Hockey: NZ sink Australia, progress to final

By David Leggat

Samantha Charlton. Photo by Paul Taylor.
Samantha Charlton. Photo by Paul Taylor.

New Zealand are through to tomorrow's final of the Festival of Hockey after turning on a quality performance in beating Australia 3-2 in Hastings tonight.

The fourth-ranked Black Sticks had to fight back from being 2-0 down in the first half against the world No 3 nation, but the days of being run over by their transtasman rivals are long gone. There is little between the teams these days and last night New Zealand were well worth the win.

New Zealand will face world No 10 Japan in tomorrow's final after they beat fifth-ranked China 1-0 in the other top-four semifinal to continue a strong tournament.

The transtasman duel was a highly entertaining game in which New Zealand delivered a strong, confident display. They showed composure to prevent Australia running away with the match in the first half once they had a two-goal advantage, and their cohesion moving forward was highly impressive.

"It's a situation we've been in before and haven't been able to deal with it quite as well as today," said defender Rose Keddell, who was one of the Black Sticks' best. "But you've got to be put through your paces a couple of times before you come out the other side, so it's really encouraging for us to be able to come back from 2-0 down, especially against a team like Australia."

Australia hustled hard early, had their first penalty corner in just the second minute and were in front after 13 minutes. Stacey Michelsen and Brooke Neal were unable to prevent Kathryn Slattery snapping a shot past goalkeeper Sally Rutherford.

The lead doubled eight minutes later when Slattery ran in from the right, managed to retain control and her shot from an acute angle unluckily bounced off Keddell to wrongfoot Rutherford.

However, Australia were unable to press on and the Black Sticks were level by halftime.

Michelsen and Sam Charlton set up the first goal for Charlotte Harrison, who was on hand to nudge it past keeper Ashleigh Wells, and olivia Merry got the equaliser, whipping in a slick shot after Kayla Whitelock had produced a fine cross from the right just before halftime.

Australia had a good period of pressure in the third quarter, but New Zealand had their chances, too. Pippa Hayward got the decisive goal in the dying seconds of the third quarter, after Gemma Flynn's fine, deep cross reached her on the run and her angled shot beat Wells.

Keddell and Charlton had outstanding defensive games, Michelsen and Whitelock were influential figures in the middle of the park, and Merry, Flynn and Anita Punt were key figures in much of New Zealand's best attacking work.

Australia and China will meet to decide third and fourth spots tomorrow.

Ireland will play India for fifth and six, after the Irish fought back from 3-0 to beat Korea 1-0 in a penalty shootout. India beat Canada 1-0, leaving the Canadians to play Korea for seventh and eighth.

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