The Ireland Women’s Hockey team began their Tokyo Olympics 2020 preparations with a 1-0 victory against South Africa in Stellenbosch.
This is one of six games, over the next 10 days, which Ireland will compete in to replicate the conditions and schedule expected in Tokyo.
Ireland made several changes to the side which had beaten Canada in Dublin to secure Olympic qualification, with Emily Beatty, Hannah McLoughlin, Sarah Torrans and Ellen Curran coming into the line-up.
The Green Army had the better of the first quarter, but were unable to create any clear chances.
The deadlock was broken in the 33rd minute when Deirdre Duke, who was introduced at half-time, won a penalty corner with her first touch. Lena Tice’s drag-flick gave Ireland the opener.
South Africa almost replied instantly, winning a penalty corner themselves but were unable to convert.
It was a hard-fought victory for Ireland who showed brilliant work-ethic to keep the South Africans out in difficult weather conditions.
This was the first of three test matches against their South Africa, who are ranked 16th in the world, eight places below Ireland.
Ireland will also play two more internationals to against Germany later in the two-week warm-weather training camp.
Sean Dancer, Ireland’s head coach was reasonably satisfied with the performance, although disappointed at the relative lack of chances created.
Dancer said: “The conditions certainly made it tough for both teams and the locals here say the weather we are experiencing is unprecedented with such strong winds which have led to trees being uprooted.
“It was a good exercise nonetheless and the game proved that we still have plenty to work on and we will be trying to address the issues that we face as the trip progresses.”
The players will know that this is a huge chance to stake their claim for a spot on the plane to Tokyo as the fight for places looks to be the toughest yet.
Ireland’s next game is on Tuesday against the Netherlands.
Sunday, January 19: Ireland v South Africa, 4.30pm
Tuesday, January 21: Ireland v Netherlands Under-21, 7pm
Saturday, January 25: Ireland v Germany, 3pm
Sunday, January 26: Ireland v South Africa
Tuesday, January 28: Ireland v South Africa, 7pm
Wednesday, January 29: Ireland v Germany, 7pm