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Road to Beijing continues for New Zealand
21 Feb 2008 07:27

The New Zealand women’s team will meet China and Ireland in a test match series starting on Saturday. The China/Ireland series represents another important step in the Black Sticks Women’s path towards the 2008 Beijing Olympics in August.

The Women’s team has been working hard in recent months with training camps and two series against Korea as they hone their performances.

The squad welcomed the news earlier this month that the Black Sticks Men will now join them in Beijing, after winning the Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Albany.

The two teams also played alongside each other at the 2004 Athens Olympics, both sides finishing a creditable sixth.

Double qualification again is a huge boost for hockey in New Zealand.

For the women, the home series against China and Ireland represent a solid opportunity to work on lessons learned during the recent Korean series in Auckland. Coach Kevin Towns believes his side is sharper for the experience. He has specific areas he wants to work on during the upcoming matches. “I want to see more opportunities created from our attacking 25 into the circle,” he says.

At the other end of the field, Towns says too many unforced errors are resulting in goals and he wants to see the error rate reduced.

Towns expects China in particular to be torrid on attack and is looking to his midfield to deny the Chinese the chance to create too many opportunities. Despite the difference in ranking between China (5) and Korea (9), Towns believes there won’t be much between the two sides.

China has already qualified for the Beijing Olympics as hosts. China was also the 2007 Champions Challenge winners.

Ireland is in a different situation as they are building up to the last of three Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, to be held in Canada between April 26 and May 4. The Irish women’s biggest threat at the tournament is likely to be Korea. This series will provide valuable game time for the Irish against another top Asian side.

The Black Sticks qualified for the Olympics last November when they won the Oceania Cup

Towns is taking 17 players into the series. The significant injury omission is young Northlander Jasmin McQuinn, who injured her ACL ligament during the Korea series. She is now to undergo surgery after which her likelihood of being available for Beijing will become clearer.

After the Wellington series the Black Sticks have just five days before heading to China for another five match series against the Chinese. Training camps will follow before another outing to Asia to take part in what is looking like being a Four Nation tournament in Hong Kong in July.

Match schedule, all matches will be played in Wellington:

Saturday 23 February 14:30, New Zealand – China
Sunday 24 February 14:30, New Zealand – China
Tuesday 26 February 18:30, China – Ireland
Wednesday 27 February 18:30, New Zealand – Ireland
Thursday 28 February 18:30, New Zealand – China
Friday 29 February 18:30 China – Ireland
Saturday 1 March 12:00, New Zealand – Ireland

Source: New Zealand Hockey

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