Article by Anendra Singh, Hawke’s Bay Today Sports Editor
Photo: Paul Taylor, Hawke’s Bay Today
New Zealand have thrown down the gauntlet with victory over Australia in the opening match of the inaugural under-21 women’s three-test hockey series in Napier today.
The Kiwis pipped the Aussies 3-2 after leading 2-0 at halftime on a day when the weather gods came out to play as well at the hockey stadium in Park Island.
Goal scorer Holly Pearson, of New Plymouth, said the Aussies had eked out a rash of penalty corners but the Kiwi defence had remained staunch for the first three spells.
“They were pretty good out there and there was some pushing and shoving in the circle so they’ll definitely be out to get a win on Saturday and Sunday so we’ll just have to prevent them from doing that,” said the grinning 20-year-old striker suspecting the weather probably played into the hosts’ hands as well.
Australia’s two-goal scorer, Amy Lawton, said it was the first game the side had ever played together although the downpour didn’t help the cause of finding rapport.
“For me, personally, the water was really slippery on the stick as well,” said the 16-year-old Victorian, who lives about an hour out of Melbourne.
Lawton said while such factors played on the mind, they had worked out a sense of cohesiveness and intensity to score twice in the final quarter.
She expected an improvement on Saturday in their second outing at 2pm.
“Today, I guess, was about what we’re good at and what we need to improve on.”
Lawton agreed the rivalry between the two nations meant physicality in the circle was a given.
“I was too much among it, luckily, because I’m quite small compared with the other girls, I guess,” she said but felt it made it more interesting for the fans.
The first 15-minute quarter was scoreless with the hosts spending more time defending penalty corners but, importantly, keeping their goal intact.
With five minutes left in the spell, the rain came down with a vengeance and New Zealand player Hope Ralph finding herself in the naughty chair for two minutes.
When play resumed Kiwi referee Lani Jackman pinged the tourists, sending Morgan Blamey to the chair with a green card within a minute.
Whatever coach Greg Nicol, of Napier, said the Kiwis got on the front foot a bit more although the Aussies kept the pressure on with two more penalty corners.
Another two-minute green-card sentence to Blamey gave the New Zealanders a penalty corner with nine minutes to go in the second spell but goalkeeper Hannah Astbury thwarted on the left upright. The Kiwis reloaded a few minutes later but no cigar.
However, a circle infringement, with five minutes to go, saw Estelle Macadre push the Kiwis 1-0 up from a penalty stroke.
A fraction more than a minute later, it was Ralph’s turn to extend the lead to 2-0 from a field goal.
The third quarter smacked of end-to-end sparring although the Aussies’ intent was obvious when Tara Leonard picked up a green card as the aggression stakes were raised.
But that stanza proved fruitless for either side despite the rain staying away.
It was the visitors who pulled one back, 2-1, just 90 seconds into the final quarter when Lawton found the back board.
But that only stung the Ella Hyatt-Brown-captained Kiwis into action with Holly Pearson bringing joy to the Park Island faithful with a tit-for-tat goal, 3-1, within a minute.
With 10 minutes remaining, Australia player Phillipa Morgan hobbled off with an injury.
However, Lawton wasn’t done with seven minutes remaining. She came out shining with a sunny tribute from the Green and Golds from a field goal, 3-2, that momentarily silenced the crowd.
Two minutes later, Kaitlin Cotter, of Napier, had a chance to extend the lead but missed a sitter from a cross to the far post from Ralph.
Australia goalkeeper Talei Forrest thwarted a PC corner attempt from Macadre soon after but by then clock ran out on the Aussies.