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Big test for Marsha’s girls

The first salvo in the bumper SA International Series of 18 Test matches in days will be unleashed at Wanderers Club in Johannesburg Wednesday night when the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team take on world number 14s Azerbaijan.

Come the 7pm first whistle, SA head coach Giles Bonnet’s girls will be intent on rediscovering the form that took the world’s
12th-ranked side to a shock 4-0 victory over world champs Argentina at the University of Free State hockey centre just over a month ago.

That series was lost 4-1 but the Amsterdam-based Bonnet’s attention to detail in every aspect of Investec South Africa’s build-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games is beginning to bear fruit.

“The fifth Test win against Argentina was comprehensive,” Bonnet said during training on Tuesday. “They won the World Cup four months ago and that was more or less their team who will play in next year’s Olympic Games.

“We mustn’t get ahead of ourselves but we should have drawn the third Test and the first two [both 2-1 defeats) were competitive. Argentina are the benchmark and we want to grow the team further in the Tests against Azerbaijan, China and Belgium.”

Indeed, if captain Marsha Marescia’s line-up can move the ball fluently in midfield, close down Azerbaijan’s dangerous forwards in defence and not give possession away, Investec South Africa’s celebrated goalscorer Pietie Coetzee and her fellow frontrunners will be in business.

Bonnet has a big squad of 26 as he fine-tunes his 16 for London and won’t field his first-choice line-up in every game during this home series, so the former SA men’s captain and coach’s tactical and positional mix could pose problems at times, but his inclusive policy is ensuring that Investec South Africa’s player base is growing and there has already been marked growth in the skills of teenagers Hettie Oosthuizen and Izelle Lategan to name two.

Of course, Azerbaijan are also more than capable of victory and Bonnet is very aware of their strengths. “Azerbaijan have aspirations of playing at London 2012 and have invested heavily in their programme over the past few years,” Bonnet said. “They will test our defensive structures, as they play on the counter, and will bring high efficiencies to their attacks, so it’s going to be a real challenge.”

Wed Jan 19, Thurs Jan 20 — both vs Azerbaijan (both Wanderers Club 7 pm).
Sat Jan 22 vs Azerbaijan (Wanderers 5 pm)
Sun Jan 23 vs Azerbaijan (5 pm), Mon Jan 24 vs Azerbaijan (7 pm) both at Randburg).
Tues Jan 25, Wed Jan 26, Thurs Jan 27, Fri Jan 28 all vs China (all 7 pm at Wanderers).
Sat Jan 29 and Sun 30 both vs China (both Randburg 5 pm).

* China and SA will then travel to Bloemfontein for the remaining eight
Tests from February 1-9 that includes Belgium.

Marsha Marescia (capt), Pietie Coetzee, Lisa Deetlefs, Roxy Turner (all Kaspersky Southern Gauteng), Marcelle Keet, Dani Forword (both Border), Mariette Rix, Kathleen Taylor, Shelley Russell, Jade Mayne, Tarryn Bright, Illse Davids, Hanli Hattingh, Pippa Rabey, Nicole de Vries (all Western Province), Lesle-Ann George, Hettie Oosthuizen, Izelle Lategan (all Free State), Kara Stella (KZN Inland), Dirkie Chamberlain, Nicolene Terblanche, Kim Hubach, Sanani Mangisa (all Northerns Blues), Kelly Madsen (KZN Coastal Raiders), Sulette Damons, Celia Evans (both North West). Head coach: Giles Bonnet.