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Hockey men are happy

The first contingent of the South Africa men’s hockey team who have arrived in Kakamigahara, Japan for the Olympic Qualifier Tournament took an immediate liking to the playing surface after two light practices at the weekend.

ÔÇ£It’s a smooth, fast surface that suits our style of play,ÔÇØ said SA head coach Gregg Clark. ÔÇ£The smooth surface allows us to be accurate and efficient with our technical skills and the pace of the pitch suits our ball movement.ÔÇØ

SA must win the tournament that takes place from 26 April 26 to 6 May in order to clinch the last berth available for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

With the arrival of Exeter’s Ian Haley late on Friday night, the England-based striker joined the 10 South African-based players who had flown out of Johannesburg on Thursday. Clark now awaits the arrival of the seven European-based players late Monday night to make up the full complement of his team and hopes they came through Sunday’s club matches unscathed.

SA captain Austin Smith and Rhett Halkett played for Dutch club Den Bosch in Holland, as did Justin Reid-Ross and Lloyd Madsen for Pinoke (Amsterdam), while Clinton Panther and Taine Paton (both Gantoise), and Jonty Robinson (Braxgata) turned out for their Belgian clubs in important league matches.

ÔÇ£We are looking to settle into a rhythm before facing the three higher-ranked teams,ÔÇØ said Clark, turning his attention to South Africa’s two games this week.

World number 12 South Africa tackle world No42 Brazil on Thursday at 6.30 pm (11.30 am SA time) before meeting world No23 the Czech Republic at 10am on Saturday (3am SA time).

ÔÇ£Obviously we mustn’t drop points against Brazil and Czech Republic, but games three and four are very important in order tosecure our place in the 6 May final,ÔÇØ said Clark.

SA captain Austin Smith’s men face world number 17 China on April 30 before tackling world 15 Japan on May 2. The last match in the league round is against world 21 Austria on May 4. The top two teams from the league phase qualify for the gold medal match.

The winners will slot in alongside world number one Australia, world four Great Britain, world six Spain, world eight Pakistan and world 10 Argentina in Group A  at London 2012, while Group B features Germany, Holland, Korea, New Zealand, India and Belgium. The Olympic groups are determined by the world rankings.

SA MEN’S OQT HOCKEY TEAM
Goalkeepers: Rassie Pieterse (Southern Gauteng), Michael Smith (Witwatersrand).
Defenders: Andrew Cronje (Western Province), Justin Reid-Ross (Northern Blues), Lance Louw (SG), Lloyd Madsen (KZN Coastal Raiders), Rhett Halkett (NB)
Midfielders: Jonty Robinson (NB), Clinton Panther (SG), Austin Smith (capt, WP), Tim Drummond (KCR), Wade Paton (KCR), Taine Paton (KCR)
Strikers: Ian Haley (WP), Marvin Harper (KCR), Lloyd Norris-Jones (WP), Julian Hykes (Amathole-Border), Thornton McDade (SG)

SA MEN’S MATCH PROGRAMME IN JAPAN
26 April: v Brazil (11.30am SA time); 28 April: v Czech Republic (3am SA time); 30 April: vs China (11.30am SA time); 2 May: v Japan (9am SA time); 4 May: v Austria (11.30am SA time); 6 May: Classification matches (5/6 places); (3/4 places); final (8am SA time)


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