The World Cup beckons for both the South African women’s and men’s hockey teams after coach Sheldon Rostron pulled off the remarkable feat of steering both sides to the African Cup of Nations title in Ismailia, Egypt, at the weekend.
While the women, who went through the Africa Cup tournament without conceding a goal, had already qualified for the 2018 World Cup in London thanks to their fifth-place finish in the World League Semifinals, the men were under severe pressure, in the last-chance saloon, to beat hosts Egypt and win the continental crown which also gets them to the World Cup, the men’s event being held in India.
With just two minutes remaining in the final, Jethro Eustice scored from a penalty corner to give South Africa the 2-1 victory.
“It was quite a daunting task in the beginning, but with the right preparation and planning it became a lot more simpler. I was lucky to have really good support staff and I was really proud of both sets of players,” Rostron said when asked how tough it was to coach two teams at the same tournament.
“The specific objective of the women’s side was to not have any goals scored against us, we were using a different structure, and I’m really pleased that worked out and that the ranking points we gained should lift us back to the 11th spot in the world.
“The men’s side had qualification for the World Cup hanging over us, but we implemented a very good process which the players bought into and it was very good to see it come to fruition. In the final though, our plans didn’t work out so well, we were 1-0 down after the first quarter and we had to be more aggressive.”
Competing in Africa, where there is a wide range of strengths when it comes to the opposition, also meant the teams had to rein themselves in at times so as not to become too loose.
For the men, this was especially important as a daunting final against Egypt, who beat them in the World League in July, was always going to be lying ahead.