Hockey: Sickness weakens Kiwi squad in Argentina

By David Leggat

Mark Hager, New Zealand hockey coach. Photo / APN
Mark Hager, New Zealand hockey coach. Photo / APN

Stomach bugs and a formidable Dutch team have combined to give New Zealand coach Mark Hager plenty to ponder ahead of the start of the World League finals in Argentina.

New Zealand have had four players - Sam Charlton, Petrea Webster, Rhiannon Dennison and goalkeeper Amelia Gibson - struck by illness this week. It left them lethargic and provided a head scratcher for Hager and his staff as they prepare for the opening game against world No 7 China tomorrow morning in Tucuman.

"They haven't had a lot of energy in training and games but we hope it's not contagious and they're over it and ready to move on," Hager said.

And to compound matters, the third-ranked Black Sticks got a touch up from world No 1 the Netherlands yesterday, being on the wrong end of a 5-0 beating in a warmup game.

Still Hager said there was a good aspect to that contest.

"It was a bit of a lesson," he said.

"We probably should have scored a couple of goals but they really gave us a few areas to work on. They identified a lot of weaknesses we had, but we had seven players who'd never played them before so it was a bit of a wakeup call."

As Hager put it, "They're the best in the world and there's a reason why they are. They had four of their best players out but they've got talent to burn".

He has a decent idea of the challenge China will pose.

"They're quick, skilful, their basic skills are very good and they don't mistrap too often. We don't play them enough to know what to expect but they've got a good drag flicker as well so we don't want to concede too many penalty corners."

New Zealand's other pool games are against hosts Argentina, the world No 2, and sixth-ranked Australia.

The team is without experienced players Stacey Michelsen, Katie Glynn and Emily Naylor but it will be a good test of the depth within the squad.

- NZ Herald

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