Can South Africa turn continental success to global glory and is Great Britain on its way back up the rankings?
Two old foes – South Africa and Great Britain – will be seeking Olympic qualification in Valencia. And within their squads, two players who have been quietly stacking up the international caps are both determined that this will be their tournament.
South Africa is currently ranked number 11 in the world and has never been beaten in the African continental championships. Being the consistent number one in their own continent has not translated into any significant wins on the international front – 10th in the 2012 Olympics, ninth in the 2014 World Cup, fifth in the Commonwealth Games.
As we approach the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Valencia however, there are signs that South Africa are arriving with some serious preparations under their belt and full of serious intentions. Dirkie Chamberlain, who plays her club hockey in England for National league side Canterbury is certain that her team will have all guns firing by the time they reach Valencia.
“We have been preparing well as this is a very important tournament for us. We had a camp in January where we played 11 international games and have two more camps leading up to Valencia. The international games were a good indication of our strengths and weaknesses and we have worked on getting these right for Valencia. A lot of the squad played overseas in between camps to gain experience and there has been high performance training for the players in South Africa.”
Dirkie, who has more than 180 international caps, has had a good season with Canterbury and will be expected to be a major player in South Africa’s team. She says: “There is a good spirit in the South African squad and the players are excited about the challenges that have been set out for them. It's great to see youngsters stepping up and not just hiding in the shadows of older experienced players. We also have a group of more experienced players who have played together since 2010 and those connections on and off of the field is something I see as a massive strength for us. Individually we have some great talent but what makes us a great team is how we all work together.”
One of South Africa’s opponents in Valencia will be Great Britain. The last time the two teams met in a major competition was the 2014 World Cup – where Great Britain was represented by England. South Africa emerged 4-1 winners and Chamberlain was on the score-sheet.
One member of that team was midfielder Georgie Twigg, a veteran of the Great Britain side, who won her first cap in 2010. She currently has 107 combined England and Great Britain caps to her name, along with an Olympic bronze medal, a Champions Trophy silver medal and a European silver medal. She plays her hockey at Surbiton in England. She also picked up England Hockey’s Young Player of the Year award for four consecutive seasons – 2010-2013. Like her teammates, Twigg was desperately disappointed with the team’s performance in the Hague and is keen to consign all memories of that event to the past.
Speaking from Valencia, where Great Britain have been getting some additional training in on the new pitch, Susie says: “We’re really looking forward to the tournament and feeling really well prepared. We’ve had a couple of trips out to Valencia in preparation and now we are just focusing on our first game against Spain – that will be a great spectacle.”