The Black Sticks had to overcome a sluggish start and an awkward Malaysian side before winning the opening game in their four-test series 4-1 in Tauranga today.

It's been five months since the world No 8 team played an international and it showed early.

But by halftime they had gone ahead, after going behind early, before easing away for a good win.

Malaysia's Razie Rahim had a penalty stroke saved early by goalkeeper Devon Manchester, but Rahim still put 13th-ranked Malaysia in front soon after.


Jacob Smith, Nick Wilson, with a reverse stick shot, Nic (crrt) Woods, with a rasping drive from a penalty corner, and Shay Neal scored the goals which got the start of Olympic year under way in a satisfactory fashion.

''The way I judged it was where did we start, where did we finish," coach Colin Batch said.
''We were a bit rusty early, but kept improving. Malaysia certainly didn't make it easy for us.

''Our defensive structure was better, we ended up winning the ball, counter attacking and scoring from those situations.

''Our level kept improving, so from a growth point of view I was very happy with that side of it. Sure we need to improve in a number of areas."

Batch admitted there were signs the players were unsettled trying to bed in various combinations, ''but the players are getting a very good understanding of what is required of them".

While it is Olympic selection year, Batch's focus has team development as top priority - ''it's still about the team".

The match was also notable for being the 300th international for New Zealand's veteran midfielder Ryan Archibald, joining Phil Burrows and Dean Couzins in the country's 300 club.

The only player ruled out of today's game was Southern defender Kane Russell, who tweaked his back during training on Saturday. Batch said he might be ready for game two at the same venue on Monday night, but no chances would be taken.

Malaysia, good counter-attackers and with useful one-on-one skills, made things tricky for New Zealand.

However Batch was happy his defence got a good workout, notably in the first quarter where they had to be on guard around their defensive circle.