The Black Sticks Men have won their first of two Tests against Malaysia 3-2 as they prepare for the Sultan Azlan Shah Tournament starting this weekend in Ipoh, Malaysia.
Although the two Malaysia games count as official Test matches, head coach Colin Batch is using it to focus on tactics, test combinations and acclimatize to the conditions prior to the tournament.
"Having just arrived, we were affected by the heat and travel, so it was about staying positive and rising to the challenge. And I think it was an opportunity well taken by the players as we build towards Azlan Shah this weekend," says Batch.
The Black Sticks only played with 15 players last night due to late arrivals from Jared Panchia and Kane Russell who had been at the Junior World Cup Qualifiers in the Gold Coast and also Blair Hilton from Europe.
There are nine players in this team that have less than 10 caps, and all except three players are aged 23 or younger.
"This tournament is a chance to develop some of the younger players and give those training hard the opportunity for international competition," says Batch.
In last night's game, the Black Sticks started each half well but found themselves under some pressure at times.
The first goal came in the 22nd minute from Andy Hayward - a spectacular flick that went high into the right hand corner of the goal. Malaysia responded with a field goal three minutes later. But it was short lived, as Hayward scored his second when the ball went high into the left hand side of the net, despite the keeper getting a glove to it. Hayward almost got a hat trick on half time, but was denied the opportunity.
In the second half, New Zealand made an error in defence early on and Malaysia made the most of it, deflecting a shot in front of Hamish McGregor, who could do little to stop it.
The third goal came in the 65th minute when Isaac Staples disrupted the right half winning a free hit. Jacob Smith, who had a strong game, took the free hit with urgency, counter attacked and found Shay Neal who alluded the keeper and floated a ball back across the front of the goal and Smith duly tapped it in.
Debutants Nick Ross and Cory Bennett made solid contributions to the game. Other stand out players were Marcus Child, Jacob Smith, Shay Neal, Captain Dean Couzins and Isaac Staples.
The Black Sticks play their second game against Malaysia at 1am tomorrow. The Sultan Azlan Shah Tournament starts on Saturday and we will face Pakistan, Malaysia, Korea, India and Australia.
New Zealand 3 (Andy Hayward x2, Jacob Smith),
Malaysia 2 (Saari Faizal, Abdul Jalil Tengku Ahmad Tajudin).
HT: 2-1 New Zealand