Hockey: Cup devalued by crucial absentees

With the National League programme already in its mid-season break, interest this weekend centres on the EH Cup competition, which a number of clubs regret has been devalued by the absence of important players in South Africa with the England B training squads. For the women's fourth-round ties, something like the top 30 English players will be missing.

One club not worried by absences is Holcombe, the only non-National League club left in the men's competition. The Kent club, a merger of Old Holcombeians, Templars and Rochester and Gillingham, are only in their fourth year and are making rapid progress with back-to-back league successes and Kent Cup wins for the past two seasons.

Their player-coach, Steve Haines, expects to be at full strength for the fifth-round visit of Lewes, and was quietly confident. "We have played Lewes twice already this year in friendly games, with a win and a draw. We're looking to another tough game on Sunday."

Holcombe's captain, Simon Owen, should know something about the opposition, having played for them in the National League until the start of last season.

The Premiership clash between Loughborough Students and Cannock has been devalued with the absence of three key student players in South Africa. The decision of the former Loughborough coach Jason Lee, now the Great Britain coach, to allow GB players back from New Zealand to play has significantly strengthened the Cannock side with the return of their four players.

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