Black Sticks' ranking unjustified, says coach

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 17/12/2012
Stacey Michelsen
Photosport
BIG HIT: Stacey Michelsen throws an overhead during the Fourth women's hockey test between the Black Sticks and India.

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Some coaches can be economical with the truth but not Mark Hager.

The Black Sticks mentor learnt many things during his side's 5-0 series win over India, and one was that their world No 3 ranking was generous.

"To be blunt, no," Hager said when asked if the ranking was justified, after Saturday's patchy 6-5 win at Wellington's National Hockey Stadium.

"I don't think we're quite a third-ranked team. When you look at our win-loss record, a third-ranked team, to me, wins 70 to 80 per cent of their games and we're nowhere near that at the moment."

New Zealand are in a rebuilding phase after their fourth placing at the London Olympics.

Largely by necessity, Hager blooded eight rookies during the six-test series and, as expected, there were wildly inconsistent performances.

"One minute, we're brilliant, the next minute, we're right down the bottom. I thought they showed patches of being ready for international hockey. They also showed some patches where you questioned. But unless you play them, you're not going to know. That's the catch-22, so we've got to be patient."

Hager said it was too early to determine whether any of the eight were set for long international careers, and it took 50 to 60 tests for a true gauge.

But Wellington's Aniwaka Roberts earned a pass mark from the taskmaster.

"We played her in a position she wasn't used to, centre back, so she's learning how to play in that position. The high tempo of international hockey is probably the biggest thing for Ani. It's a huge step up but she showed some good signs."

Having accounted for world No 12 India, the players will break before their next assignment, a daunting five-test tour of No 2-ranked Argentina in February.

Hager will regain Olympians Bianca Russell, Emily Naylor and Krystal Forgesson, although classy captain Kayla Sharland is unlikely to tour.

Bridget Blackwood and Petrea Webster should be recovered from injury, and Sophie Devine will be unavailable until after February's cricket World Cup.

One area where Hager is relatively content is goalkeeping, where veterans Russell and Sally Rutherford have youngsters Amelia Gibson and Georgia Barnett snapping at their heels.

"So we've got four pretty quality keepers within our stocks. We just need to keep that competitive environment amongst them. That's what they tend to thrive on. They're all pretty good friends; they're after that No 1 spot but they also challenge each other in trainings and games."

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Hager was also happy with the way Stacey Michelsen, Anita Punt, Gemma Flynn and Katie Glynn stepped up against the Indians. "They didn't have Kayla or Emily or Krystal there telling them what to do so they had to step up and help the young ones. That was very pleasing, to see that they were very patient with the young players and assisted them."

Glynn scored another brace on Saturday. Michelsen, Olivia Merry and Cassandra Reid were the other scorers, to go with an Indian own goal.

New Zealand led 6-3 in the second half before clocking off early.

"We got things going in the second half but nearly butchered it again at the end. We were simply not making good decisions at times."


- The Dominion Post

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