After a final training camp that began last week, the South African men’s hockey squad move into the closing phase of their Champions Challenge preparation when they take on world number 14 Malaysia in a pre-tournament match at Randburg Hockey Stadium on Tuesday evening.
The crucial Champions Challenge men’s tournament takes place at Randburg from 26 November to 4 December and the African champions, ranked 12th in the world, must make the final if they are to be part of Team South Africa at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The 24-strong SA squad will also tackle 15th ranked Japan at Randburg on Wednesday in another warm-up match before head coach Gregg Clark and the selection panel name the 18-player tournament team on Thursday morning.
SA are in the Champions Challenge ÔÇ£Pool of DeathÔÇØ, with eight-time Olympic Games gold medallists India, as well as Belgium, who have already qualified for London, and the difficult proposition that is Poland being their opponents.
Pool B features Canada, Malaysia, Japan and Argentina. Like the Belgians, the South Americans have also already qualified to be one of the 12 teams in the London Olympic Games next August.
South Africa’s Pool A matches at Randburg are against Poland on Saturday, India on Sunday and Belgium next Tuesday. Next Thursday (December 1) sees the teams go into the quarter-finals, with the semi-finals next Saturday and the gold medal match next Sunday, 4 December.
The 24-player SA squad that will be cut to the final 18 comprises seven from KZN Coastal, six from Southern Gauteng, five from Western Province, four from Northerns Blues and one each from Eastern Province and Amatole (Border).
Clark said Tuesday that all the players are in good shape and he will be banking on the likes of ace penalty corner drag-flickers Justin Reid-Ross (Northerns Blues) and Gareth Carr (KZN Coastal Raiders) being on song this weekend and beyond.
SA MEN’S HOCKEY TRAINING SQUAD
Brendon Botes (Eastern Province), Jacques le Roux, Andrew Cronje, Austin Smith (captain), Ian Haley, Lloyd Norris-Jones (all Western Province, Rassie Pieterse, Lance Louw, Ricky West, Clinton Panther, Miguel da Graca, Thornton McDade (all Southern Gauteng), Gowan Jones, Lloyd Madsen, Gareth Carr, Wade Paton, Taine Paton, Tim Drummond, Marvin Harper (all KZN Coastal), Justin Reid-Ross, Rhett Halkett, Jonty Robinson, Nic Gonsalves (all Northerns Blues), Julian Hykes (Amatole-Border).