Next year is an Olympic year, and the SPAR South African hockey team have moved into preparation gear with international matches lined up from early in 2008.
South Africa will play Ireland in four Test matches between January 12 and January 19. The first and third Tests will be played at Stellenbosch University’s Sports Centre and the second and fourth Tests will be played at Hartleyvale in Cape Town.
The team then travel to Argentina for a four-nations tournament involving Argentina, Germany, South Africa and the United States. The tournament begins on January 23 and ends on January 27.
"It’s wonderful to have these opportunities so early in the Olympic year," enthused team coach Jenny King. "Normally, there is very little hockey in January because we are in the middle of summer.
"I am also very pleased to have a Test series ahead of a tournament. A series gives us a chance to get rid of some of the wrinkles and to blood some of our younger players ahead of the four-nations tournament in Argentina."
Ireland are ranked 14th – two positions behind South Africa – on the world rankings, but the team will need to punch above their weight in Argentina. The hosts are ranked second in the world, behind the Netherlands, and Germany are ranked third. The United States are in 11th position.
"I think the United States are better than their ranking," said King. "It is going to be a very tough tournament, but South Africa are known to be very competitive. We drew with Germany earlier this year, so we will be fairly confident, and we gave Argentina a good go when we played them in Beijing. Our aim is to reach the final of the tournament."
The selectors named two squads – one for the series against Ireland and the other for the tour to Argentina. However, there is only one change to the two squads, with Lisa-Marie Deetlefs replacing Louisa Moore.
"Lisa-Marie has a bit of an ankle injury at the moment, so we want to give her time to heal completely," explained King. "We will also be without striker Shelley Russell, who has a back injury. We are giving her a break of six to eight weeks to recover completely, so that she will be available for the Olympics in Beijing.
"We are also sad to be without Sharne Bailey, who is pregnant. We are thrilled for her that she is having a baby, but her presence in the team will be missed."
Four Nations Tournament – Fiona Butler, Tarryn Bright, Cindy Brown, Lisa-Marie Deetlefs, Henna du Buisson, Farah Fredericks, Lesley-Ann George, Kate Hector, Taryn Hosking, Marcelle Keet, Sanani Mangisa, Lenise Marais, Marsha Marescia (capt), Mariette Rix, Vida Ryan, Vidette Ryan, Kathleen Taylor, Jen Wilson.