Brave Black Sticks miss out on bronze

JONATHAN MILLMOW IN LONDON
Last updated 04:01 11/08/2012
Samantha Harrison
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ
TOUGH TO TAKE: Sam Harrison has been dropped from the Black Sticks squad based on her form at the London Olympics.

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The Black Sticks women have copped a roasting from their coach and captain after turning in a shocker in their Olympic Games bronze medal hockey match against Great Britain in London today.

After a brave and entertaining campaign, the Black Sticks saved their worst for last to go down 3-1 in front of a full house (16,000), which included Prince William's wife Kate Middleton.

Coach Mark Hager pulled no punches afterward, describing the performance as "standoffish" and "apprehensive" while captain Kayla Sharland questioned the headspace of her teammates.

The match was scoreless at halftime but the floodgates opened soon after with Great Britain scoring three times from penalty corners before Stacey Michelsen grabbed a consolation goal at the death.

"We were outplayed for the whole game," Hager said.

"We didn't come to play, we were too apprehensive and standoffish and we didn't recover from that.

"The disappointing thing for me today is Kayla led so well but not enough players followed.

"They didn't want it bad enough, we were hoping we would bronze rather than going out and winning the bronze."

Alarm bells were ringing from the outset, with the Black Sticks off their game with miss traps and players running down blind alleys.

There was also a strange lack of desperation given an Olympic medal was at stake. On the contrary, Great Britain hoed into their work, led by their inspirational skipper Kate Walsh, who wore a guard to protect her broken jaw.

"We thought it was going to happen because we had a good tournament and a good game against the Dutch... but they were just more desperate," Hager said

"When I saw Walsh diving in defence with a broken jaw, to me that said they wanted it and we didn't have people prepared to get on their guts and dive and win the 50/50 ball."

Sharland was visibly annoyed after the final hooter. Her body is shot but she tried to inspire her team by words and actions. However, the emotional and physical drain of the penalty shootout loss to the Netherlands appeared to have had taken its toll on them.

"Maybe individuals didn't prepare as well as they should have for this game," Sharland said.

"You are supposed to be doing the same individual preparation you do for every game. I don't know if everyone did that today or were just a little bit off. It's a learning curve, we are a very young side and they didn't play their game today.

 "We had enough time to recover and get ourselves out there. It's frustrating to stumble at the last hurdle."

The manner of the defeat has taken some of the gloss off the Black Sticks' campaign.  However, it is worth remembering they arrived in London as sixth seeds and the previous best finish by the women at the Olympic was sixth.

"I don't think we have done well," Hager said.

"We have achieved okay, but we didn't win a medal and we let one slip unfortunately."

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Sharland gave the campaign a pass mark.

"You don't get in these situations at an Olympics Games very often so to stumble at the last hurdle is pretty frustrating and disappointing. But overall it has been pretty good, but not satisfying."

There was one "what if" moment when Black Sticks striker Katie Glynn tapped a volley against the post when the game was still scoreless early in the second half. Apart from that, the Black Sticks constructed little until Michelsen scored from a late penalty corner.

 Great Britain's goals came in a 18 minute period with Alex Danson (45th), Crista Cullen (59th) and Sarah Thomas (63rd) scoring from penalty corners.

- Fairfax Media

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