[img_assist|nid=3452|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=220|height=220]The South Africa men’s hockey squad are flying to Ireland to begin an eight-match tour ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“By the time we get to London, our prep would have been fairly good given the position we faced seven months ago just after Champions Challenge in Randburg,” said coach Gregg Clark.
Clark was speaking ahead of the three-week tour that also includes three test matches in Spain.
Clark acknowledges that a lack of funds for world number 12 South Africa has resulted in a fractured four-year cycle in terms of game time and camp time compared to the rest of the world’s top 20 sides, and particularly the 11 other teams that qualified for London ahead of the South Africans, who will be the lowest-ranked side at the four-year showpiece, the pinnacle of the sport.
“Ours is a very different environment from other teams that will be in London, but given our circumstances we’ll have ticked as many boxes as is possible in terms of preparation and I believe there will be enough done for us to challenge strongly,” said Clark, the former world-class player who at 250 Test caps holds the SA men’s record.
Clark, who went to the Atlanta 1996 and Athens 2004 Olympics as a player, missing out on Sydney 2000 when the SA men, who had qualified, were prevented from going by the then National Olympic Committee of South Africa (NOCSA), will be going to his second Olympics as head coach, having being in charge of the men in green and gold at Beijing 2008.
On the impending tour, the 2012 set of SA players will be playing against world number 16 Ireland, world number 27 Wales and world 22 Scotland in the Celtic Cup in Northern Ireland from June 28 to July 1; then Ireland and world number 11 Belgium in Dublin on July 3 and 4; and finally world number 10 India (twice) and the world’s fifth-ranked Spain in Santander, Spain from July 8 to 11.
Olympic reserves Clint Panther and Jacques le Roux will be on tour with South Africa’s Olympic 16, while world-class SA umpire John Wright, for whom London 2012 will be his fourth Olympic Games, will be officiating at the matches.
SA Hockey Association CEO Marissa Langeni said the side will travel back from Spain and report to the Team SA holding camp on July 17. She added that the men’s programme leading into London 2012 was being funded by the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC).
SA TEAM: Austin Smith (capt), Andrew Cronje, Lloyd Norris-Jones, Ian Haley, Jacques le Roux (all Western Province); Tim Drummond, Marvin Harper, Lloyd Madsen, Taine Paton, Wade Paton (all KZN Coastal Raiders); Lance Louw, Thornton McDade, Rassie Pieterse, Clint Panther (all Southern Gauteng); Justin Reid-Ross, Rhett Halkett, Jonty Robinson (all Northern Blues); Julian Hykes(North West).
SA TOUR FIXTURES
Celtic Cup (Lisburn, Northern Ireland): vs Ireland (June 28); vs Wales (June 30); vs Scotland (July 1).
Dublin, Ireland: vs Belgium (July 3); vs Ireland (July 4).
Santander, Spain: vs India (July 8); vs Spain (July 9); vs India (July 11).