The South Africa men’s hockey team are rested and ready to go for Wednesday’s opening match against host nation Brazil in the World League Round 2 event at the Deodoro in Rio de Janeiro, writes Jon Cook.
Video sessions of the Brazil versus USA friendly in Rio as well as SA’s 3-0 warm-up match against Chile on Monday were the order of the day on Tuesday, as well as plenty of rest, a couple of team sessions and an early night’s sleep.
Ranked 12th in the world SA also beat world No29 the US 3-0 in a friendly last Saturday and with the win over Chile, head coach Charlie Pereira is pleased with the way the team is gelling. ÔÇ£Our playing pattern is developing nicely and with it we are creating plenty of goal shots,ÔÇØ Pereira said in between Tuesday’s sessions.
ÔÇ£The spirit in the team is great and it is also gratifying to see how well the new lads are fitting in and putting it together on the training pitch and during match time.ÔÇØ
Of course, friendlies and the real deal are worlds apart and 25th-ranked Chile are widely seen as the dark horses behind hot favourites and recent Champions Challenge winners Argentina, the world’s 10th ranked team, and second favourites South Africa for the top two positions in Rio that will take those fortunate teams into the World League semi-finals.
SA’s clashes with the big, physical Trinidad and Tobago side, ranked 34th, are never easy, while in Brazil the men in green and gold will face a young, willing side that is ranked 33rd in the world and a relatively unknown factor under seasoned former Netherlands high performance director Bert Bunnik.
For SA there are a number of firsts: Defender Rhett Halkett will lead the team for the first time, while there are first Test caps for Ollie Whiteley (25), Ashlin Freddy (23), the 26-year-old Pierre de Voux , 23-year-old Jethro Eustice and Gowan Jones (23).
London 2012 captain Austin Smith, at 109 Test matches South Africa’s most capped player, will not lead the team for the first time in his last 62 appearances. Head coach Charlie Pereira opted for Halkett for Rio as midfield maestro and World All Stars representative Smith missed the national camp in Cape Town at the end of January due to his involvement at the time with the Hockey India League title-winning Ranchi┬á Rhinos.
It is also a first appearance for Pereira as head coach, which he has been joking is his 50th Test match cap as well, the former SA vice-captain and midfield general having played 49 times for his country in the early 1990s.
It would also be invaluable for SA’s chances should they get their World League campaign off to a winning start in the first match.
SA WLR2 MATCHES (SA time)
Wed 27 Feb vs Brazil (2pm)
Thurs 28 Feb vs USA (4pm)
Sat 2 Mar vs Trinidad & Tobago (4pm)
Sun 3 Mar vs Argentina (4pm)
Tues 5 Mar vs Chile (2pm)