Silver was not the colour Australia women’s head coach Paul Gaudoin wanted from the 2018 Commonwealth Games and so some changes have been made for the next international challenge that the Hockeyroos will take on.
A Tri-Nations round robin tournament against New Zealand and Japan will give the coach a chance to try some new variations with his squad as he seeks a winning formula ahead of the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018.
The charismatic Gaudoin was not holding back as he assessed his team’s performance in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. “It was pleasing to make the final but our performance in the final was disappointing. I think credit to New Zealand, who played a very good game and came to play. We need to learn from that.
“We need to recognise when you get an opportunity, you’ve got to take it. We’ve got to be more ruthless in terms of when we play big matches. That’s important for us. I’d rather this be now than the World Cup but at the same time, when you play in a final, it’s an opportunity to get that feeling and the pressure that goes with that. We didn’t get the result we wanted. We didn’t deserve to get the result we wanted on our performance on that day. We want to make sure we’re learning, building and improving every time we get an opportunity to represent Australia.”
Gaudoin has made six changes to the squad that contested the gold medal. Kristina Bates, Lily Brazel, Kalindi Commerford, Madison Fitzpatrick, Kathryn Slattery and Ashlee Wells all come into the team for the tournament, which runs from 19-27 May.
But that is not to say the squad is anywhere near settled yet for the challenge in London. “We want to ensure we’re still unpredictable when we get to the World Cup,” he said. “And this will give us better knowledge and information for when we select the final group for the World Cup.”
While success at the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup is the main target, with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in the not too distant future, Gaudoin is playing the long game. Since he took over as head coach in 2016, after the Rio Olympics, he has been introducing his own style of play and his own team ethos, but, he says, there is still a way to go.
“I think the girls are starting to understand how I want them to play. Our style of play still has a lot of work to do. We’re starting to build players who are a bit more flexible, who are owning their decisions on the field and we need to continue that if we’re going to be a team that’s reckoning for a medal in Tokyo.”
The Tri Nations might be a chance for his team to get more international experience under their belt but there is also a danger of giving away tactics as both Japan and New Zealand are in the same pool as Australia at the World Cup. Is that a problem for the head coach, particularly as New Zealand are such close rivals geographically and in the FIH Hero World Rankings [New Zealand are ranked fourth in the world and Australia fifth].
“At the end of the day New Zealand have played in the last three major international finals, including Commonwealth Games, World League Final and World League Semi-Final. They’re a very good team. They’re in a bit of form at the moment. In terms of competition, it’s a great opportunity for us to challenge ourselves against one of the top teams in the world.
"We are reasonably familiar with them but at the same time they’ve got some excellent players, an excellent style of play that’s aggressive and we want to be able to challenge ourselves to continue to be able to perform against them, recognising that we’ll see them at the World Cup.”
The final weeks of preparation before the World Cup will involve an intensive training block before they board a place and fly to Europe. In 2014 Australia were ranked fifth in the world and took home a silver medal. The squad has been through some tumultuous times in the past four years but under the careful and steady tutelage of the former Kookaburra, there is a sense that Gaudoin and his team are determined to make a return to glory days.