Tonight in the FIH World League Semi-Final being expertly hosted by SA Hockey at the Wits Hockey Club, one of South Africa’s longest serving players Austin Smith, the former captain, reached the 150 cap milestone. When you consider what a wonderful servant Austin has been to the country of South Africa, you just have to stand back, doff your cap and say thank you #Austin150.
Austin’s International career started way back in 2004, when the then 18 year old, was selected by then coach Paul Revington, for his debut cap against Canada. This was on the back of a fine school career at Pinelands High School. In 2005 Smith then moved to Reading Hockey Club where he stayed for four years. In this time Austin was twice a Premier League winner and this was capped off with a sensational 2008 seeing Smith called up to the Olympic Squad in Beijing. 2008 would also see Austin named both the SA Player of the Year and the Reading Player of the Year.
2009 brought the next challenge to the hockey career of Smith as he left the UK and joined Den Bosch, a Dutch Hoofdklasse team. The Hoofdklasse is widely regarded as the best league in field hockey and Austin quickly rose to the challenge and was named as part of the FIH World All Star team in 2009, the only male South African player to make one of these teams in the six years of the awards.
2010 saw Austin take on the leadership mantle where he captained the South African Hockey Men to 10th FIH Hockey World Cup and 5th at the Commonwealth Games. The ultimate career high though would come in 2012 when Austin went to his second Olympic Games in London and became the fourth South African Olympic captain. South Africa very nearly beat Great Britain with a 2-2 draw in which Smith scored our first, while narrow losses against Spain and Pakistan meant SA ultimately finished 11th. Austin would also win SA Player of the Year for a third occasion.
2013 saw Austin become one of only three South Africans to play in the Hockey India League for the Ranchi Rhinos. Austin was a major part of Gregg Clark’s team that would win the inaugural tournament. Austin popped up with the equaliser in the final that they went on to win 2-1. When the Rhinos were dissolved in 2014, Austin had already emerged as a pivotal player picking up 13 caps for the Ranchi based side. His HIL adventure would take him to the new Ranchi Rays before joining the Delhi Waveriders where he played again this year.
The last few years have seen Austin out of the SA fold due to injury and club commitments, but in that time he regularly traded the outdoor game for the indoor game, appearing at PSi Nationals to the delight of the kids.
As Austin celebrated his 150th cap in true Austin Smith fashion, by netting two goals and an assist in a great show of heart by the SA Men, we can only look back at the last 13 years and 150 caps with gratitude. Austin thank you for leading South Africa with heart, thank you for avoiding politics as much as possible and travelling, often at your own expense, to fight for our country. Thank you for being an outstanding ambassador for PRINCESS, Asics and importantly SA Hockey. Thank you for opening hockey doors when I was starting this out and putting me in contact with players and suppliers while I try and tell the South African Hockey story. It has been an honour to watch you play and more of honour speaking to a passionate South African about Hockey! #Austin150 and they have been 150 class caps!