POTCHEFSTROOM, SOUTH AFRICA - 23 January 2008, Austin Smith during the Five Nations Mens Hockey tournament match between South Africa and Germany held at the North West University hockey centre in Potchefstroom, South Africa. Photo by Duif du Toit / Gallo Images

Johannesburg – Fresh off winning the inaugural Hockey India League (HIL) with his franchise team, the Ranchi Rhinos, midfield dynamo Austin Smith is eager to join his South Africa teammates for the World League Round 2 event in Rio de Janeiro next week.

“I cherish every moment I play for South Africa, and as our men’s programme has been limited in the past year, I’m looking forward to getting back into the green and gold and qualifying for the third round (semi-finals) of the World League,” Smith said from the Netherlands on Wednesday, where he plays for club side Den Bosch.

Smith, who captained South Africa at last year's Olympic Games in London, has led his country 62 times in a record 109 Test matches but will not be skipper in Rio, with the job going to Rhett Halkett of Northern Blues on an interim basis.

He said it was always an uphill battle for the sponsor-less side in preparation for big tournaments.

“It’s the age-old problem with the team, arriving under-prepared with a new group,” Smith said.

“So, yes, it’s going to be difficult, but the senior guys will need to step up and take more responsibility.

“In the past we have not done enough to fill the gaps with new players coming in.”

Smith believed the innovative HIL tournament would open new doors for the sport.

“The concept is brilliant and I can only see it doing wonders for hockey.

“The semi-finals and finals were on our home ground in Ranchi so naturally our support was immense.

“The passion of Indian supporters is something you are only used to hearing for the opposition, so to be on the ‘right side’ of the cheers and applause was something pretty unique.” – Sapa