South Africa’s men’s and women’s hockey sides both face British opposition in their opening Commonwealth Games encounters on Thursday, writes MARK ETHERIDGE on the Gold Coast.
The women take on England and the men are up against Scotland at the Gold Coast Hockey Centre.
‘England are an interesting side,’ mused SA women’s coach Sheldon Rostron, who was also part of the coaching staff at the last Commonwealth Games. ‘They’ve had some serious injuries but the thing is that they have good depth, so the side will be a bit younger but still very competitive.
‘This one will definitely be one of our tough games as they’ve also been to a lot more events than we have, such as European Champs and World League.’
The SA women’s side had a training camp in January and then more recently another camp in Johannesburg.
’For our part, we have got a few niggles of our own but nothing that will keep anyone in doubt for the matches so far.
‘We’ve had around 20 training games in the last three months, many of them against men’s or boys’ sides.’
After England, the SA women will take on Malaysia on Saturday and after that Rostron reckons the African side should be a bit stronger.
‘Then we take on Wales where we’ll be looking to pick up more points and then our final Pool A game is against India, who may have gone through a bit of a slump but are rapidly improving.’
The men’s side is coached by Mark Hopkins, formerly of England but now living in Durban.
‘We don’t have any injuries right now and have got three warm-up games under our belts,’ he told Team SA.
‘We lost 2-0 to Wales, then beat Canada 3-2 and went down to India 4-1.’
But the scores don’t always tell the full story. ‘We really made India struggle at times and they were getting stressed. At this level, it’s how you cope with the big moments that count, especially when you haven’t had many big games.
‘Our last Test match was back in October at African Championships in Egypt.’
But Hopkins is excited with the talent at his disposal. ‘It’s a very young side – almost an U23 side – with at least four players having moved up through the ranks after the 2014 Youth Olympics in China.
‘We’ve got a core of experienced players in the side in the shape of Austin Smith, captain Tim Drummond, Clinton Panther and Jethro Eustice, and Clinton should be getting his 100th cap at these Games.
‘If we can keep this group of guys together for a few years, we could see very exciting progress.
‘I’m absolutely chuffed with the way the guys are playing and importantly, we are taking the approach among ourselves that we are humans first and hockey players second.’
After Scotland, the SA men will take on the top-ranked Australians, then New Zealand and Canada in their other pool games.