[img_assist|nid=3948|title=300 beckons|desc=Marsha Marescia with the Investec London Cup player of the tournament award she won earlier this year – Action Images|link=node|align=right|width=220|height=141]
UPDATE: Marsha Marescia has a leg injury and will not be playing Saturday.Lenise Marais will skipper SA.
DUBLIN, September 27 – South Africa embark on the two-year phase leading up to the 2014 hockey World Cup when they take to the field in the Champions Challenge in Dublin on Saturday.
SA play hosts Ireland in their tournament opener at 3pm, a game which should mark captain Marsha Marescia’s 300th international cap.
SA assistant coach Fabian Gregory said the team would be challenged by the Irish as well as the USA on Sunday before their last pool B encounter against Scotland on Tuesday.
The teams then go into the quarter-finals on Thursday next week before the semi-finals and cross-pool playoff matches next Saturday followed by next Sunday’s finals.
“We are trying to change our playing style, more direction, more explosive, emphasis on elimination skills,” said Gregory. “A large proportion of the tactics in modern hockey have evolved, the game is built on speed and we want to bring pressure.
“Teams will be looking to develop their playing structures over the next two years, expose new players, like us, and Champs Challenge will give an early direction.
“If you look at the Olympics, we got a rude awakening, a few girls were in awe of the Games and we were quite disappointing against Argentina and the first half with New Zealand, but the second half we played exceptionally well against the Kiwis and our performance increased as the tournament wore on,” said the man who has been the SA assistant coach since late 2006.
“We played fantastic hockey against Australia in London, while the win against the USA was some of the best hockey I have seen from the SA women’s team.”
Ireland’s interim coach Denis Pritchard said: “Given the calibre of teams involved in this tournament it is a really exciting challenge for this emerging squad
“The players have been excellent in their application and focus; led well by the more experienced players the younger ones have made a serious impact and we will enter the competition with a good team spirit and fearing no one.”
Gregory said in the ninth/10th playoff SA were deservedly 1-0 up at half-time against Japan but a combination of bad fortune and missed chances saw the team end 10th, nevertheless SA went from 12th to 10th in the world rankings, the best since 2003.
“If you look at the progress in just 22 months after there was no programme in place for a significant time, it has been exceptional and the World Cup and Commonwealth Games in 2014 we will be best-placed to see the progress over international hockey’s traditional four-year cycle of team and management staff.”
Investec SA team for Dublin: Nicolene Terblanche, Lillian du Plessis (both Northern Blues); Lenise Marais, Kelly Madsen (both KZN Coastal Raiders); Sanani Mangisa, Marsha Marescia (capt), Lisa Deetlefs, Bernadette Coston (all Southern Gauteng); Lesle-Ann George, Tanya Britz, Izelle Lategan (all Free State); Illse Davids, Shelley Russell, Tarryn Bright, Lauren Penny, Jade Mayne, Quanita Bobbs (all Western Province); Sulette Damons (North West).