To say we are graced with far too much sport would be an understatement, because it's not just sport - it's largely international sport involving the fern, the black, the white, God Defend New Zealand, Aotearoa and New Zealand. I'll never tire of watching New Zealand sporting teams in action which is only boosted by some international hockey #Yey.
After a winter that was in the most part pretty disappointing for both the ladies and gents, we get a chance to see them both in action on home soil. It's a pretty smooth schedule with Wellington and the Kapiti coast hosting a week of hockey which sees the ladies take on Australia in 3 games while the men will take on Japan in 4. All the games will be streamed online, yey for technology thanks to Hockey NZ. Don't trust me, I'm just a dumb guy who loves sport so go to Hockey NZ to get more details on schedules etc and where to watch the games live and on demand. Too easy.
The ladies are in action first with two games this weekend and one on Tuesday (the men start on Tuesday, finish on Saturday). Mark Hager has again picked a youthful squad to follow up from the series against the USA but the key is having the likes of Stacey Michelsen and Anita Punt in the midfield. Despite the likes of Shiloh Gloyn, Kat Henry and Danielle Sutherland who will make her debut, in the line up, there are many players with decent experience. Decent experience to counter their age as international hockey provides a great platform to quickly gain experience.
Two players who have benefited from that are Brooke Neal and Liz Thompson, two defenders who will probably feature heavily in Hager's future plans. They are both tall and strong defenders who are crisp passers of a hockey ball which should firstly help them compete with Australia's strikers and then get their team moving forwards.
The Kiwis will look their best when Michelsen, Punt along with the likes of Petrea Webster and Rose Keddell are attacking with pace and skill. The ladies have a nice mix of ball carriers and those who can keep the ball moving, which is a balancing act. If Michelsen and Punt are running with the ball in to the attacking zone, that's better than having them starting with the ball on halfway. There's strike power a plenty in this side but young Sophie Cocks is developing in to a strong striker so keep an eye on her.
The lads, well they take on Japan with a opportunity to slide in to a bit of a new era. Dean Couzins, bless his soul has retired so not only is their a bit of a leadership void but there's also a wee gap in defence. As per Hockey NZ, coach Colin Batch outlined a desire to build a bit of depth and this series is a great opportunity to do so.
Defenders Dwayne Rowsell and Dane Lett have been named for their first dig with the Black Sticks which provides them with a good opportunity. The likes of Joe Bartholomew and Corey Bennett will also benefit from not having Couzins and Brad Shaw in defence while someone like Nick Ross should also enjoy a bit of game time in the midfield to try nail a consistent spot. As will George Muir who has been in the mix for a while despite his tender age but has had to wait his turn to play consistent hockey. These guys will benefit hugely from the experience in the squad, but more so where the experience is.
Arun Panchia will set the tone in the midfield which should provide a good example for the younger guys. Panchia and Steve Edwards will be the focal points as they both work extremely hard, can beat any defender 1 on 1 and are great passers. Ross and Muir will be joined in the midfield by Nic Woods who will debut.
Up front the Black Sticks should be lethal and I'd hate to be a Japanese defender. Despite not having the likes of Hugo Inglis, Blair Hilton and Nick Wilson, the Kiwis still boast a talented but super duper hard working front line. Simon Child gets the honour of captaining the side, chur chur, and he'll be joined by younger brother Marcus, Shay Neal and James Coughlin as key men. Jacob Smith and George Bain will also get plenty of game time. The skill is obvious, but this group of strikers should have plenty of chemistry which will not only allow them to string passes together but also defend as a unit and put the Japanese defenders under the pump.
There's no reason why both the ladies and lads can't emerge victorious against Australia and Japan. International hockey is such that you can't really predict anything but despite the perceived lack of experience, there will be many talented hockey players on display. If you're in the area, get along and support the Kiwis otherwise stop watching naughty things on the internet and stream these games. Why wouldn't you!?