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SA hockey sides look on the bright side

Despite successive defeats, there is much optimism in the camps of the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team and the SA men’s side going into the third Tests against Argentina on Tuesday night.

The 12th ranked SA men, who play as ÔÇ£curtain-raisersÔÇØ to the females due to the greater popularity of women’s hockey in Argentina, where a personality like eight-time World Player of the Year Luciana Aymar draws celebrity status, have lost 6-0 and 4-2 to Los Leones (The Lions) who are better than their No11 ranking suggests.

Playing without fear of undue criticism, new caps Dan Sibbald of KZN Coastal Raiders, Jaco Fourie of Free State and Western Province’s Cuan Burton-Moore have acquitted themselves well, playing in matches where the standard of hockey is way higher than they are used to, while several other more experienced players like Taylor Dart, Lungi Tsolekile, Dylan Swanepoel, Owen Mvimbi, Pierre de Voux and Mohamed Mea have also shone brightly in moments.

It is going the 70-minute distance that is key for both SA teams ÔÇô and what new head coach Fabian Gregory will no doubt be looking for come Tuesday’s third Test at midnight SA time.

Hockey scorelines are misleading ÔÇô top teams can score three goals in five minutes, as shown in Mar del Plata ÔÇô and the 11th ranked South African women’s side, who have dominated healthy segments of their matches, have at times been extremely unfortunate in key plays, as have the SA men.

Both SA teams haven’t been helped by some, at best, very dubious decisions by the Argentine umpires.

The SA girls welcomed back experienced Western Province duo Shelley Russell and Jade Mayne from their respective English and Belgian club commitments for the second Test and will be boosted further by the arrival on Monday of twice World All Stars midfielder Marsha Cox from Holland for the third Test, which starts at 1.40am SA time on Wednesday morning.

SA head coach Giles Bonnet said the girls in green and gold’s first-half performance against world number two in the second Test was probably the best display he has seen in over three years and the 2-2 scoreline could easily have read 4-2 at one stage.

Captain for the first two Tests, out-and-out striker Sulette Damons, seen scoring in the second Test, above, is playing with an unbridled freedom that is reflected in her performances.

Illse Davids and Phumelela Mbande have also further enhanced the form shown in the five-Test whitewash of Scotland in Pretoria just over a week ago.

However, the full-strength Las Leonas (The Lionesses) came back strongly after the changeover in the second Test to win 6-2, to add to their 6-1 first-Test victory.

Bonnet is placing much emphasis on scoring goals, unlocking the defences of the reigning World Cup champions, World League finalists, London 2012 Olympic Games silver medallists and world number two nation, and this is the attitude of both SA teams.

Both SA teams have succeeded in creating numerous goalscoring opportunities in each of the four Tests; the difference is that Argentina have converted theirs into something tangible on the scoreboard.

For both SA teams the immediate bigger picture is the 2014 Hockey World Cup finals that take place from 31 May to 15 June in The Hague, Netherlands and each day here has been studded with intense training sessions and the numerous team and individual feedback obligations from the video analysis of each match.

That aside, national pride is at stake in the seaside resort of Mar del Plata, 400km from Buenos Aires, and the respective third Tests should throw up some intriguing personal and collective contests.ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿Meanwhile, the fourth and fifth Tests’ starting times have changed. The SA men will play their Test matches at 8pm SA time on Thursday and Friday while the women will hear the first whistle at 10pm SA time on each day.

Picture:  Diego Izquierdo

 


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