2015 is a year of building for the SA Hockey Men as they look towards the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. The team have a fair amount of ongoing difficulties with the lack of sponsorship and will rely heavily on youthful guys breaking into the squad. So much so that the first squad for 2015 includes an incredible 16 uncapped players for a test series against Austria at Queensmead in Durban.
While SA are ranked far superior to Austria in the FIH World Hockey rankings (12 plays 23), the matches have the making of a classic slug-affair. Of the 8 players selected that have represented the country, only a hand full are truly established Internationals. It allows the youngsters to stake a claim as South Africa cast an eye towards their 2015 Itinerary in another year that will be dominated by major tournaments in football, rugby and cricket.
From January 19 to 28 in Cape Town, a newly selected SA men’s squad will tackle world number two Holland in a one-off Test match before meeting world number 15 Ireland and their canny coach Craig Fulton, the former SA Olympian, in two Tests in the Mother City.
2015 will also see South Africa host the World League Round 2 in Cape Town from the 7 to the 15 March with a view to qualifying for the World League Semi-finals. There are massive ranking points involved in the World League Competitions. Of course 2015 will also see the 10th Africa Cup of Nations to be held in Egypt from October 7 to 15. Victory in this is a must if South Africa want to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games, although we never know what change SASCOC will make in the criteria.
Looking back towards the Austria series, South Africa will be unable to call upon Austin Smith (Rays), Tim Drummond (Waveriders), Lloyd Norris-Jones (Waveriders), Rassie Pieterse (Waveriders), Justin Reid-Ross (Rays) all miss out due to involvement in the Hockey India Leauge. While the Paton brothers, fan favourites, miss out for off field commitments. They will also be without regulars Rhett Halkett, Clinton Panther, Lance Louw, Miguel de Graca and Julian Hykes.
Given all the permutations, this series promised to be unique in a number of ways – and the plethora of Durban lads donning the green and gold for the first time and crossing swords with quality opposition that has ambitious plans will be a tonic of local fans who have been starved of international hockey in comparison to the other two SA hockey powerhouses, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
SA TEAM vs AUSTRIA
Goalkeepers: Richard Curtis, Gowan Jones (both KZN Coastal Raiders), Chad Durrheim (Eastern Province), Jason Briggs (Southern Gauteng).
Defenders: Mohammed Mea (KZN Coastal Raiders), Daniel Bell (Western Province), Leneal Jackson, Robin Jones (both KZN Inland), Matt Guise-Brown (Northern Blues), Gareth Heyns, Jethro Eustice (both Southern Gauteng).
Midfielders: Ross Hetem, Dan Sibbald (both KZN Coastal Raiders), Marc Fourie (WP), Taylor Dart (Southern Gauteng), Chad Cairncross (EP), Jonty Robinson (Northern Blues).
Strikers: Andrew Manson, Mondli Dlamini (both KZN Coastal Raiders), Richard Pautz (Northern Blues), Keenan Horne, Shannon Boucher (both WP), Brandon Panther (Southern Gauteng), Dalan Phillips EP).
(At Queensmead): Mon, 5 Jan (6pm); Tues, 6 Jan (6pm); Thurs, 8 Jan (6pm); Fri, 9 Jan (2pm).