Phil Burrows has adapted to his new role in the Black Sticks and believes New Zealand will be a medal chance at London. Sam Worthington reports.
Phil Burrows has played for New Zealand 277 times, but swears he's as fresh as a daisy.
In fact, such is his physical fitness and competitive streak, the 32-year-old Wellingtonian fancies Rio de Janeiro, not London, to be his Olympic Games swansong.
"I hope it's not my final Olympics, I wouldn't mind going through to another one," said Burrows from Cairns, where the Black Sticks are preparing for a series against Australia.
"The body is feeling good and I'm enjoying it so why not keep doing it?"
Seven months ago Burrows was stripped of the New Zealand captaincy by coach Shane McLeod and replaced by his friend, Dean Couzins.
But after the initial shock, Burrows has simply got on with business.
There can be no doubting his dedication to the cause, having quit his Auckland-based IT job to spend more time on his hockey.
"I was getting a bit behind in my training so I didn't want anything to jeopardise it. I gave that [job] away and am totally focused on hockey."
As well as losing the captain's armband, Burrows has had to adjust to a new playing role over the last 12 months.
Regarded as one of the world's premier strikers, Burrows is now playing in midfield.
The switch allows the young legs of Simon Child and Nick Wilson to wreak havoc up front while hard heads Burrows, Ryan Archibald and Shea McAleese control the middle.
"It's been pretty easy. I played as quite a deep striker so I was often involved in midfield work anyway. Also, I'm one of the fitter guys in the team and the midfield guys have to do a lot of work so it suits my game pretty well. I can attack but I can also get back and help out defensively. Having the likes of myself, Archibald and McAleese behind the ball, sussing stuff out, we're always in the game and have got a connection from back to front."
London will be Burrows' third Olympics.
He debuted in 2000, but New Zealand failed to qualify for Sydney before finishing sixth in Athens and seventh in Beijing.
But the general consensus is the men's side is a genuine medal chance in London after winning the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia for the first time earlier this month.
"We're travelling pretty well and we certainly do have a lot of experience in the side," Burrows said.
"But the talented youngsters are also pretty experienced for the age they are so it's a really good mix we've got going.
"We're just peaking at the right time as well. It's definitely not easy but I give ourselves a chance of a medal this time."
Burrows said the atmosphere in the squad was more inclusive than it had been in the past, with the younger players not afraid to "pipe up" in team meetings.
New Zealand open their three-test series tonight against hot Olympic gold medal favourites Australia with games following tomorrow and Monday.
Burrows' intel suggested Aussie superstar Jamie Dwyer will miss tonight's game with a minor hamstring injury. He said it was crucial the Kiwis fronted up all three times.
"We just want to get three solid performances out there. We often have a couple against Australia but the third game or whatever, one of the games, they really tend to stitch us up.
"Every guy is going to have to play because you've only got 16 at the Olympics."
AT A GLANCE
Name: Phil Burrows Position: Midfielder/striker Born: April 25, 1980, in Wellington Education: Newlands College Caps: 277 Resides: North Shore Most admired sportspeople: Sachin Tendulkar and Hazem El Masri Dislikes: Losing, injuries, olives
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