It is always tricky trying to knock the very best of their perch. It is something that both the Great Britain and Australian Women’s hockey team are currently attempting as they slowly chase down a dominant Netherlands side. Ranked number 6 and 3 in the world respectively and with the Rio Olympics quickly approaching, the recent six match series between the two sides in Perth took on additional significance and it was the Hockeyroos who eventually came out on top. A 2-1 series win was confirmed after a hard-fought and tight 3-2 victory in Perth that was symptomatic of the whole series.
Positives can be taken for Great Britain and their Captain Kate Richardson-Walsh, who became her country’s most capped woman during the tour, but the signs were even more positive for Australia, who gave a timely demonstration that they could very well secure a fourth Olympic Gold medal this summer in Brazil. In each contest the Southern Hemisphere side were pushed hard by their opponents but the fact that they were ultimately only beaten once, 1-0 in match two, shows how hard they are to conquer. Three consecutive draws showed how closely matched the teams were, especially a thrilling 3-3 result in which the tourists took the lead three times only for Australia fight on each occasion. The fact that there was not one match which was won by more than the one goal accentuates the point. Yet Australia were still able to come out on top – for Team GB it was close but not cigar.
So what did this series show us about an Australian side that has down the years been crowned Australia's Team of the Year on 5 occasions? Why is it that this current crop is, under the stewardship of Adam Commens, well placed to mount a serious challenge at the Olympics after finishing only 5th in Athens, Beijing and London?
In each of the games they showed an intensity that few will be able to cope with, maintaining a high level whilst giving game time to all of the players in their squad. The Hockeyroos again showed off their ability to dominate the majority of ball possession and play a positive, attacking style of hockey that consistently took the game to their opponents. They’ve shown impressive penalty goal variety and scored field goals throughout the series. Whilst their resilience, especially in the 3-3 draw, should be admired. Most of all their fitness has really caught the eye as we enter such a crucial period in the international hockey calendar; it is a major reason for them being able to pull off a high-pressing game from the first quarter to the last. Being trained six times a week and being made to work on their fitness by Coach Adam Commens is clearly paying off. They look like a team that has not been out of the top six in the world for two decades.
When the contests become more and more important as a major tournament approaches, form and the building of momentum is essential. This Australian team have been doing just that over the last year and a half. Although they struggled in last year’s World League, finishing 6th, they did win the Oceania Cup. The year before saw them clinch a 4th Commonwealth Games Gold, World Cup silver and a 2nd place at the Women’s Champions Trophy. Victories and consistent performances inspire a confidence that gives a crucial extra 5% in high pressure, knock-out competition. Australia now have all of these crucial commodities.
Coach Commens has said that he has a squad who are determined to be the best in the world and to achieve their goal of an Olympic gold medal. While he will cite the team effort needed, individual talents are going to be crucial if they are to go far. Goalkeeper Rachael Lynch was on fire through the series and record cap holder Madonna Blyth as inspiring as ever. The likes of Georgina Morgan, Emily Smith, Grace Stewart and Gabrielle Nance also all impressed to name but a few.
So now Team GB have been seen off, what immediate challenges await Australia as they look to kick-on ahead of Rio? The Hawke's Bay Cup in New Zealand begins in April and the 2016 Women's Champions Trophy, a real litmus test of Olympic credentials, arrives in June in London. They will again come up against Great Britain in a tournament that will also feature the Netherlands, New Zealand, Argentina and the United States of America. All of these sides have a chance in Brazil. Rising teams like Japan, China and Korea are also all potential contenders. The Hockeyroos were voted Australia’s best team at the 2000 Syndey Games. They will need to get close to such a standard if they are to see off these many threats.
It is now just over 6 months until the Olympic Games start and the Hockeyroos begin their attempts to win back the sport’s most coveted prize. Time is of the essence, the building of a form and confidence vital. This series victory against an impressive Great Britain team was a significant moment in the search for both of these necessities.