FIH Pro League: Australia men and New Zealand women triumph on Oceania Derby Day in Sydney
Four days after gruesome killings in two mosques in Christchurch plunged New Zealand into gloom, Kiwi women brought back some cheers to countrymen with an impressive win over Hockeyroos in the FIH Pro League on Sunday. Black Sticks men, however, were no match to superior Kookaburras and went down tamely.
The giants of Oceania hockey went head-to-head at Sydney’s Olympic Park Hockey Centre on Sunday with the national teams of Australia welcoming New Zealand’s Black Sticks for two crucially important FIH Pro League matches. The honours were evenly shared.
Australia’s men added to Saturday’s triumph over Argentina by overpowering the Black Sticks men, emerging 5-1 winners thanks to goals from Tom Wickham (2), Jeremy Hayward, Jack Welch and Daniel Beale to secure a fifth successive FIH Pro League victory. The result was the perfect ending to the Kookaburras ‘home’ campaign, who now sit at the top of the FIH Pro League standings for the first time, with New Zealand remaining bottom of the table.
While Australia’s men made two wins in two days, it was the reverse for Australia’s women, who followed Saturday’s loss against Argentina with a 3-1 loss at the hands of the Black Sticks. Two goals from Olivia Merry – who sits clear at the top of the FIH Pro League scoring charts with eight – and a third from Amy Robinson gave New Zealand a fine triumph over their Trans-Tasman rivals, ending Australia’s hopes of winning their final FIH Pro League home match of this year. The Hockeyroos sit fourth in the FIH Pro League Standings, with New Zealand fifth.
Following some stellar work from the ground staff to clear the excess water that had gathered on the Olympic Park playing surface after a heavy downpour in Sydney, the men’s meeting between Australia (FIH World Ranking: 2) and New Zealand started without incident, although it was the Kookaburras who were quickest to assert their authority on of the contest. Two Australian goals arrived in the first quarter, with Tom Wickham scoring at the second attempt after a surging run into the New Zealand circle from Jake Whetton before a Jeremy Hayward penalty corner drag-flick doubled the advantage. However, New Zealand halved the deficit on the stroke of quarter-time through Hayden Phillips, who crashed home a second phase penalty corner effort.
Whetton claimed his second assist of the match in quarter two, ripping the Black Sticks defence wide open with a killer pass to Jack Welch, who drilled a low backhand strike between goalkeeper and post to re-establish a two goal cushion at 3-1. From there, the Australians never looked back. Wickham scored his second and Australia’s fourth when he guided home a Dylan Wotherspoon pass early in the third quarter, with Daniel Beale stealing possession from New Zealand defender Shea McAleese before completing the scoring with a cool strike on the backhand.
“It’s always a great game to play against our Kiwi friends and I’m just happy that the crowd came out and enjoyed the spectacle”, said Australia defender and Player of the Match Matthew Swann, who also reflected on his team winning five successive matches after claiming just one point from their opening matches against the Netherlands and Belgium respectively. “We didn’t get off to the best of starts, but
I’m glad that for our home games we were able to get five wins out of seven. Now we have a long road ahead of us so we have to dig deep and win some tough matches on the road, so I’m looking forward to that.”
New Zealand captain Arun Panchia said: “We came out and tried to be aggressive early on, but the Aussies ran over us a wee bit in the first half. We had to try a few different things as we are not playing the best hockey, so it’s unfortunate.”
In the women’s match, both Australia (WR:3) and New Zealand came into the fixture on the back of defeats against Argentina, with New Zealand suffering a 3-0 loss against Las Leonas on home soil last week before the Argentines inflicted a 1-0 defeat on Australia yesterday (Saturday).
Australia had an early strike ruled out by a video referral before the prolific Olivia Merry gave New Zealand the lead in the second quarter, slapping a penalty corner into the net via the left foot of Australia goalkeeper Jocelyn Bartram.
It was a seventh FIH Pro League goal of the season for Merry, who soon extended her advantage at the top of the scorers chart with an eighth, scoring from close range after she was left unmarked in the Australian circle in the the third quarter.
A yellow card for Holly Pearson reduced New Zealand to ten players for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, a situation that Australia took full advantage of. A clever pass from Sophie Taylor was stylishly volleyed into the goal by Savannah Fitzpatrick, giving the Hockeyroos a lifeline. However, New Zealand responded soon after being restored back to their full quota, with Amy Robinson finding the target with brilliantly instinctive, waist-height deflection after Merry’s initial penalty corner effort flew into the air from an Australian stick. It proved to be the killer blow, giving New Zealand an important victory away from home.
“It was a tough game, we always know it is, but for us it is great to get the points”, said New Zealand captain and Player of the Match oints today was great. For us it is about gaining momentum to hopefully make the play-offs [FIH Pro League Grand Final] in June.”
Australia captain Jodie Kenny said: “It is disappointing. We knew it was going to be a fast and challenging game. I feel unlucky that we didn’t come out with the win, but we definitely could have put together a better performance out there. You can learn a lot from losses, so we will definitely break those apart and work on the things that we need to better at moving forward.”
Ahead of both of today’s matches, a moment of silence was held as a sign of respect for the recent tragic events in Christchurch. The teams formed a ‘circle of unity’ ahead of the national anthems, with the players and coaching staff of both nations interlocking arms to mark the moment of reflection.
Result: Men’s Match 21
Australia 5, New Zealand 1
Player of the Match: Matthew Swann (AUS)
Result: Women’s Match 23
Australia 1, New Zealand 3
Player of the Match: Stacey Michelsen (NZL)
– PTC News