Hockey: NZ fall to dominant Australians

By Robert Lowe

NEW DELHI - The New Zealand men's hockey team will playoff for Commonwealth Games bronze after falling to a 2-6 defeat at the hands of defending champions Australia at New Delhi today.

The Kookaburras virtually sealed the win in a six-minute period just before halftime when they broke a 0-0 deadlock with three quick goals.

The New Zealanders showed plenty of spirit in the 30degC heat, but for most of the match they found the opposition midfield and defence difficult to penetrate.

But they did stage a late fightback from 0-4 down, with goals to Blair Hilton and Phil Burrows, and they also had another effort disallowed.

They will next meet the losers from the later semifinal between England India, with the playoff scheduled for Thursday, the Games' final day.

Australia had been hot favourites going into the trans-Tasman match at Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, with historic and recent form overwhelmingly in their favour.

They had won the three previous Commonwealth Games hockey tournaments, including beating New Zealand in the Manchester final in 2002, when the Blacks Sticks men pick up their only previous medal.

They are also ranked as the world No 1, and have won the two big tournaments of the year, the World Cup, which was held in the same venue in February and March, and the Champions Trophy.

New Zealand goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex was frequently called into action from the early stages, pulling off some excellent saves and seeing another effort hit his left-hand post.

However, in the 25th minute, he couldn't prevent Simon Orchard from finally putting Australia on the board despite numerous bodies packing the circle.

The Black Sticks fell further behind when Glenn Turner, a constant threat with his advances from midfield, deflected in a pass by the far post.

Minutes later, it is was 3-0, with Jason Wilson firing home from the edge of the circle.

New Zealand did have their chances, with the best going to Simon Child, who shot just wide after a neat move in the circle and then had a firm shot saved by goalkeeper Nathan Burgers.

Des Abbott made it 4-0 early in the second half, when he was first to the rebound after Pontifex saved his initial shot.

Australia continued to look dangerous, but Hilton managed to pull one back for New Zealand with a well struck shot midway through the second spell.

Then with 10 minutes to go, skipper Phil Burrows forced a cross home from close range to rouse the neutrals in the crowd.

However, it was too little too late and a superb individual effort by Turner ruled out any thoughts of a shock result, before Orchard also got his second.

- NZPA

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