“One of the primary focus areas is to see the development of our juniors, giving them the opportunity to develop and grow in the tough international environment,” said Gregory. “It is also an opportunity for some players who have been out of the loop the last year or so to force their way back into the squad.”
The coach said the SA management team will also be experimenting and trying some players in new positions.
“For the senior group it also an opportunity to show that they must be included in the squad going forward as we aim to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and the World League events in 2017.”
SA kick off their campaign of four matches at Hartleyvale against Canada at 6pm Sunday. It has been designated by the coaches as a training match, while SA’s three other matches are all official Test matches.
South Africa’s three official Test matches are against Ireland at 8pm Monday, versus Spain at 6pm Wednesday and the real deal versus Canada at 4pm next Sunday (January 24).
Gregory said SA’s three opponents in Cape Town, Canada, Ireland and Spain, have brought full strength teams, “so it is going to be a challenge for us, but our group is up for that. More importantly, they are very excited about playing international hockey, showing what they can bring.
“Our Test match teams will be chosen on training and match performance.” said Gregory, who added that most of the players in the SA squad, who have been involved in a training camp since early last week, will get an opportunity to play in the matches.
“We are in a completely different phase to the teams we are competing against. They are preparing for the Olympics whilst we are in a rebuilding phase. The emphasis for us is more on the individual performance and looking toward the future and the value that these players can add going forward.”
Gregory said it has been “a fantastic experience” for the younger players to train with the senior players and show their worth.
“With us not going to the Olympics we have to focus more on rebuilding the squad and team - and therefore the inclusion of these players due to their performance over a period of time now.
“It is also important to give these U21 players valuable training and playing experience at the highest level. This will assist in their development and growth going into the Junior World Cup Qualifier tournament in Namibia in March.”
The SA coach praised the work of the experienced core of the SA squad in easing the new players into the senior national set-up.
“The respect shown them by the senior players has ensured that the new group feel welcome. The seniors have set the example in the focus and intensity of the training sessions. The level of performance [of the youngsters] has much to do with this as some of the younger players have been involved for the last two years already and are now ready to earn to earn their first caps.”
Gregory said the senior players have adopted a mentorship role with the U21 players, which has also assisted with their smooth integration into the team.
“In saying that, they have not made it very easy in the trainings for them.”
It all points to a revealing set of matches for this untried SA squad as they test themselves against hardened Olympic Qualifiers.
Tickets cost R10 for children aged 10 to 18 and R40 for adults. Gates open one hour before the first match.
Goalkeepers: Gowan Jones (KZN Coastal Raiders); Rob McKinley (SA U21); Chad Durrheim (EP); Sizwe Mthembu (Southern Gauteng)
Defenders: Dylan Swanepoel, Daniel Bell, Rhett Halkett (WP); Tyson Dlungwana, Alex Stewart (SA U21); Jethro Eustice (Southern Gauteng); Robin Jones (KZN Coastal Raiders)
Midfielders: Dan Sibbald, Jonty Robinson (KZN Coastal Raiders); Reza Rosenberg, Owen Mvimbi (Southern Gauteng); Charlie Bowren, Ryan Julius, Matt de Souza (SA U21)
Forwards: Tevin Kok, Ryan Crowe, Bili Ntuli (SA U21); Lloyd Norris-Jones, Keenan Horne (WP); Taine Paton (KZN Coastal Raiders); Damian Kimfley (KZN Inland); Dalan Phillips (EP)
SUMMER SERIES FIXTURES
Jan 14: Canada 0 Ireland 1 (training match)
Jan 16: Canada 1 Ireland 1 (training match)
Jan 17: Ireland vs Spain (4pm); South Africa vs Canada (training match)
Jan 18: Belgium vs Spain (6pm); TEST MATCH - South Africa vs Ireland (8pm)
Jan 20: TEST MATCH South Africa vs Spain (6pm); Ireland vs Canada (8pm)
Jan 21: Ireland vs Canada (6pm)
Jan 22: Belgium vs Spain (6pm)
Jan 23: Spain vs Canada (11am); Ireland vs Belgium (2pm)
Jan 24: Ireland vs Belgium (2pm); TEST MATCH South Africa vs Canada (4pm)
Jan 27: Belgium vs Canada (3pm)
Jan 28: Belgium vs Canada (3pm)
Jan 30: Belgium vs Canada (3pm)
Jan 31: Western Province vs Canada (6pm)