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Smith back to lead SA men against Malaysia

The 22-strong SA men’s hockey side to contest the four-Test series against Malaysia in Potchefstroom and Johannesburg from next week has been announced.

The first three Test matches will take place at the University of North West Hockey Centre in Potchefstroom. The opening Test is at 5pm on 6 June; with the second Test on 8 June 8; and the third Test on 9 June. The fourth and final Test will be played at the Randburg Hockey Stadium on 11 June.

The SA team will be captained by double Olympian and 114-Test veteran Austin Smith with Western Province team-mate Rhett Halkett, a London 2012 Olympian, his vice-captain.

Speaking after the announcement, which concluded the five-day national training camp involving 40 players at the University of Johannesburg, SA head coach Charlie Pereira said that the camp had gone off very well. ÔÇ£Technical work was important,ÔÇØ said the former SA player. ÔÇ£We also did speed testing on the players as well as medical screening. The lads also played full matches and mini games. After this workload the players were exhausted and we tapered off to avoid the risk of injury.ÔÇØ

Pereira said he and the team expect serious competition from Malaysia, since they are professional hockey players while the South African are amateurs. ÔÇ£Plus they have [former SA head coach] Paul Revington coaching them.ÔÇØ

Regular captain Smith is back in the job after Halkett took over for the World League Round 2 tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil three months ago. ÔÇ£Austin is the captain of the national team,ÔÇØ Pereira said. ÔÇ£Rhett was made captain for the Rio trip because he was going to be with the team from day one in Rio and being a new group we felt we needed a leader to bring the team together from the moment we hit the ground. It also gave us the chance to expand the leadership group and this will help in terms of the players taking more responsibility on and off the field.ÔÇØ

Of the 18 players who went to Rio, 16 retain their places while Matt Guise-Brown of UP-Tuks and Northern Blues is in the University Sport South Africa team for the World Student Games in Russia, which overlaps with the SA national team’s participation in the World League semi-finals in Malaysia in June/July.

ÔÇ£[Southern Gauteng’s] Oliver Whiteley is the unlucky player who misses out for selection for the series against Malaysia,ÔÇØ said Pereira. ÔÇ£A number of players have come back into the mix since the first national camp earlier this year in Cape Town, which has resulted in big competition for places, a healthy situation.ÔÇØ

The Malaysian national team have just come off five matches in Malaysia and will be more than match-ready for the first Test.

ÔÇ£That is our challenge as an amateur body,ÔÇØ said Pereira. ÔÇ£Our last competitive game was against Chile in Rio [three months ago]. Malaysia have developed into a very good unit and the series will no doubt be tough, but we are only going to improve if we continually play better opposition. We do, of course, have some world-class players in our team and are not about to back off to any team that we face. If you think you can win, you can win. Faith is required for victory.ÔÇØ

For both world No13 Malaysia and world No12 South Africa the four-Test series is ideal preparation for the World League semi-finals in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, which takes place from 29 June to 7 July. For South Africa it is an opportunity to play Test matches outside of crucial tournaments, where so much is at stake there is little place for experimentation. In the past decade Test matches of this nature have been few and far between for the SA men ÔÇô┬á unlike the large majority of their rivals in the world top 20.

ÔÇ£As a result of the lack of resources we have, these Test matches against Malaysia are a luxury,ÔÇØ said Pereira. ÔÇ£As a home series it is a chance to showcase the talent within the SA men’s set-up, a chance for our home public to see some of our homegrown, world-class players ply their trade.ÔÇØ

Pereira said the 18-player SA team for the World League semi-finals in Malaysia will be announced after the series against Malaysia and will be picked from the 22.

Lloyd Madsen and Justin Reid-Ross, two of South Africa’s key players in recent years ÔÇô both London 2012 Olympians and 2010 World Cup and Commonwealth Games veterans ÔÇô are not in the team. ÔÇ£Lloyd and Justin were unavailable to attend the camp and therefore made themselves unavailable for selection,ÔÇØ said Pereira.

ÔÇ£The only exceptions we made as regards to missing camp were to players that we writing exams. Lloyd, having started a new job recently, was torn between his commitment to his job and playing for SA,ÔÇØ said Pereira. ÔÇ£Justin wants to finish his studies this year and so made himself unavailable for international commitments in 2013.ÔÇØ

The SA team is: Rassie Pieterse (Southern Gauteng), Jacque le Roux (Western Province), Gowan Jones (KZN Coastal Raiders), Austin Smith (WP, captain), Francois Pretorius (Northern Blues), Ashlin Freddy (WP), Rhett Halkett (WP, vice-captain), Ricky West (SG), Lance Louw (SG), Jethro Eustice (SG), Jonty Robinson (NB), Clint Panther (SG), Wade Paton (KCR), Tim Drummond (KCR), Nic Gonsalves (NB), Taylor Dart (SG), Julian Hykes (SG), Taine Paton (KCR), Craig Haley (WP), Matt Botha (SG), Pierre de Voux (WP), Miguel da Graca (SG).


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