenge 1 tournament. This has been running for 11 years now but it added some extra spice to the event that if South Africa qualified for the final, they would then qualify for the Olympics.
Having attended 3 of the games and watching two of the games on tv, over the course of the tournament there were highlights and lowlights that were identified. And saying that we now want to look at the “Winners” of the Champions Challenge.
DSTV – South African hockey has lacked a lot of support in South Africa for the past who knows how long. But DSTV and more specifically Supersport jumped on board to show five live games as well as hosts of highlight packages. I was in Secunda when South Africa played the quarter final against Japan but managed to watch the game live on TV. So to Supersport and DSTV we salute you and say thank you.
Austin Smith – We interviewed the captain before the tournament in our quest to add support to them men in green and gold. The men performed at the highest level and much of what was good about them was the brilliant skill of Austin Smith in central midfield. The captain was instrumental in the victory against Japan as well as the fantastic display against India. There is a reason he is the heart of this team and he will hopefully continue to be for a long time.
Justin Reid-Ross – He may well be the hero of many school kids but after this tournament he will now be the hero for many others too. He finished the tournament as the joint top scorer and was all round consistently going along proving his World Class status. He does not get stressed by the pressure and is a man the team can rely on. He also add great value in defence and was quite often the catalyst to attacking moves with sweeping balls down the line. Another player that is benefitting from playing world class hockey overseas.
Rassie Pieterse – He only played the third placed game for South Africa, but the Southern Gauteng stalwart was immense. He was for me the player of the game and kept a determined Argentina at bay for much of the game. He definately left coach Greg Clark with something to think about.
Lloyd Madsen – Not only was he the rock around which our defensive performances were built, he also managed to get his 50th cap for South Africa. In an sport where rolling substitutions are used, it says a lot about Lloyd that he spent close on 50 out of 70 minutes on the field for every game.
Rhett Halkett – The defensive kingpin had an immense tournament and would probably be my outside pick for South African player of the tournament. He made some huge clearances and also pulled off the World class clearance over his head against Belgium, a moment that made my girlfriend declare him the best defender in the World.
South African Hockey – Before the Champions Challenge a lot of the South African players were not household names, but after the tournament a lot of the men will now be household names. Players like Thorton McDade, 20 year old Clinton Panther, Lloyd Norris-Jones, Miguel Da Graca and Wade Paton have endeared themselves to the fans and helped take SA Hockey to the next level of South African sport. They have a challenging qualifier coming up soon and if you are interested there is a great read on this on Kate Nokwe’s site over here.
At the start of the tournament SASCOC and SAHA agreed and said to the men they need to make the final to show that they are competitive. They didnt make the final, but they showed the world that they are competitive and should receive credit for this. I am not asking SASCOC or SAHA to change the qualifying criteria now, but maybe they should have considered up front our historic performances at the Champions Challenge and see that third place should have surely been enough. That being said the boys now need our backing as they search for one last time to qualify for London 2012!
In hockey! Jabu