Hockey: Defence key for Black Sticks

By David Leggat

Black Sticks defender Liz Thompson says missing two key players is no excuse. Photo / John Cowplan
Black Sticks defender Liz Thompson says missing two key players is no excuse. Photo / John Cowplan

Sharpening their defensive operation will be a key consideration for New Zealand as they chase their first win at the women's Champions Trophy in London tomorrow.

On the back of defeats to world No 1 the Netherlands, 6-2, and Australia 3-1, the fourth-ranked Black Sticks face Britain, sitting one spot lower, and if they want to get themselves off the foot of the ladder in the six-team tournament, need to smarten their act up.

The Dutch punished New Zealand chiefly through their penalty corner prowess - star player Maartje Paumen scored from four of them - while sloppy defensive work, and getting caught short on a fast break, cost them two of the three Australian goals.

Two players who would usually help anchor the defensive operation, Emily Gaddum - New Zealand's all-time most capped international with 274 caps - and Sam Charlton, were late withdrawals from the trip through injury. That's no excuse, reckons Auckland defender Liz Thompson.

''We can't be too reliant on missing players," Thompson, who at 21 already has 111 caps, said.

''They are obviously two key players in our group but everyone has to step up in our roles in the group.

''As much as it's a bummer for them not being here, and we'd love to have them, we need to lift as a group."

Thompson said there was disappointment at the Black Sticks' failure to make the most of their opportunities against top class opposition with the Rio Olympics around the corner.

''I guess it's always really disappointing when you do put out performances like that, especially when we know we can compete with these teams. We have to make sure we're on track for the next game," Thompson said.

After the Britain match, New Zealand play world No 2 Argentina and seventh-ranked United States before the final-day games to sort out tournament standings.

Another problem for the Black Sticks has been the absence in the first two games of former captain and key midfielder Kayla Whitelock.

She has been in her tracksuit on the sideline. New Zealand officials are tightlipped on why Whitelock has not been in action yet, other than to call it a precautionary move over a minor leg injury.

Thompson said New Zealand would need to have ''some fire in the bellies" against Britain, a team they have had their issues with in the past.

A poor performance in the match for bronze against them in London, losing 3-1, cost them a first Olympic medal. Losing a shootout to England - effectively Britain -- after drawing 1-1 denied New Zealand the chance of shooting for gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

''We know we always have a close game with them, and playing at home is a big advantage for them. But we'll do our research and have our game plans," Thompson said.

- NZ Herald

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