A captain’s view of the hockey draw
Australia’s men’s hockey team have claimed a perfect five gold medals from five Commonwealth Games appearances, but the competition is getting tougher according to captain Mark Knowles.
The official GC2018 Hockey draw was announced on Tuesday and is sure to be a thrilling competition with plenty of exciting match-ups.
Knowles has been part of Australia’s last three gold medal performances, but has seen firsthand the improvement of hockey nations around the world.
“The Commonwealth Games is getting harder and harder to win, England are better, New Zealand and India are much better,” Knowles told GC2018.com.
“Canada, South Africa, Pakistan, Malaysia are much better too and on any given day can beat you if you are not at your absolute best.
“That is what makes this tournament so much harder than any Games I’ve been going to - and that goes back 12 years!”
Australia’s men’s pool will consist of New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Scotland.
“Our pool is really difficult, we have three big rivals in New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. Those three have all played well in world league tournaments over the last two years,” he said.
“They will be a good challenge for us, they are teams with a lot of aggression physically. They are very fit and strong. Then you add in that European influence with Scotland, they’ll bring a different type of flair.
“We played them in Glasgow in a tough game in front of their home crowd.
“The Commonwealth Games are getting harder every time we play. The standard of hockey through the countries 5-15 in the world have got so much better. So it is making each tournament so much harder to be successful at.”
New Zealand looms large in Pool A, with a deep seeded rivalry and plenty of competition between the two countries. While Australia has enjoyed a recent string of wins over the New Zealand outfit, Knowles believes they haven’t played the best Kiwi side yet.
“The rivalry with New Zealand is very, very strong. We’ve played them a lot,” Knowles said.
“This year isn’t a true reflection of where they are. We’ve beaten them the last four or five games but they haven’t come with all their best players. A lot of them are based in Europe, so I don’t think we can take a lot out of the games we’ve played this year.
“But the rivalry is very strong. We drew 1-1 in Malaysia earlier in the year. When we both had our best teams at the World League in South Africa in July, we just scored at the end to beat them 2-1. So that is the reflection we’ll take seriously when thinking about our clashes with New Zealand.
“Australia v New Zealand in hockey or any sport is very strong.”
In Pool B, India and England will be expected to advance, but it won’t be a fait accompli by any means with Pakistan, Wales and Malaysia all improving and looking to cause a massive boil over.
The blockbuster clash between India and Pakistan could be one of the highlights of the Commonwealth Games.
“Pakistan v India is huge, hopefully we can get out and watch that game,” Knowles said.
“We went to watch them play in Dehli in 2010, that is one people should get out to watch, that is colour, that is flair, that is excitement. It is two sport mad nations going at each other. That will be very exciting.
“Then you add into that group England, they are an absolute power in hockey in both men and women’s.
“We would anticipate highly in a crossover semifinal, if we are where we want to be, that we would play either England or India for a place in the gold medal match.
“There could be some dark horses with Pakistan, but on current form India and England are the two strongest teams in that group.”
Australia’s men know they will have a tough task trying to take home a sixth-consecutive gold medal, especially given some of the superstar players they will face in April.
“New Zealand - Hugo Ingles is a very skillful striker, he’s been around for eight years or so and is so dangerous,” Knowles said.
“Their captain Simon Childs has been out of the game for 12 months since Rio with some big injury problems, he hasn’t played at all this year. He’s 28 and played nearly 300 games, so he is world class and we think he’ll be back for the Games.
“Canada are led and driven by their captain Scott Tupper, he’s been there for a long time. Central defender, drag flicking on penalty corners. He is their barometer, he’s the guy who we need to get at, but he’ll also control them around the field. He’s a big player.
“South Africa is one of the other big rivals, they have Austin Smith, Rhett Halkett, a few of their key players who have played in Europe for over seven years.”
Australia will ramp up their preparation for GC2018 with a four test series against one of the world powers of hockey, the Netherlands.
“We have two major events leading into the Comm Games, we play a four test series against the Dutch in Perth in January, that is our selection trial for the Comm Games,” Knowles said.
“They are probably the form team in world hockey, them and Belgium are the best teams in the world at the moment.
“Then we go to a six-nations tournament in Malaysia at the start of March. We aren’t sure which team we will take to that tournament at this stage, but they are two very important tournaments in terms of sharpening up and getting good quality match practice in the lead up.
“We’ve been in a transition phase this year after the disappointment of Rio. We have a completely new coaching staff and a fairly strong turnover of players. This year has been about regrouping. Getting a lot of work done on our culture, who we are and how we want to be seen and learning from the new coaches we have in place.
“It’s been a productive year, it’s not where we need to be just yet, but we are on our way. The coaching staff have done a great job. We are playing differently, we are seeing the game differently.
“It has been good for the players who have been here for a long time to have this fresh approach. We are going to come into the Commonwealth Games ready to be very good in front of our home crowd. What we will give is fast, exciting and a physical attacking brand of hockey and that is what people love about our sport.”
Pool A: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Scotland
Pool B: India, England, Malaysia, Pakistan, Wales
Pool A: England, India, South Africa, Malaysia, Wales
Pool B: Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Canada, Ghana
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