Hockey: NZ battle back for opening test win

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A Malaysian defender loses his stick as Black Sticks striker James Coughlan attacks at Blake Park yesterday. Photo / George Novak
A Malaysian defender loses his stick as Black Sticks striker James Coughlan attacks at Blake Park yesterday. Photo / George Novak

The Black Sticks men opened their four-test series against Malaysia with a 4-1 victory at the Tauranga Hockey Centre at Blake Park yesterday.

The Kiwis were rusty early on in their first game since the Oceania Cup in October, where they finished runners-up to Australia.

Malaysia had a gilt-edged chance to take the lead after five minutes when they were awarded a penalty stroke after the ball cannoned into the arm of a Black Sticks defender from a penalty corner.

Goalkeeper Devon Manchester showed why he was a star at the recent HIL in India by saving superbly to keep the Malaysians scoreless but he was powerless to stop the visitors taking a deserved lead in the second quarter from a penalty corner.

That was the impetus the Black Sticks needed as they took control of the match with two goals in 90 seconds from Jacob Smith and Nick Wilson to go 2-1 up and ignite the good sized crowd in attendance.

With Tauranga's drag flick specialist Andy Hayward unavailable, Nic Woods stepped up with a superb goal Hayward would have been proud of to stretch the lead to 3-1 after 40 minutes. Later Shay Neal smashed the ball in from a deflection to finish off the comfortable 4-1 victory.

Black Sticks coach Colin Batch was pleased how his team improved over the match after a sluggish start.

He is looking for obvious improvement in tonight's second test.

"Our passing quality can be better and if we get that right and we do it with speed that will give us more opportunity," Batch said. "The game did open up and we started to generate some counter-attacks in the last two quarters that was very pleasing to see. The basis of that came when we got our press right and defensively our structure was pretty good and we actually won the ball off them."

Veteran midfielder Ryan Archibald became just the third New Zealander to reach 300 caps behind Phil Burrows (343) and Dean Couzins (318). The 35-year-old made his debut against Malaysia in 1997 and is excited about his final year in the Black Sticks.

"I am really looking forward to the year being an Olympic year. It was a great way to kick it off with my 300th game in a test series," Archibald said.

"The key for the team at this time of the year is to just make sure we keep getting better each game, so there is a big focus on ourselves rather than the opposition bearing in mind the end game is Rio. That would be a fantastic way to finish for me so I have to make sure I keep playing well."

The three remaining tests will be at Blake Park tonight, Wednesday and Thursday at 6pm.

-For tickets visit www.dashtickets.co.nz

- Bay of Plenty Times

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