Having had a disappointing first half of the Pro League, the men’s Vantage Black Sticks are hoping time on the road will bring a change in fortunes.
New Zealand’s two national teams play Argentina in Rosario on Saturday morning, the women’s clash starting at 6.30am NZT and the men to follow at 9am NZT.
But while the sixth-ranked women are sitting fifth and challenging hard for a place in the top four playoffs with a four-win, five loss record from their first nine games, the No 8-ranked men have found the going far tougher and sit bottom of the eight-team competition.
Apart from the eagerly-anticipated Anzac Day double header at North Harbour, both Black Sticks teams now have the away half of the competition to come.
But captain Blair Tarrant shares the view of the unavailable vice captain Arun Panchia that there is a possible upside ahead, if the squad are good enough to grab the chance.
The argument is that while it’s been terrific playing home internationals against the games’ best teams, with good crowds in attendance, being away from home offers the chance to hunker down and focus solely on the hockey without outside distractions.
‘’This is more like a tournament because we’ll be together away from home and can completely focus on our hockey,’’ Tarrant said. ‘’Maybe that will turn the tide.
‘’I really enjoyed the games back home, the top teams in the world coming to us. But obviously I didn’t enjoy the results.
‘’In the first couple of games we did reasonably well (a 4-3 loss to world No 3 the Netherlands, and a 4-4 draw with Belgium) but we’ve leaked a few goals and been a little inconsistent.
‘’We have been working hard on not giving opportunities to the opposition. We’ve been punished and that’s a good thing. You can’t be getting slack in club hockey and expect to do well in big tournaments.’’
The men’s Black Sticks will be without key senior players Hugo Inglis, Nic Woods, Nick Ross, Stephen Jenness and Panchia for tomorrow’s match but, as Tarrant pointed out, all other teams are rotating their squads.
The Black Sticks 2-1 loss to Argentina at North Harbour on March 10 hurt. It was arguably their poorest home performance but the up side is nine-year Black Sticks veteran Tarrant is confident they know what to expect from world No 4 Argentina.
‘’They’re going to be hard defensively, got some skilful strikers and they stick to their plan. It’s about us putting our game together and I think we can get a result.’’
There is a long game in play for the Black Sticks too, with Olympic qualifying coming up at the end of the year.
So while the inaugural Pro League is important, and there are key lessons to be absorbed, the Olympics in Tokyo next year loom large on the horizon.