Commonwealth Games: Black Sticks arrive on a high

By David Leggat in Glasgow

New Zealand bagged 29 goals in the four games and have arrived in Glasgow in good spirits. Photo / HB Today
New Zealand bagged 29 goals in the four games and have arrived in Glasgow in good spirits. Photo / HB Today

New Zealand vs Australia; in a couple of weeks it could be the Commonwealth Games gold medal match.

Early tomorrow (NZT) it's just another warmup match for the Black Sticks and their nearest, and dearest rivals as Kayla Whitelock and her team ramp up their preparations to go one better in Glasgow than they did in New Delhi four years ago.

It's an unusual scenario. You would imagine the top two ranked teams would rather avoid each other before the big event.

But they are in different pools and fancy a decent hitout. Whether it's 25 minute halves or the full 70-minute contest was still to be determined last night.

The New Delhi survivors still remember the hurt at losing that final to Australia in a penalty strokes finale. They are confident, upbeat after winning a Four Nations tournament in Dublin last week.

And while coach Mark Hager admitted yesterday they should have won it too, given their fourth ranking in the world compared to their lightweight opponents, Chile, hosts Ireland and Canada, good steps were made, particularly in front of goal.

New Zealand bagged 29 goals in the four games and have arrived in Glasgow in good spirits.

''The pleasing thing was how well we played," Hager said.

'' We were creating so many opportunities. Against Australia, South Africa and India we're not going to get that many."

The only injury concern was Canterbury midfielder Jordan Grant, who is over a calf strain, which sidelined her in Dublin.

Hager acknowledged world No 2 Australia can teach the Black Sticks a thing or two about the importance of getting acros the line, even when not playing particularly well. It's a trait all teams would love to bottle.

At the recent World Cup in The Hague, where the teams drew 0-0, Australia made the final even though ''they just scraped through in nearly every game, but won the games they had to".

''That's the difference between them and us, they're winning games even when they're not playing so well and that gives them confidence. We have to get that same mental strength."

That said, Hager admitted tomorrow's contest is all about ticking boxes, making sure the defensive and attacking circle work is purring along, rather than the bare, if doubtless appealing aspect of winning the game and grabbing any small psychological edges on offer.

There are bigger occasions coming up for the Black Sticks, but there's no doubt they'll gain plenty from tomorrow.

New Zealand start the Games tournament against lowly Trinidad & Tobago (ranked No 31) early on Saturday (NZT), with their other pool games against India (13), South Africa (11) and Canada (22).

- NZ Herald

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