By the end of their semifinal, it felt as if the Black Sticks could play until the end of the weekend and not score.
That’s a major problem that needs to be solved then before their bronze-medal match against India on Sunday night (8pm NZ time).
New Zealand lost their women’s hockey semifinal against England at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham on Saturday morning (NZ time) in a penalty shootout. The match was goal-less after an hour’s battle before home team goalkeeper Maddie Hinch refused to let NZ’s Hope Ralph, Rose Tynan, Katie Doar and Olivia Shannon score in the shootout.
NZ keeper Grace O’Hanlon was also tough to beat but Isabelle Petter and Hannah Martin forced the ball past her to the delight of her team-mates and the vast majority of the 6,000-strong crowd.
“I thought largely we played some good hockey and defended well. I also thought we created a few opportunities,” NZ coach Darren Smith said.
“I thought we created some good ones and particularly forced a few penalty corners, but we couldn't quite manage to get it over the line.”
The defending Games champions also had the same problem against the same team in the semifinal on the Gold Coast in 2018, but on that occasion England found it tougher than the eventual gold medallists to find the net.
“You have to admire both keepers. Maddie Hinch is fantastic at it, and so is Grace O'Hanlon. In the end it's life,” Smith said, while admitting those sort of matches take a few years off your life.
“When we go back and look at the game, I think I'm going to be pretty happy with some of the stuff that I see, and particularly our defensive effort.
“It was pretty fantastic – our tackling and the way we defended our circle.”
The NZ defence did produce a number of finely-timed intercepts and had to stand firm against a late England surge before fulltime, including some close calls from penalty corners.
The Black Sticks had beaten England 3-1 at the World Cup last month despite England being ranked four places higher in the world standings at No 4.
While the home side had a couple of early penalty corners, New Zealand’s pressing game was causing them problems at the back.
England went the closest to scoring in the first two quarters with a shot from Holly Hunt hit the outside of the post, while both sides had players yellow-carded for 10 minutes.
Smith pointed out the English team were based around a backbone of players who won a bronze medal at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, while the Black Sticks had just four players left from the Gold Coast triumph.
He was adamant his players would lift against India, who came from a goal behind late to level with gold medal favourites Australia in normal time, only to lose the shootout 3-0.
“The Commonwealth [Games] is a big competition for us and if we can take away some bling from that, it'll be fantastic.”