[img_assist|nid=3452|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=125|height=125]The South African Hockey Association released the names of the players who will do duty for the national men’s team at the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Kakamigahara, Japan from April 26 to May 6.
The team, which will be captained by Western Province’s Austin Smith, shows three changes from the side that won the bronze medal at the Champions Challenge Tournament at Randburg Hockey Stadium on December 4.
Goalkeeper Brendon Botes of Eastern Province is replaced by Michael Smith of Witwatersrand, defender Gareth Carr of KZN Coastal Raiders is replaced by defender/midfielder Jonty Robinson of Northern Blues, and striker Miguel da Graca of Southern Gauteng is replaced by Amathole (Border) forward Julian Hykes.
It wasn’t easy trying to find the correct balance for the team, but there are no wholesale changes and the core group is unchanged,” said SA head coach Gregg Clark. “It’s a well-balanced side with lots of versatility and several players being able to play in different positions.
“It’s tough on the guys left out, but people must understand that at this level the margins of selection between elite athletes are very small,” said Clark. “We have never been to Japan before but this is a talented bunch with good temperaments who have been playing good, confident hockey and we accept the challenge that the tournament will bring.”
Smith is the only new cap, while Robinson and Hykes have regained their places in the team.
SA will be top seeds in Kakamigahara, followed by Japan, China, Austria, Czech Republic and Brazil. The teams play each other once, with the top two sides after the league round meeting in the final on May 6.
The six teams will be competing for the last available place in the 12-team Olympic Games men’s hockey event.
In the pool round in Kakamigahara, SA meet Brazil on April 26, Czech Republic on April 28, China on April 30, Japan on May 2, and Austria on May 4 before the classification matches, including the all-important final, on May 6.
The winners will join Australia, Germany, Great Britain, Korea, Holland, Spain, Pakistan, New Zealand, Argentina, India and Belgium in the London 2012 Olympics, with the men’s hockey event beginning on July 29 while the closing ceremony is on August 12.
The groups for the London Games are as follows: Group A: Australia, Great Britain, Spain, Pakistan, Argentina, and Winner Japan OQT. Group B: German, Holland, Korea, New Zealand, India, Belgium.
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).