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SA head for Salta

By Mark Etheridge

Our men’s hockey side heads for South America Sunday for next month’s year-ending BDO Champions Challenge tournament.

Winners of the African Cup of Nations in Ghana earlier this year, the South Africans will be captained by Austin Smith and compete in Salta, Argentina from 6-13 December.

Up against Gregg Clark’s men in the pool games will be hosts Argentina, Canada and Pakistan. Other sides in the tournament are: Belgium, China, India and New Zealand.

The team has just completed a training camp in Durban and coach Clark says things went well. “We had a good camp and a number of our core group having been playing top level club hockey in Europe over the past two-three months.

“We haven’t had any competitive games since July, so we may be a bit undercooked going into the tournament, but what we lack in sharpness, the guys’ eagerness for success and the chance to get out and play against some of the top sides in the world will make up for it.”

When the team arrives in Salta they have two practice games lined up as pre-tournament preparation.

“We’ll play Belgium and India, both in Salta. It’s pretty standard practice at world level to try and pick up training games against teams that aren’t in your pool ahead of a tournament. The thinking is to play India to get some training in against an Asian style opponent ahead of our Pakistan game. Belgium will also be strong so will be good preparation as well.”

Certainly the host country Argentina will be no pushovers for the South Africans. “Argentina came back from 1-3 down against Belgium last week to win the final of the World Cup qualifier 4-3 in Buenos Aires. There are no easy games at this tournament but Pakistan (our third game, and last pool game) will be very tough too.”

The only major injury problem came in the goalkeeping department. ” Rassie Pieterse, who has been our No1 ‘keeper until now, snapped his Achilles tendon at our training camp a few weeks ago. Vincent Prior (North West, and as yet uncapped) has been drafted in to the team. Otherwise, all the guys are looking strong,” concluded Clark.