Today is the day the Champions Challenge gets underway at Randburg Astro. South Africa will be playing Poland at 17:00 this afternoon followed by games on Sunday and Tuesday at the same time. In the last of our SA Hockey Interviews we got the top dog, the world beater and world class captain Austin Smith.
Austin made his debut for South Africa as an 18 year old in 2004 and has since gone on to amass 74 caps (correct at 15.06.2011) and captained South Africa in 27 of those games. He has represented South Africa at the Olympic games, World Cup and Commonwealth Games. He plays his club hockey in Holland for Den Bosch and was also named in the World All Star team in 2009. It is the honour of ATJ to chat to our national captain.
(ATJ): Hi Austin, welcome back to South Africa. How are you feeling ahead of the Champions Challenge?
Austin Smith (AS): Im feeling great thank you. I am supremely confident in the team which we have here and that the work which has been done over the past four months. You can expect great things from this team during the competition. Our time has come…
ATJ: Was being the captain of the national team always a childhood dream of yours?
AS: No it was not. I dreamt from a young age of playing for the national team as my school teacher Murray Anderson was a current international and he inspired me to take my hockey more seriously and believed I had what it took to play for South African some day.
ATJ: Having played for a fair amount of time in England as well as in Holland, how does the standard of play over there compare with the quality of the hockey here in South Africa?
AS: The standard is far higher in Europe, but that is to be expected when most EU countries play a national league. In South African we only have the top players playing against each annually in the form of the Inter Provincial Tournament. If we had a league which was similar to that of England or Holland I believe the level would be far far closer than what it is now. We have the talent in South Africa but due to the countries geography that talent does not play against each other often enough.
ATJ: What is your favourite thing about playing over there?
AS: I am incredibly lucky to be able to play hockey professionally for the past two years. It allows me to concentrate on my hockey fully without the distraction of work. It has not been easy and over the past six years I’ve had to learn to live on my own away from friends and family.
ATJ: Who has been the most talented player you have had the opportunity of having as a team mate?
AS: Rob Reckers who Iâ€™m currently playing with at Den Bosch in Holland. He has played for their national side for a number of years and although heâ€™s now retired from international duty he still adds immense value at training and in matches. His individual skill level is probably the best I have ever seen but just chatting to him about hockey has taught me a lot about the game.
ATJ: Who has been the toughest opponent that you have faced?
AS: Teun De Noojier. Iâ€™ve played against him in three different teams and each time he has caused havoc. He has the ability to turn a game with a single action and because of his understanding of the game heâ€™s always popping up in space just at the right moment. He really is top class!
ATJ: What do you think that Hockey in South Africa can do to raise its profile?
AS: I think hockey is steadily becoming more popular in schools which I think is the key to itâ€™s overall success. Schools around the country are putting funds into laying astro turfs which in turn will see more youngsters play hockey. Itâ€™s a far more attractive game when played on astro, times have changed since I was at school and we hacked around on a muddy patch of uncut grass.
ATJ: Where can our readers find out more about you?
AS: Website – http://www.austinsmith.co.za
Fan Page – https://www.facebook.com/austinsmith5
Twitter – https://twitter.com/AustinSmith5
Youtube Channel – http://www.youtube.com/user/AustinSmithHockey
ATJ: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
AS: Attending the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. I had dreamt about coming into the stadium at the opening ceremony for many years and for it come true was truly amazing, and Iâ€™ll never forget it!
ATJ: What would you prefer, a bronze medal at the Olympics or a gold medal at the Commonwealth games?
AS: Bronze Olympic medal. Winning a medal for your country at the Olympics is something very few South Africans have been able to achieve.
ATJ: If Austin Smith was not a hockey player, what would he be doing for a living?
AS: Teaching or landscaping. Iâ€™ve just qualified with a Bachelor of Education but if I studied something else or changed my career down the road it would definitely be in landscaping. I love the outdoors and designing and renovating gardens has been an interest for a number of years.
ATJ: Austin thanks for your time, good luck for the Champions Challenge!