Black Sticks men have their sights on medal

MATT RICHENS IN GLASGOW
Last updated 07:11 22/07/2014

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The New Zealand men's hockey team say they're stronger both defensively and on attack than the team which finished seventh at the World Cup just six weeks ago.

The inclusion of Canterbury defender Brad Shaw has added strength, experience and a monster tackler to the defensive line while coach Colin Batch said the side's finishing from open play, which was a little lacking in last month's World Cup in The Hague, has also improved in training.

The Black Sticks finished seventh in that tournament, but considered a medal in the Commonwealth Games tournament in Glasgow a minimum requirement.

Shaw's inclusion came at some expense.

Shaw and Northland midfielder Shay Neal were added to the squad after the World Cup while Jared Panchia, Stephen Jenness, Kane Russell and goalkeeper Hamish McGregor did not make the cut.

Russell was Andy Hayward's chief back-up drag-flicker and his absence could have left the side a little light at penalty corner time, but Batch insisted they had that aspect of their game well covered.

"We've still got Andy Hayward as our No 1 guy and while we don't have Kane Russell and that probably weakens us just a little, that's balanced out by bringing in Brad Shaw to strengthen up our defence," Batch said.

"We've been working on some really good variations and we need to fine-tune them and we still have Shea McAleese and Nick Haig as options.

Batch's side beat Wales 2-0 in a warm-up match yesterday and used one of their variations well, but the coach added there was always room for improvement when it came to execution.

"Hockey's a low scoring game... you might not get to many opportunities so you need to make the most of them."

Captain Dean Couzins said the inclusion of Shaw did far more than just strengthen the side's defense; it helped them out when it came to setting up attacks and was also a confidence boost.

"From a team's point of view, having Brad here, with his defensive capabilities and experience, gives us a better sense of belief.

"There's a feeling part to it, we know that if teams are attacking we have that ability to soak it up. We know that if we have to grind it out, we can defend well.

"Brad does a lot of his work defensively on the left and that's where a lot of teams look to attack. When you have a guy like him, who's big and mobile and can really get into your face, that can boost the rest of the team as well.

"The flip side of that, of course, is that if he can help shut them down, that will help our confidence and maybe affect theirs too."

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New Zealand's first match of the Games is against Canada on Friday morning (NZ time).

- Stuff

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