NEW ZEALAND: Excitement is continuing to build ahead of next month’s Oceania Cup in what will be Taranaki’s first taste of international hockey in 50 years. The continental championship will see the Black Sticks Men and Women take on Australia, Samoa and Papua New Guinea for a shot at the title from 28 October – 3 November at TET MultiSports Centre in Stratford.

The last time a New Zealand side played in Taranaki was 1963, when Australia defeated the Kiwi men 3-2 in front of thousands of fans at Pukekura Park. Things have changed a great deal in 50 years, and the Black Sticks are looking for redemption through winning the 2013 Oceania Cup – which would also see them gain valuable FIH World Ranking points.

Black Sticks Men’s captain Dean Couzins recently visited the Stratford venue and was hugely impressed with the effort the Taranaki region has put into the event.

“It’s a pretty stunning location. I can imagine on a clear day with the mountain in the background it would be great to be out on the turf,” said Couzins. “I think what you find with smaller provinces who host events like this is that they really get the community behind it. You tend to have some quite vocal people in smaller towns, they get stuck in and don’t hold back and I know they’ll be right behind the New Zealand teams. There are lots of good people getting behind this event and that connection makes it really special for the guys.”

With both the Black Sticks Men and Women having already qualified for the Rabobank Hockey World Cup 2014, the FIH World Ranking points on offer for the Oceania Cup winner are enticing. With the women ranked third in the world, points are extra important for the men who are currently fifth in the world on 1963 points. It’s an intensely competitive table, with just 45 points between the Black Sticks and Belgium in ninth spot.

“I know the New Zealand men are sitting in a nice spot at the moment but there are a lot of teams hot on our heels. It’s very close in those 5-10 spots. If we could pick up the Oceania title it would make a massive difference to that and put some distance between us and the other teams.”

It’s shaping up to be an enormous year in 2014 for Couzins and the Black Sticks Men, with the World Cup, Commonwealth Games and Champions Challenge all on the cards.

The 32-year-old veteran, who is now just 14 games away from 300 test caps, said the competitive fire is still well and truly burning.

“I’m still very much enjoying my hockey - the competitive spirit and edge is still there, there’s no doubt about it whether it’s training or game time. I’m enjoying the environment with Colin [Batch], it’s a really nice, fresh and honest approach. There’s a nice vibe around the team at the moment that’s making it enjoyable, and for someone who’s been around a while that’s nice to have.”

For more information about the Oceania Cup, including draw and ticketing information, please click here. 

Source: Hockey New Zealand