The South African men’s hockey team will need to find their rhythm as soon as possible, according to captain Austin Smith, as they kick off their European tour with a match against Ireland in the Celtic Cup on Thursday night.
Sapa’s PJ van Rooyen reports that the SA team last played at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Japan in May, which they won to secure the last remaining spot at this year’s London Games.
“The fact that we haven’t played together in 50 days is going to be difficult and the guys are going to have to really apply themselves,” Smith said at the team’s training camp in Dublin, Ireland, ahead of their first match in Lisburn, Northern Ireland.
They will meet a determined Irish side, who lost out on a spot at the London Olympics when they were narrowly beaten by South Korea in the final of their qualifying tournament.
Smith said the team would need to adjust quickly in order to recapture the form that saw them through to victory in Japan. “Ireland are a quality team. They narrowly lost to Korea in their qualifier so it’s a team that’s been coming up the rankings,” he said.
“They are really ambitious and quite similar to South Africa and we have lots of traits that are quite alike. They all work hard and they will be technically sound, so it’s not going to be an easy game at all.”
Smith believed it would be vital to find the balance between winning their matches in Europe and working on aspects of their own game that needed attention ahead of the Olympics next month.
“We are looking to win but we also need to concentrate on our own game and get our own things right — things that we have been working towards ahead of London,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter who we are playing, we are going to be working on our own things, but obviously we will pay due attention to who we play and account for what they are doing.
“A lot of it will be a matter of trying to get right what we haven’t done so well in the past.”
Following the opening game against Ireland, SA take on Wales on Saturday and Scotland on Sunday. Smith felt, based on world rankings, his team were favourites to win the Celtic Cup, but they would need to play well in order to beat the Irish on home soil as they aimed to go unbeaten throughout their tour of Ireland and Spain.
“I’d like to come here and remain unbeaten but if things don’t go well in the first game,” the skipper said.
“We understand that’s what happens when you haven’t been together for a long time.
“I know they [Ireland] have been working hard over the summer, playing a lot of hockey, so it will be a tough one.”