27 June 2021 was a day of celebration for the host nation Australia as they beat New Zealand in both the men’s and women’s FIH Hockey Pro League matches, in two games that brought down the curtain on the extended FIH Hockey Pro League Season Two. In the men’s game, Australia won by a comfortable 2-0 margin, while the women beat New Zealand 3-1.
In a season that has been disrupted and extended because of the pandemic, it seemed Covid-19 was determined to continue to make its mark even on the final day of action. A snap three-day lockdown imposed by the West Australian government in response to a rise in cases meant the final FIH Hockey Pro League matches were played behind closed doors at the magnificent Perth Hockey Stadium.
That, and a serious amount of rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm with which these two nations approached the matches – their last international games before the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The men’s match was hugely competitive, with two goals, four yellow cards and three green cards telling the story of the final men’s match in the FIH Hockey Pro League.
Despite the cards, this was not a bad-tempered fixture, purely a competitive match that both teams wanted desperately to win. The first minutes of the first quarter were evenly matched with New Zealand, led by Blair Tarrant and Shea McAleese, showing a steely determination in defence. Australia, for their part were playing with less ferocity and more composure than the previous day’s match as they probed the Black Sticks defence looking for a chance to breakthrough.
The opening goal came from Nathan Ephraums as he delicately lifted the ball over Leon Haywards’ head in the New Zealand goal. The buildup work had been done by the eventual Player of the Match, Tom Wickham, as he had beaten several players as he made his way into the circle.
Blake Govers scored the second, bringing his overall FIH Hockey Pro League tally to four. The striker, who had looked dangerous all match, pounced on a loose rebound following a penetrating run into the New Zealand circle by Wickham.
New Zealand had their chances but Head Coach Darren Smith acknowledged that his side needed to make the opportunities count.
Speaking at the end of the match, Player of the Match Tom Wickham said: “It was good to get a few wins and it was good to get back to international action. We left a few goals out there. It was psychologically important to finish with a win and we will take the lessons out of it.”
Australia finished the FIH Hockey Pro League in second position, behind Belgium, with a win ratio of 66.7% compared to Belgium’s win rate of 76.2%. New Zealand finished in eighth, just ahead of Spain, with a win rate of 26.7%.
In the women’s match, New Zealand took the lead though a goal from the FIH Hockey Pro League’s leading scorer Olivia Merry. She was able to take the ball into the circle and fire low into the corner of Rachael Lynch’s goal.
Australia came back strongly with a goal four minutes after the break. Savannah Fitzpatrick was on hand to shoot a rebound past Grace O’Hanlon. Penny Squibb – who replaced Edwina Bone in the squad because of an injury – was on hand to fire home a penalty corner and give her side the lead just after half-time.
It was a game played at an energy-sapping pace, with both sides creating chances but also making unforced errors. The game was put beyond all doubt, four minutes from the final whistle, when New Zealand removed their goalkeeper. Australia gained possession and Mariah Williams was able to fire home into an empty goal.
After the match Olivia Merry received her award for being Top Scorer with 11 goals in the FIH Hockey Pro League Season 2. It was an award she also won the previous season.
“I think it is down to my teammates,” said Merry. “They put the balls in [to the circle] and all credit goes to them. It was tough times last year but we have to take personal responsibilities for our performances and I think over the past year we have done that.”
Player of the Match Rosie Malone (AUS) said: “Out of the last four matches we played New Zealand we have drawn three, so it was nice to actually get the win today without going to shoot-out.
“My mum used to say ‘Just go straight to the top of the circle and have a shot.’ That tactic paid off today.”
The result means Australia finished fifth in the FIH Hockey Pro league with a win percentage of 54.17%, while New Zealand finish just below in sixth place with a win rate of 53.33%.
Australia vs New Zealand (Women & Men) Results:
Australia 2, New Zealand 0
Scorers: Nathan Ephraums & Blake Gover
Player of the Match: Tom Wickham (AUS)
Umpires: Adam Kearns (AUS), Peter Wright (RSA), Video: Aleisha Neumann (AUS)
Australia 3, New Zealand 1
Scorers: Savannah Fitzpatrick, Penny Squibb, Mariah Williams (AUS); Olivia Merry (NZL)
Player of the Match: Rose Malone
Umpires: Kelly Hudson (NZL), Aleisha Neumann (AUS), Video: Peter Wright (RSA)