Our Black Sticks ladies have got their World Hockey League Finals campaign underway and with a win over Korea and a loss to the Dutch; it's been a fair start.
The kiwis beat Korea 3-1 on day one with goals scored by Pippa Hayward, Kirsten Pearce and Gemma Flynn, a result which was expected and gave the kiwis confidence in their attacking play as the likes of Anita Punt and Stacey Michelsen enjoyed success carrying the ball up the guts. While we saw what this Black Sticks side can do against a slightly weaker opponent, today's loss to Netherlands hit the Black Sticks in true reality check fashion going down 4-1, with Petrea Webster the only goal-scorer for the kiwis.
Whereas the Black Sticks like to be the team carrying the ball forward with speed and power, against the Dutch they struggled to handle the speed and power of their opponents. This is understandable as the Dutch are ranked numero uno in world hockey and their performance against the kiwis not only showed why they are the best in the world, it also showed how the Black Sticks ladies need to be better to compete with the best teams in the WHL Finals.
It's not often that the Black Sticks come off second-best physically in a game of hockey and while this was the case against Netherlands, it's not something that can be improved on in the space of a tournament. They can however be better tactically to counter this. The ease with which the Dutch hit the flanks, going around the outside of the kiwis defence, attacking the baseline and taking on defenders in the circle is a worrying sign, especially how quickly the Dutch got into these positions.
Up the flank they go...
How the kiwis improve on this moving forward will be the focus of their midfield ahead of their last pool game against Germany. There was a period of time in the second quarter where the Black Sticks were competing strongly and this came as they hounded the Dutch midfielders, using the speed and hard work which is a staple of their attack to keep the Dutch under pressure, instead of being able to quickly move the ball forward. Punt, Michelsen, Rosie Keddell and Sophie Cocks are key here - they'll be encouraged by the fact that they did get a turnovers and interceptions in the middle of the park but will need to do a better job of slowing their opposition later in the tournament.
While the Dutch have the silkiest of skills, they showed the Black Sticks how effective quick and accurate passing is. They certainly took on kiwi defenders but this was done in or around the circle as the fluidity of their movement and passing earned them time and space to take on defenders. Too often the Black Sticks carried the ball into congestion only to turn it over and be scurrying back to try stop an entertaining Dutch attack.
Petrea Webster has been a standout for the Black Sticks and against Germany we should see the team rewarded for their gritty defence - which has been evident despite the 4-1 loss - with far better possession to attack with, using the combinations between Webster, Charlotte Harrison, Gemma Flynn and Olivia Merry to open up space for the midfielders who love to run with the ball.
No need to panic after today's loss as the Dutch are a very slick outfit. This does put pressure on the Black Sticks to snatch the win against Germany to qualify for the knockout stages, which I'm confident they will do.