With two games played and a maximum six points won, New Zealand have got their World Cup campaign off to sparkling start. We catch up with Dean Couzins, the Black Sticks captain, who recently celebrated his 300th cap in a Black Sticks shirt. Despite enjoying a fantastic start to the tournament, Couzins says it is a little too early to start planning a 'Haka-style' celebration. "It is certainly something we have talked and joked about, but I don't think you will be seeing it anytime soon."
Since Couzins achieved his landmark 300th cap, the Black Sticks have played in the Champions Challenge in Malaysia where they finished a disappointing fifth after they started the tournament as favourites. Their opening two matches in The Hague suggest the Black Sticks have put that experience well behind them, winning their opening game against Korea 2-1, and following up with a 4-0 win over South Africa.
Explaining his team's growing success, Couzins says: "The Black Sticks have a great sense of camaraderie and we see ourselves as the dark horse in the World Cup. We know that teams are worried about playing us. We enjoyed having the whole team together for a prolonged period before the World Cup. We were able to iron out problems at the Champions Challenge in Kuantuan."
There is a sense that the Black Sticks are a close-knit unit, essential if the players are spending prolonged periods of time in each other's company. "It is hard to get our players together because they play in different leagues all over the World. We ensure that everyone is in New Zealand at certain times.It is also about trust - if they are in rehab or doing personal training, then we have to trust they are going the right thing. But when we can all get together we work hard on being a team."
"For example, as a team we play music in the changing room. It depends on who it is in charge of the music. It might be something that is heavily influenced by a New Zealand background, such as Shapeshifter, or if one of the young guys get on it then it can be something 'poppy'."
Couzins spoke about his recent 300th cap: "I really enjoyed playing Australia for my 300th cap. My wife was watching and the guys made it special for me. I have enjoyed playing in Olympics but I am looking forward to this whole experience in The Hague because the team is playing at a good level and getting results. I have thought about retirement, but at the moment I am enjoying my hockey and I get positive feedback from Colin (Batch) so I will see what happens after the World Cup."
With six points on the board and confidence riding high in the camp, Dean Couzins could be on his way to his most successful season in a long career.
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