Following their female counterparts earlier this year, the South African men’s hockey stars are in World Cup action towards the end of the year, writes MARK ETHERIDGE.
The women took part in their World Cup extravaganza in London and now their focus turns to the Tim Drummond-led squad who will travel to Bhubaneswar, India in November.
The 29-man squad has been announced and after the completion of the men’s Interprovincial Tournament in Pietermaritzburg, it will be trimmed to 18.
Drummond captained the SA side at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia this year and is relishing the new challenge on the sub-continent.
‘My thoughts on the announcement are that we’re really excited to make history with this squad,’ he told Team South Africa. ‘After some big learnings at the Commonwealth Games, I truly believe we have a squad for the World Cup that will do our nation proud.
The squad’s most experienced player is Austin Smith who boasts an impressive 158 Test caps while fellow Western Province teammate Rhett Halkett only has 10 fewer caps.
Two players, Jared Cass (SA Under-21) and Gauteng North’s Peabo Lembethe, will be playing their first Tests, provided they are part of the trimmed-down team.
Drummond added: ‘We’ve got a well-balanced squad with both experienced players and talented youngsters who I’m excited to see play on one of the biggest stages for our sport.
‘We have a packed programme until we leave for India and the players are extremely motivated for the next few months of hard work in preparation for the World Cup.
‘The squad are extremely excited to make each other and our rainbow nation awesome!’
This will be the sixth World Cup contested by the men’s side and their best results have been the two sixth-place finishes in 1994 and 2010.
The head coach will once again be Mark Hopkins who fulfilled the same role at the Commonwealth Games.
Hopkins has a holistic and refreshing approach to coaching with great importance being placed on both on-field and off-field achievements.
Convenor of selectors Allistar Fredericks also had input on the squad: ‘The selection process was a robust process as the four selectors [himself, Mark Sanders, Mark Hopkins and Devon van der Merwe] have identified quality players from which the coach will have a talent pool to work with. We have put together an experienced squad with a great group of youngsters.
Every player at the tournament was watched and considered for selection based on their form at the most recent IPT and not because of past performances.
‘This is a fantastic group of players and a squad that we’re excited about. We also know that it will be an incredibly challenging process to finalise the 18 for the World Cup, but we are looking forward to it immensely!’
Other squad news sees veteran ‘keeper Rassie Pieterse (he did duty at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland) earn a call-up on the back of an outstanding IPT, where he was named keeper of the tournament, and is joined by the IPT Player of the Tournament, Mo Mea.
Of course, a major coup for the selection team is the availability of Nic Spooner, who showed consistently at the IPT in Pietermaritzburg the class that has seen him win the EHL and included in the Hockey India League in the past.
Photo: Captain Drummond in Commonwealth Games action, by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Men’s World Cup squad:
Dan Bell, Matt Brown, Jared Cass, Dayaan Cassie, Richard Curtis, Taylor Dart, Tyson Dlungwana, Tim Drummond, Jethro Eustace, Rhett Halkett, Tommy Hammond, Keenan Horne, Julian Hykes, Gowan Jones, Ryan Julius, Peabo Lembethe, Lance Louw, Mohamed Mea, Owen Mvimbi, Nqobile Ntuli, Clinton Panther, Taine Paton, Richard Pautz, Rassie Pieterse, Jonty Robinson, Reza Rosenberg, Daniel Sibbald, Austin Smith, Nic Spooner.