A huge month for New Zealand Hockey has just been completed with both the Black Sticks men’s and women’s teams competing in Australia. Our first stop was Hobart where both teams assembled to play Australia in a three test series. The Oceania Cup acts as an Olympic Qualifier but as there were two Olympic spots allocated to the region qualification for London 2012 was guaranteed.
The men started extremely well beating Australia 3-0. This was a huge result for us as it ended a 12-year draught against the world number one ranked Australian side. Everyone performed well but special mention must go to Kyle Pontifex who had a stellar game in goal to deny the Aussies from scoring and Andy Haywood getting two flicks. Our next game was probably the best of the series, we drew 3-3 and was a game that we were really disappointed not to get a result in and take the series, but regardless was another great performance. The last game was a bit of an anti climax with Australia running out comfortable winners and due to goal differential they took the series and retained the Oceania Cup. The first win was a pretty awesome moment for us as a group and more importantly for certain players such as Phil Burrows, Dean Couzins, Blair Hopping who have been in the National side for over ten years and to help them to get their first win over Australia was something that I wont forget in a hurry and hopefully something that we can begin to replicate as we head towards London.
The Black Sticks Women’s side managed to turn around their first game loss and comeback with a draw and finally a win to secure the Oceania Cup for NZ (Also due to goal differential). This was awesome for the girls and showed how well they are progressing towards medalling at London.
Our second stop after Hobart was Perth but before we got there we had several players depart back to New Zealand to make room for some new boys to come in. We flew into Perth, and then travelled about 70 km south to a small town called Mandurah. All it really had was a nice beach and a hockey turf. Here the boys got stuck into training as we were building up for a tournament called the Lanco International Super Series or LISS for short. We played two games vs. Australia A and one vs. India as practice matches. The games did not go ideally for us with three straight losses. After our first game vs. Australia A I was told that I most likely had a tear to one of my disks and a slight bulge and was told that I would not take any further part in the tour. This was gutting for me as I was really looking forward to playing in the LISS as it was a new tournament with a lot of rule changes. The main ones being that there are only 9 players on a team, games only last for 30 minutes and penalty corners and long corners were changed to try and speed up the game. The aim of the LISS was to try and revolutionize hockey and present it as a fast, high scoring and exciting sport to watch. It was televised and from the sideline it really was a great spectacle and one that with a bit of tinkering here and there could really become a huge part of hockey in the future.
We ended up getting through pool play with a 6-3 win over India, highlight of this game was a Stephen Jenness hat-trick, a 7-1 loss to Australia (not too many highlights) and a 1-1 draw with Pakistan. This was enough to see us through to the final against Australia. The Australian side was at full strength for this tournament and it was always going to be a tough ask to compete with them with what was quick a young looking Black Sticks side, however in the final there was no sign of Australia dominance we went into the half time break 3-2 down and we were right in the hunt. They ended up running out winners 5-3 but it was a very close game and one I enjoyed watching.
Looking back on the tour it was a really successful one. To earn a win and a draw against Australia and then make the final in the LISS were fantastic results and are really promising looking forward to Champions Trophy in just over a months time. We now have a couple of weeks off where I will be studying for my exams and also trying to sort out my back so that I am able to hopefully play at the Champions Trophy.
It was also fantastic to watch the All Blacks secure the World Cup for a second time. Although it was disappointing not to be in New Zealand to enjoy the buzz around Auckland it was also great to see the huge support for New Zealand in random places. We watched the semi-final vs. Australia in a typical Aussie bar (while we enjoyed a nice cold…coke) and I swear there were more people supporting the All Blacks than Australia and again watching the final there was an abundance of kiwi fans around the place. This global support is what makes NZ such a great country and a great nation to be apart of. People who haven’t lived in NZ for years yet still have such strong feelings of support towards our national athletes, it was awesome to see!
Sorry for the short novel but it has been a big month of hockey. I hope you enjoyed reading.