Fulton feels at home as Irish face hosts on opening day of qualifiers
The match schedule for the World League 3 tournaments in Johannesburg — the final qualifier for the 2018 World Cup finals — have been announced.
And it means that men’s coach Craig Fulton will be pitting his skills against his home nation, South Africa, in Johannesburg on the opening day.
The men, ranked nine in the world, start against the hosts (ranked 15) on July 9, before facing Olympic silver medallists Belgium two days later.
They take on Egypt (19) on July 13 and then have four days break to prepare for World No.3 Germany on July 17 in their final game in the pool phase.
The Green Machine need to finish in the top four out of five teams in their pool to make it through to the crossover quarter-finals.
With the World Cup finals extended to 16 teams, and the five continental champions plus hosts India automatically qualifying, it means a top-seven finish in Johannesburg for the Irish will guarantee their ticket while eighth might also be enough.
England men, who will have several Ulster players on board, host the other World League 3 event in London from June 15-25.
The Irish women, ranked 15, begin on July 8 against Japan (ranked 11) and then its Olympic bronze medallists Germany on July 10, Poland (ranked 18) on July 12 and finally a four-day break before facing World No.2 England — who will have many of their Rio gold medallists in the line-up — on July 16. Their target is also a top seven finish to qualify for their finals in London.