BLACK STICKS SHOW IMPROVEMENT BUT CAN’T GET THE WIN
Another sold out crowd at Nga Puna Wai in Christchurch threw their support behind the Vantage Black Sticks but it was to no avail as the young squads lost their games. It was an experience building series for the players, 10 of whom debuted in the past week, that they will use to build upon for the future.
The first game of the day saw the Vantage Black Sticks men fall to Australia 4-2. But it was a gutsy performance with nothing to lose and everything to prove.
The Kookaburras opened the scoring early with Jack Welch found waiting by the post to deflect in a long pass from outside the circle which should have been better defended.
New Zealand struck back almost instantly when Simon Child pickpocketed Lachlan Sharp at the top of the circle to take him one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Child’s shot was well saved by Johan Durst, but Kim Kingstone was on hand to smash in the equaliser.
New Zealand took the game to Australia in the first quarter with a number of circle entries and controlling possession.
Australia put themselves back in front early in the second quarter, while the Kiwis were a man down, through a fast paced counter-attack with Ky Willott taking the honours at the end of a superb move.
The rest of the quarter was mostly dominated by the Black Sticks who worked their way into the attacking third with the most impetus they’d shown all series. Defensively they were sound as well, only conceding two penalty corners, both of which were shut down effectively, and limiting counter-attack opportunities.
The Kookaburras came out stronger in the second half and looked to stamp their mark on the game. They won another penalty corner with Joel Rintala, the Black Sticks tormentor in the first match, once again providing a goal.
In previous matches in this series the Black Sticks had let that derail any momentum they had but today’s side showed resolve to keep on pushing eventually winning a penalty corner, and subsequent penalty stroke for a body on the line, on the quarter buzzer. Simon Child stepped up to convert the stroke, taking him another goal closer to Phil Burrows’ New Zealand goal scoring record.
The fourth quarter saw a tidier Kookaburras team, more precise on defence and more intent on offence. They scored their fourth goal of the game in somewhat controversial circumstances as Australia fouled and injured a New Zealand player to take the ball and score off a resulting opportunity.
In the second game of the day the Black Sticks women coughed up the lead again after leading 1-0 at half time to fall to the Hockeyroos 1-2.
It was a back and forth first half between the teams but it was the hosts that broke the deadlock late in the quarter with a beautiful team goal.
Midifeld maestro Katie Doar threaded the needle to find Hannah Cotter who in turn threaded the needle to find NZ’s all time leading goalscorer, Olivia Merry, free in the circle to add to her tally.
The second stanza was a bit more of the same with neither team gaining much of an advantage on the counter-attack. Australia did, however, win a couple of penalty corners which were expertly denied by the New Zealand defence.
The majority of the third quarter was largely controlled by the Black Sticks, who created some strong chances, until the final minute when they conceded a penalty corner resulting in Courtney Schonell levelling for the visitors.
Australia took momentum from that goal and barely gave the hosts a sniff at goal in the fourth quarter and eventually doubled their lead with Schonell scoring the winner.
The Vantage Black Sticks men and women next play in Europe mid-june where they will take on Argentina, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium where they will play 8 games in 12 days. They will then return to New Zealand for the Oceania Cup in August against Australia – this will be the first opportunity to qualify for Paris 2024.