Australia, down to 10 men for the last few minutes, hung on to beat New Zealand 2-1 in their four nations women's hockey international in Darwin tonight.

New Zealand will be disappointed, as they had much the better of the first half, were at least even stevens in the second, but failed to grab a series of chances.

They had 19 shots on Australia's goal during the match, compared to eight by the hosts.

However, for all that frittering of opportunities, much of the Black Sticks' work in a rousing, full-blooded contest was impressive, notably their pressing on Australia's defence and speed attacking down the flanks.

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Both teams, ranked third (Australia) and fourth in the world, will be strong medal contenders at the Rio Olympics. There's little between the two sides.

However Australia, clearly second best in the first half, lifted their game in the second spell, were able to stretch New Zealand's defence and it paid a dividend late on.

New Zealand had gone ahead seven minutes before halftime, and it was the least they deserved. Olivia Merry, who had an industrious night up front, drove a hard low shot past Australian goalkeeper Ashleigh Wells off a penalty corner.

Australia equalized through a Georgina Morgan drive from another penalty corner eight minutes after halftime - Black Sticks' goalkeeper Amelia Gibson's only blemish in an otherwise outstanding display.

The winner, 13 minutes from the end, came from Emily Smith, who reacted quicker than two New Zealand defenders when the ball was driven into the New Zealand circle. She gave Gibson no chance. Australia were reduced to 10 players near the end, when Jodie Kenny got a yellow card.

Attacker Sophie Cocks had two clear chances in the final minute, both stopped by Wells, while Merry, Charlotte Harrison and Anita McLaren all gave Australia's defence worrying moments.

There were no beg your pardons in a rugged clash, Emily Gaddum, Ella Gunson and Kelsey Smith all crashing to the turf in bruising collisions with opponents.

Rose Keddell, Liz Thompson, Julia King and Gaddum all got through a power of defensive work.

New Zealand face world No 10 Japan in their final round robin match on Friday night, and a win will secure their place in the gold medal match against Australia on Saturday night.

Japan and India drew the early match tonight 1-1.