The South African men’s U21 team are playing the final of the Greenfields Senior Interprovincial Nationals in Randburg on Saturday, showing that there is plenty of young talent coming through the ranks. But they are also thoroughly transformed with eight players of colour in the squad, including six Black Africans, showing that hockey is heading away from the representivity frustrations that have dogged them in the past.
And while “quotas” is a word bandied about by the older generation, it is not a hip word when it comes to hockey’s rising young talent.
“It hasn’t been difficult at all to find players of colour for the team because these guys have come through the age-groups, they’ve played together in the U16s and U18s, where there is a heck of a lot of good quality. The core of this side have played Tests together for the SA U18s and made the Junior Olympics semi-finals with the SA U17s, both under Neville Rothman, my assistant coach.
“So there are no quota (I hate that word) players in the team. They were all born after 1995 and have played in every national team together, so there is no baggage. They say it themselves in team meetings that the colour of your skin makes no difference. There’s a very positive feeling in this squad, there’s such a positive culture,” SA U21 coach Garreth Ewing said.
The players of colour in the current squad that is beating seasoned professionals at the senior IPT are composed midfielder Tyson Dlungwana, defender Nduduza Lembethe, Ryan Julius, an elusive runner with the ball, forward Khumo Mokale, the skilful Nqobile Ntuli, pacy Tevin Kok, solid Amkelwa Letuka and goalkeeper Siyavuya Nolutshungu, and they would comfortably be playing in this IPT for their provincial sides were they not on national duty.
“Obviously we do pay close attention to the players of colour, but a lot of them are our best players. Some of them are going to be superstars. They have a long way to go, but their ability and decision-making under pressure is already so good. I can’t wait to see where they all go, six of them already have full national caps,” Ewing said.
Ewing, who has considerable experience coaching both locally and internationally, clearly likes the emphasis on bringing through players of colour that has to be there if South African hockey are to get back to where they want to be – in the upper echelons of the world game.
“What is coming through underneath shows that there is so much potential. We’re not afraid of targets, we embrace them. Things don’t happen overnight, but we’re getting there. The guys play with such joy and style, their hockey is so attractive,” Ewing said.
Most encouragingly, Black coaches are also starting to come through. The losing semi-finalists, KZN Raiders and the Northerns Blues, are coached by Sihle Ntuli and Krinesan Moodley respectively. WP Peninsula are coached by Denzil Dolley and the team they played in the B Section final, KZN Mynahs, are mentored by Sharmin Naidoo
Patrick Tshutshani is Ewing’s counterpart with the junior women, Ryan Pillay coached the Western Province women’s team and even the Mpumalanga women’s team have a Black African coach in Brighty Mshaba.
Numerous other players of colour have shone with Jermaine Johnson and Julian Hykes both playing key roles in getting Southern Gauteng into the men’s final, while Pierre de Voux of Western Province and KZN’s Mohamed Mea are two newer players that are going to have the national selectors’ eyes on them.