The FIH Pro League has begun in New Zealand and what an exciting affair the first few matches have been. Auckland hosted the first 2 matches which saw the Belgium and Netherlands Men and Women visit. Following on Christchurch took their turn to host 3 matches where the Germany, Great Britain and China came to visit.
On January 27th the Netherlands came over to North Harbour Hockey stadium to play two incredibly exciting matches. The Men were up first and found themselves behind early after a 3-goal onslaught in the first quarter. The Black Sticks Men responded in a positive fashion with a 3 goal second quarter to tie the game heading into the 2nd half. Unfortunately, the Netherlands Men found the winning goal late in the 3rd quarter to seal the result. The next match of the evening saw the Black Sticks Women take on the Netherlands. This was a low scoring match which could have gone either way, however the Netherlands scored a 3rd quarter goal which was the difference maker.
On February 1st Our two teams then took on the teams from Belgium. These matches were set up to be two incredibly exciting matches especially on the Men’s side with Belgium being the reigning World Cup Champions and featured the World Player of the Year. The Vantage Black Sticks Women were up first as they came up against an improving Belgium Women’s team. We looked to be heading towards a 0-0 draw and a penalty shootout until the last five minutes when the match erupted. First Belgium was awarded a penalty stroke which was saved by Grace O’Hanlon and then with 2 minutes to go Belgium found the winner to upset the Black Sticks Women.
The Vantage Black Sticks Men were up next and faced what looked like a daunting proposition coming up against the World Number One and World Champions. The Black Sticks started the match in a perfect fashion when they were able to put themselves into the lead early in the match through a Hugo Inglis goal. Belgium then came storming back into the match with two quick goals to put themselves into the half time sheds in the lead. The Black Sticks Men found the strength of character to continue fighting in the match and ended the match with a 4-4 draw. Unfortunately, in the subsequent shootout Belgium came away with the result.
The FIH Pro League then shifted down to Christchurch for the next three matches and opened up Ngå Puna Wai as an international hockey venue. First up at the new venue was Great Britain Men and Women and these matches proved to be incredibly high scoring matches.
The Black Sticks Men were up first and were looking to back up an impressive performance from the week previous against Belgium. Our Men ran into an incredibly clinical Great Britain Men’s team who capatalised on their opportunities in the match and came away with a 6-2 loss to Great Britain.
Our Vantage Black Sticks Women were up against a young Great Britain side but were going to be looking for an improved performance. Looking like a side that was hungry for the win our Black Sticks Women came away with a 5-1 victory which was aided from an Olivia Merry hattrick.
We were back at Ngå Puna Wai the following Friday for the next match in the FIH Pro League as we were taking on the sides from Germany. Having had some tough results against Australia the previous week Germany would be looking to secure the much-needed points to kick start their FIH Pro League campaigns. The Black Sticks Women were up first and were hoping to build on their impressive showing from Great Britain. New Zealand hit the front early in the match through an Amy Robinson goal. However, Germany played some relentless attacking hockey and were rewarded with an impressive 3-1 win over the Black Sticks Women.
The Black Sticks Men were up next and were facing another one of the top international sides Germany. Despite some great periods of attacking hockey in the match the German Men were more clinical on attack and came away with a 3-1 win.
The final match of the FIH Pro League in Christchurch was played on the 17th February between the Black Sticks Women and China. This match was not a double header due to the Pakistan Men being withdrawn from the Pro League, as a result of this our Vantage Black Sticks Men gave their fans an opportunity to come and have a hit around on the Ngå Puna Wai turf before the Black Sticks Women took on China.
Looking for their second win of the FIH Pro League the Black Sticks came up against a strong China defence which featured one of the top goalkeepers in the world. We looked to be heading for a potential shootout in this match before a pair of second half goals to Olivia Merry saw the Black Sticks Women secure the win.
The FIH Pro League returns on March 8th where both our Black Sticks Men and Women will be in action as our Vantage Black Sticks Men take on Spain and our Vantage Black Sticks Women take on the USA. Both of these matches will be played at North Harbour Hockey Stadium.