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The odds were stacked massively against the South African Hockey men as they took on World number 3 Belgium in a backs-against-the-wall battle to try and secure progress to the cross overs. They would also be up against another South African coach as Belgium have the services of Craig Fulton, an Olympian for South Africa, as their assistant Coach.

Having not beaten Belgium in their competitive matches before, South Africa could not have asked for a better start when Rhett Halkett set up Nic Spooner after just 35 seconds and South Africa’s most impressive player fired home an early advantage.

Unfortunately for South Africa Belgium are too good to just take it. Alexander Hendrickx is the in-form penalty corner specialist for Belgium at the moment and his two goals from penalty corners in the first half sandwiched a neatly taken field goal by Player of the Match Simon Gougnard. A fourth goal was added when Loick Luypaert also showed his prowess from the top of the circle. The half-time stats spoke for themselves, while possession was nearly equal between the teams, the significant figures for Belgium were three penalty corners, three goals.

South Africa themselves produced two outstanding opportunities where Julian Hykes and Dayaan Cassiem both failed to capitalise on the space they were afforded and pull the game closer to a contest.

Belgium continued to seek chances as they looked to up their goal difference to try and take top spot in the pool, they were denied this by a combination of things. Gowan Jones was impressive in goal, South Africa defended better, and Belgium were wasteful of their opportunities.

The final score of 5-1 coupled with India’s 5-1 victory against Canada meant that the host team took top spot and advanced to the Quarter-Finals. Canada joined Belgium in the cross overs simply by having a better goal difference than South Africa.

For South Africa there will be a short amount of time before the SA Men return to India for the Hockey Series Finals in July 2019, an Olympic Qualifying tournament. There were signs of an improvement for the South African men in the tournament, with some new young players getting their opportunities, but there is a long journey ahead for the country to close the gap on the other nations.  

FIH Hockey World Cup 2018 – Group C – 8 December Results

South Africa 1-5 Belgium
India 5-1 Canada

Group C Final Standings (Goal Difference in Brackets)

  1. India 7 pts (+9) – Progress to Quarter-finals
  2. Belgium 7 pts (+5) – Progress to Cross overs
  3. Canada 1 pt. (-5) – Progress to Cross overs
  4. South Africa 1 pt. (-9) - eliminated

SA Men celebrate the opening goal scored by Bili Ntuli - Picture - FIH

It was a pulsating match between the fifteenth ranked South Africa and Canada ranked four places higher in the second group C match up. With the both sides having lost their openers the match had added importance that the losers would face an early elimination from the FIH Hockey World Cup. The South African men also knew that previous coach Gregg Clark was in the Canadian camp, adding an extra bit of spice to the match.

The South Africans started the match like the only team that wanted to win, Canada knew due to goal difference a draw would suit them slightly better and created numerous chances in the first half. The best opportunity of the half came through a superb piece of work by Nic Spooner down the left-hand side before setting up Bili Ntuli who was unable to direct his effort into the goal.

South Africa were also awarded three penalty corners in the half with one superbly saved by David Carter. South Africa will be bitterly disappointed that they were unable to make their penalty corner dominance count throughout the match, but that one was nothing short of a world-class save.

Having been mostly a spectator for the first half, Rassie Pieterse was called into action on the verge of half-time and produced a superb save to deny Scott Tupper. It was a reminder to the African Champions that all the pressure counted for nothing if they couldn’t put a goal on the scoresheet.

The goal however did come for the South Africans in the second half and it was superb and emotional. Bili Ntuli, whose brother Sihle Ntuli is one of the Assistant Coaches, received the ball under immense pressure, created space for himself and shot a beautiful tomahawk into the corner. The Ntuli brother’s younger sister passed away in February and it was clearly an emotional moment for the younger brother who wanted to score at the World Cup in honour of his late sister.

The lead would not last long enough and Canada levelled when their second penalty corner beat Gowan Jones and hit Rhett Halketts foot on the line. The Penalty stroke, rightfully awarded, was dispatched by Scott Tupper.

South Africa would create numerous goal-scoring opportunities late on including four penalty corners but were unable to finish one of them. It was clear at the final whistle that the Canadians were the happier of the two sides knowing they had escaped with a point and that South Africa would have it all to do in the final group game where goal difference is not in our favour.

FIH Hockey World Cup 2018 – Group C – 2 December Results

South Africa 1-1 Canada
India 2-2 Belgium

Group C Standings After 2 Rounds (Goal Difference in Brackets)

  1. India 4 pts (+5)
  2. Belgium 4 pts (+1)
  3. Canada 1 pt. (-1)
  4. South Africa 1 pt. (-5)

Group C – 8 December Fixtures

13:30 South Africa vs. Belgium
15:30 India vs. Canada

The South African Hockey Men began the 14th FIH Hockey World Cup with a humbling 5-0 defeat to India. In the 12th encounter between the two nations, India underlined their dominance with their seventh victory. The game marked 100 caps for Jethro Eustice who scored the goal that qualified South Africa for the World Cup in the final of the African Hockey Cup of Nations in 2017.

India may have been expected to be nervous playing in front of an expectant capacity crowd at the Kalinga stadium looking to the country to end 43 years of hurt. The young Indian side though showed no signs of it in dominant opening 15 minutes. Their dominant opening bore fruit as early as the 10th minute as Rassie Pieterse denied Simranjeet but Mandeep Singh was on hand to smash the ball home.  It got even better for the vociferous home crowd when a superb bit of combination play saw Akashdeep Singh finish off leaving Rassie Pieterse no chance.

The second quarter saw the South African men revert to a more defensive approach which quickly produced a more balance quarter of hockey. In fact, in the quarter both sides had 6 circle entries and one shot on goal as the SA Men’s nerves seemed to settle.  The score remained 2-0 at half-time. It was a score line that was probably reflective of the opening half and meant South Africa would have to find another gear to get back into the game.

And for ten minutes in the third quarter it felt like South Africa were finally getting a foothold in the game with better possession, better movement and better time on the ball for the flare players in Julian Hykes, Taine Paton and Nic Spooner. Having created two good scoring opportunities including a penalty corner, South Africa were left floored when India showed the difference in class between the two sides with a superb double strike. First there was defensive uncertainty for South Africa allowing Simranjeet Singh to net before Lalit Upadhyay showed all strikers how it’s done with a splendid deflection. The double strike right on the end of the third quarter took any wind out of the South African sails and settled the result for the hosts.

The final quarter did not maintain the intensity of the first three as both teams cast their eyes towards their next games. There was one further goal for India as Simranjeet Singh made it 5-0 when he finished off another penalty corner variation from the hosts to confine the South Africans to a bruising final score of 5-0.

For India a table topping decider against Belgium await them next, while South Africa would be looking to the match against Canada as the route to the cross overs.

FIH Hockey World Cup 2018 – Group C – 28 November Results

Belgium 2-1 Canada
India 5-0 South Africa

Group C – 2 December Fixtures

13:30 South Africa vs. Canada
15:30 India vs. Belgium

IMAGE - MARCEL SIGG / RUN RIDE DIVE

On a day when the national rugby teams of France and South Africa locked horns, it was also the day of the final battle between the two National Hockey Teams. It was the final test of a well contested series in which France led 2-0 after three matches. The match was also the 100th test match for French captain Victor Charlet.

And while the series may have given many positives there will be concern for Mark Hopkins and his coaching staff with how many opportunities are being created against them. Many of the chances arise when South Africa are in possession and there is a misplaced pass or an error. Fortunately, Gowan Jones and Rassie Pieterse were in fine form and Austin Smith, Jethro Eustice and Rhett Halkett consistently pulling off quality tackles when needed. Although South Africa will be unhappy with the four penalty corners they gave away, there will be a greater sense of satisfaction that they dealt with all four well.

There will be lots of positives with the amount of chances created but a lot of focus needed on finishing. The likes of Julian Hykes, Dayaan Cassiem and Bili Ntuli will not get 30 opportunities a match in India so it’s important that they find their range quickly. The trio, along with Nic Spooner, produced some great excitement in batches during the series much to the delight of the crowd.

In terms of this test match, South Africa trailed to a 12th minute strike from Etienne Tynevez and were forced to work their socks off in the second quarter. The third quarter was arguably their best of the series as wave after wave of attack was launched with Mo Mea orchestrating things down the right side. Tyson Dlungwana, Taine Paton and Bili Ntuli featured regularly as South Africa surged forward looking for an equaliser. They were unable to find it.

The fourth quarter was a bit more balanced, but it was France who would strike the killer blow with Charles Masson the man to confirm the victory. There was time for one goal for the home crowd to get excited by and it was delivered by national captain Keenan Horne deflecting in a shot.

After the game Mo Mea shared the following thoughts; “It was a good series and it was good to be playing competitive hockey in preparation of the World cup. We have had some great improvement and we are heading in the right direction. I would just like to say to the South African public, thank you for your support!”

Ultimately the South Africans would have been happy with the week. It was a first chance for this squad to train together against a well-coached and well-structured French squad. In Jeroen Delmee the French have an astute coach and were comfortably the better side throughout a tight series. The French now have a test match against Belgium before they head to India to take on Spain, New Zealand and Argentina in Pool A.

For South Africa the players now are left to look after themselves until the 20th when they will then fly to India. South Africa take on India, Belgium and Canada in Pool B, where they will be the comfortable underdogs. What was evident from the past 8 days is that they can at least count on the support of a major majority of the South African Hockey community.

 IMAGE - MARCEL SIGG / RUN RIDE DIVE

The South African and French Men’s Hockey sides locked horns at Wits Hockey Astro tonight in the third test of the four-match series. The game was scheduled to get underway at 16:30 before a water supply issue delayed the start to 18:15. The delayed start saw both teams struggle to get their formations going straight away and that led to two goals in the opening three minutes.

France struck first through a beautiful deflected goal by Timothee Clement before Nic Spooner levelled after a trademark Julian Hykes intervention. If the decent crowd at Wits expected more goal mouth action to follow that they were a bit disappointed as the remainder of the first quarter saw no further goals. South Africa were forced to defend in the opening chukka where a combination of poor French finishing, and great rear-guard defence stopped the French from scoring. Their usually lethal penalty corners failed them to as they were unsuccessful for three in a row.

South Africa finally clicked into the game in the second quarter a looked to take advantage of their numerical advantage when Cristoforo Peters-Deutz was yellow carded. They created two penalty corners but one from Austin Smith and one from Jethro Eustice were saved well. Although it was a far better half for South Africa, there were certain combinations that were just not quite clicking, keeping the French very interested.

And they were beyond interested in the third quarter when South African hesitation created space in the D and first Maximillien Branicki and then Gaspard Baumgarten punished the space giving the French a 3-1 lead. That double punch winded the South Africans and in truth they were hanging on for the remainder of the third quarter.

But whatever was said galvanised the team and after withdrawing the keeper and playing Rhett Halkett as a kicking back, South Africa played with a much better intensity and created numerous circle entries with the closest chance being struck against the post by Taine Paton. Tyson Dlungwana, Dayaan Cassiem, Keenan Horne and Bili Ntuli all fancied good chances but were denied by good defending by the European side.

For the South Africans it was a match that showed more growth as they spend time together, but the questions will continue to be asked while the side fail to convert on the number of opportunities that are being made. What was evident though is that the new-found freedom is clear, and the South African men are going to cause a lot of upsets when they get their combinations to click.

After the game, his 94th, French winger Viktor Lockwood was gracious in victory: “It’s great to be in South Africa because the people are amazing, and the country is beautiful. The delay to the game was tough as we had to go through warm-ups again. South Africa gave us a great game and we were able to take our chances better than them for the win. We are happy as its more good progress towards our World Cup journey.”

While South African captain Keenan Horne shared: “Its only our third test together as this squad and in the new era of South African hockey, but we are really enjoying playing together and getting the culture right in the team. We may not be the biggest country in the hockey world, but South Africa has a superb sporting history and we want to be part of writing more of that history. One country, one team.”

The two teams play the final test match tomorrow at 14:30 before both turn their eyes to the Hockey World Cup in India starting on the 28 November.

Picture - Peabo Lembethe in his first series for South Africa. (Marcel Sigg / Run Ride Dive)

The South African Men’s Hockey team took on France in the second test match of the series at Wits Hockey Astro this afternoon after the opening game had been drawn 2-2. The match marked the 150th cap for 2016 SA Hockey Player of the Year Rhett Halkett and the lads were looking to build on the positive showing from Saturday.

And they did that for the opening 25 minutes, including for a 10-minute phase where they were a player short due to Tommy Hammonds yellow card. Employing a more possession-based game than in the opening match the South African men were unlucky not to take an early lead when Peabo Lembethe hit the post from the first penalty corner, while Austin Smith was also denied by Thierrfly in the French goal.

The South Africans were growing in the game and the likes of Taine Paton, Mohamed Mea and Taylor Dart were seeing plenty of ball in creating pockets of space for players to run into. But on old foe of South African Hockey struck its head as the finishing was not clinical enough.

Having weathered the storm France landed the double sucker punch before half time. Timothee Clement was not closed quickly enough and left one-on-one with Rassie Pieterse and he finished superbly. Just 60 seconds later they landed the second with a superb finish by Maximillen Branicki firing home a tomahawk passed Pieterse.

The second half featured much of the same with South Africa lacking the devastating blow, while France delivered a double punch in the third quarter. Victor Charlet converted both penalty corners that France won, making it 3 out of 3 for the series, to give the French a 4-0 lead.

What was refreshing from the South Africans however was the refusal to stop fighting and they created a few great opportunities through Nqobile “Bili” Ntuli, Julian Hykes and Taylor Dart but were unable to score. They did get their consolation goal right at the end when a good penalty corner variation saw Julian Hykes get his second of the tournament.

The third test was incredibly the French 19th test match of the year, while it’s only the 7th for South Africa, further highlighting the difficulty that South Africa face in getting test match action. The week ahead however will be a great opportunity for the team to stay and train together, which will be highly valuable for the World Cup preparations, before the third and fourth test match next weekend.

The third test match will be on Friday 9 November at 16:30.

On a windy and warm afternoon in Johannesburg, South Africa and France played out a thrilling 2-2 draw to open the four match test series. Both sides are gearing up for the Hockey World Cup in India and are using this series to fine tune their final preparations.

For South Africa, captained by Keenan Horne, it was also a celebration on two ends of the experience spectrum. Long-time servant of the game Lance Louw celebrated his 100th cap while Peabo Lembethe earned his first. It was also the first time that Mark Hopkins would lead the country on South African turf.

The opening quarter featured a lot of ball possession by France with South Africa offering moments of excitement through Dayaan Cassiem and Nic Spooner. Although France produced three shots in the opening quarter, not one was on target as both teams struggled to build momentum and continued passages of play. However, as they game progressed there was better synergies being shown and connections being made.

In the second quarter France upped the pressure and immediately found themselves trailing. South Africa employing a counter-attack plan that was highly effective. Nic Spooner won the ball in the middle of the park, drove through the centre and laid it off to Julian Hykes. The 36-year-old finished with a superb tomahawk strike to give the hosts the lead. It was a lead that only lasted four minutes as Victor Charlet fired home the first penalty corner of the game. It would remain 1-1 at half-time with France having the slightly better game.

The third quarter was however one for the South Africans to create three massive opportunities, unfortunately without scoring. Austin Smith fired narrowly wide from a penalty corner, Tommy Hammond set Dayaan Cassiem one on one with Thieffry in the French goal, only to shoot narrowly wide and when Cassiem returned the favour Hammond was unable to control. It was the lack of ruthlessness that would have frustrated the coaching staff as France took the lead early in the fourth quarter. Man of the match Tom Genestet, playing in his 168th test match, drove in from the right and fired a slap bullet past Gowan Jones into the top left corner.

This is a new South Africa though, soaking up pressure and launching superb counter attacks with Hykes, Spooner and Cassiem coming to the fore. It was no surprise that the equaliser involved the trio. With Spooner distributing the ball from midfield it worked its way up to Hykes who turned on top D. Thieffry saved the shot but Cassiem was there to prod home the equaliser. The youngster was delighted with his contribution and rightfully so.

There was one more chance for South Africa through another counter attack, but with Taine Paton earning a harsh green card at the end the lads had to hang on which they did.

For Mark Hopkins and his coaching team there will be lots to work on ahead of the second test tomorrow, but there were massive positive signs. Probably more satisfying is the spirit and culture that appeared present. South Africa look to be a side playing for each other, something that will only strengthen the national team’s endeavours.

South Africa (Hykes 18’ & Cassiem 52’) 2-2 France (Charlet 23’ & T.Genestet 47’)

Second Test – Sunday 4 November – 12:00 – Wits Hockey Astro

France will be taking part at their third FIH Hockey World Cup in India, their first since 1990. They achieved qualification in South Africa at the FIH World League Semi-Final last July when they defeated Egypt in the 7/8th playoff game. They are big fans of the country as they also won the FIH World League Round 1 in Cape Town in 2015. With those happy memories in place, France will come back to take on South Africa in four test matches at the same venue.

France are currently ranked 20th in the world but have been showing steady improvements over the past three years in their climb up the rankings. Their squad to take on the South Africans will be backed with four centurions in Tom Genestet, Hugo Genestet, Jean-Baptiste Fogues and Gaspard Baumgarten littered amongst some fantastic youth. It will be the first time that South Africa and France have locked horns in International hockey which adds an extra element of excitement and intrigue to the heavily anticipated series.

For South African Hockey fans, it will be the first time to see the National team play at home this year and the first time they will get to see the team under the guidance of Mark Hopkins, who was appointed national coach in January this year. There is a lot of good feeling around the team currently including the recent team camps in Durban and in Europe for the foreign based players and this will be an opportunity for the team to show corporate South Africa why they are worth backing.

The squad to play France will be the World Cup selected squad with only one change due to injury and it promises to offer an exciting spectacle for the local fans. The likes of experienced heads Austin Smith, Rhett Halkett, Rassie Pieterse and Julian Hykes supplemented by the exciting Tyson Dlungwana, Dayaan Cassiem and Keenan Horne. Of course, all South African Hockey fans will also be incredibly excited by the opportunity to see Nic Spooner in action for a long overdue second cap.

For more great benefit the opening two matches of the series will be televised live on Supersport, further underlining their incredible investment and support of the sport. Although the second game will not be televised fans are encouraged to come through to Wits University and give the team support before they head off to India.

South Africa vs. France Fixtures

1st Test - 3 November – 12:00 – Live on SuperSport
2nd Test - 4 November – 12:00 – Live on SuperSport
3rd Test - 9 November – 19:30
4th Test - 10 November – 16:00

The South African Mens Hockey team are furthering their preparation for the Hockey World Cup in India in December. South Africa will be competing for the sixth time at the 14th staging of the event and will be hoping to emulate or better the class of 1994 and 2010.

In building up for the World Cup, South African hockey are pleased to be hosting France in a four match test series to be played at Wits University in Johannesburg. France secured the final spot at the 2018 World Cup when they finished 7th at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals at the same venue, so it will be bring happy memories to the French.

For South African coach Mark Hopkins, it will be the first time that the South African Hockey supporting public can see him preside over a home fixture, before heading off to India for the World Cup.

With the World Cup now just under two months away, both France and South Africa, ranked 16th and 15th in the world respectively, will field most of their World Cup squads with the impetus largely on fine tuning rather than recreating.

The final fixtures for the series, including time of hit-off, will be released shortly.   

South Africa’s Mens squad to play France (Caps after names)

  1. Tim Drummond (captain) - 131 
  2. Dayaan Cassiem – 17
  3. Taylor Dart – 18
  4. Tyson Dlungwana – 18
  5. Jethro Eustice – 95
  6. Rhett Halkett – 148
  7. Tommy Hammond – 68
  8. Keenan Horne – 34
  9. Julian Hykes – 122
  10. Gowan Jones – GK – 42
  11. Peabo Lembethe – 0
  12. Mo Mea – 14
  13. Owen Mvimbi - 28
  14. Bili Ntuli – 26
  15. Taine Paton – 104
  16. Rassie Pieterse – GK – 133
  17. Austin Smith – 158
  18. Nic Spooner – 1

The South African Hockey Association has today released the names of the 18 men who will go to the FIH Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar in India for the 14th edition of the premier International Field Hockey tournament for Men.

South Africa will head to the tournament for the 6th time looking to outdo their previous best of 10th place, achieved in both 2010 and 1994. To do that they will have to get out of a tough group featuring the hosts India, the world number 3 Belgium and world number 11 Canada. The new format of the World Cup means that one victory could secure you a third place spot in the group where a crossover match awaits ahead of potential quarter finals. South Africa will most definitely be inspired by the journeys of Ireland and Spain at the Women’s Hockey World Cup earlier this year, in looking to cause an upset that would really cause waves in India.

In goals South Africa will call on the experience of Rassie Pieterse and Gowan Jones for the battle for number 1. Both were in fact in the South African squad for the 2014 edition so neither should be overwhelmed by the opportunity. European based duo Rhett Halkett and Austin Smith, both centurions for South Africa will lead the defensive line alongside 2018 IPT Player of the Tournament Mo Mea, 2018 PHL Player of the Tournament Jethro Eustice and of course U21 IPT victorious skipper Tyson Dlungwana.

If fans are excited about the defensive combinations available there is no doubt they will be absolutely salivating at the thought of Nic Spooner donning the green and gold again. The previous Hockey India League player is a star in Germany and his star quality is there for all to see. He is joined by arguably South Africa’s most consistent performer over the past 12 months in Tommy Hammond, as well as a man playing his best hockey in the past few years in Taylor Dart. Keenan Horne has continually impressed for club and province and gets the nod as well as the exciting Northern Blues man Peabo Lembethe. Of course the midfield will be anchored as always by national captain Tim Drummond, a man who shows you how the game should be played both on and off the pitch.

Up front the goal scoring form of Richard Pautz has made him a name that can’t be left out and he is joined by veteran striker Julian Hykes, who appears to be getting younger rather than older in the past 6 months. Another centurion in the team is Taine Paton who also featured at Holland 2014, and then the line-up is complete by the two most exciting young talents in the country. Big game goal scorer Bili Ntuli and the sensational hands of  Dayaan Cassiem.

Coach Mark Hopkins shared his thoughts on the squad:

“The entire squad has focused on building our brand and culture off the pitch and our style on the pitch. I am extremely excited by the squad that is going to represent South Africa at the FIH Hockey World Cup, and humbled by the work behind the scenes to ensure we are as well prepared as possible. We have selected a squad that is able to play a style of hockey that we will get the most out of our talents and also compete against some of the best in the World.

It is critical that we continue to focus on developing our offensive and defensive strategies and execute our game plan consistently. The squad will be led by Tim Drummond and I am sure everyone will get behind him to ensure we deliver our expectations.”

South Africa’s World Cup group fixtures

28 November 2018 – India vs. South Africa
2 December 2018 – Canada vs. South Africa
8 December 2018 – Belgium vs. South Africa

South Africa’s World Cup squad (Caps after names)

  1. Tim Drummond (captain) - 131 
  2. Dayaan Cassiem – 17
  3. Taylor Dart – 18
  4. Tyson Dlungwana – 18
  5. Jethro Eustice – 95
  6. Rhett Halkett – 148
  7. Tommy Hammond – 68
  8. Keenan Horne – 34
  9. Julian Hykes – 122
  10. Gowan Jones – GK – 42
  11. Peabo Lembethe – 0
  12. Mo Mea – 14
  13. Bili Ntuli – 26
  14. Taine Paton – 104
  15. Richard Pautz – 16
  16. Rassie Pieterse – GK – 133
  17. Austin Smith – 158
  18. Nic Spooner – 1

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