Belgium too strong for Ireland at end of hectic tour

Men’s Senior International test match
Ireland 2 (A Sothern, C Cargo) Belgium 7 (T Briels 2, A Keusters, L Luypaert, T Cosyns, M Cobbaert, D Cuvelier)

Ireland concluded their South African tour with a 7-2 loss against world number five side Belgium on Sunday in Cape Town.

It completed a hectic tour, playing six games in eight days to start a big year with the pursuit of Olympic qualification the goal, starting with the first phase later this month in San Diego at World League round two.

The Belgians raced into a 4-1 lead at half-time with Loick Luypaert’s penalty stroke opening the scoring before Thomas Briels scored twice more from close range. Amaury Keusters netted a penalty corner rebound for the fourth before Alan Sothern, who plays his club hockey in Belgium with Racing Club de Bruxelles, got one back from John Jackson’s pin-point cross.

Shane O’Donoghue was denied a second from the penalty spot after Drew Carlisle’s quick hands won a stroke as Ireland improved markedly in the second quarter.

The third quarter was scoreless before Tanguy Cosyns converted the third stroke of the game. Chris Cargo responded instantly with a rebound after Sothern’s shot was saved. Matthew Cobbaert and Dimitri Cuvelier completed the win in the closing phases.

The tour gives coach Craig Fulton plenty of food for thought after a gruelling schedule in hot conditions, using 22 players from which 18 will go to San Diego. There, the opposition will be more accommodating than this week’s opponents – world number two the Netherlands, South Africa and Belgium – with Ireland the top seeds, needing a top three finish to advance.

They play three matches on home turf against France, starting on February 10 before flying out to the US on the 20th.

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