Hockey: Black Sticks eye chance of upset as rivals rebuild

SYDNEY - With both teams looking ahead to next year, New Zealand's four-test tour of Australia could offer a better chance than usual of an upset over the world and Olympic champions, coach Jan Borren says.

The series starts with tests in Melbourne today and tomorrow, and ends in Sydney next weekend.

The Australians have divided their squad between the two venues. They have named 15 players for each, including only six called up for both weekends.

Borren said beating Australia was something every country had hoped for in recent years but few had succeeded in achieving.

"But like ourselves, they are not fielding their strongest line-up," he said.

"They have a few players missing and they are bringing others through. In some ways, this is an opportunity for us to do well against them and to compete better than we did earlier this year."

The transtasman rivals have met four times this year - in a three-test series in New Zealand and in the Champions Trophy in the Netherlands. The Australians won comfortably on each occasion.

Both are now building towards next year's international programme, which includes the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, the Champions Trophy in China and the World Cup in Australia.

Borren said results still mattered over the two weekends, even though the series had an element of development and preparation.

"That doesn't mean these tests don't have a role in terms of results - we still want to perform and we still want results," he said.

"The series is going to be hard-fought and competitive. It's the way the Australians always play, it's the way we want to play and it's something we can learn from them."

The Black Sticks, led by experienced defender Sandy Bennett, contain seven newcomers and their itinerary includes four non-test fixtures. The first was against the Victorian Institute of Sport in Melbourne last night.

Borren said he would not be putting out his top line-up because he wanted to run the tour with a second team and a test side.

"We've got 22 players, which is more than normal, and the purpose really is for a greater number of people to come into this sort of environment and get used to the style and structures we are trying to promote."

The Australian squad feature the return of experienced defender Bianca Langham-Pritchard, who is making a comeback after missing selection for last year's Olympics.

Retirement and unavailability mean only six players from the Sydney Games triumph have been included.

Among those missing are Nikki Hudson (knee surgery), Rachel Imison (study), Alyson Annan and Kim Walker (playing in the Netherlands) and Kristen Towers (personal reasons).

- NZPA

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