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Trip Report - Oceania Championships, October 2003

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(Last Updated:  08 Aug 2004 )

Oceania Champs was a great event, and I personally was proud to be a part of it, and very honoured to be able to captain the NZ Men's team. We didn't get the result we wanted: we came fourth, after just losing our semi-final. But we were part of a squad in which every other team came up with some fine results, so the tour as a whole was definitely a success. And it was very enjoyable, with no shortage of lessons for anyone with even a hint of interest in learning how to improve their game.

There were two competitions we competed in, which to some degree overlapped: the Australian Inter-Club Championships (which was for club teams, with national teams invited), and the Oceania Championships (which was for national teams). We treated Inter-Clubs as a warmup event and experimented with team composition and strategies a bit. Here's a summary of our results:

NZ Men 2003 Australian Inter-Club Results (NZ score first)
- vs River Rats: 6 - 3.
- vs Wakehurst: 6 - 1.
- vs Bulldogs: 4 - 4. This was the team that finished second overall. Very intense, lived up to their name.
- vs Nabes: 4 - 5. This was the slightly stronger half of the Japanese World Champs national squad, which had been split into two relatively even teams for the Interclubs.
- vs Hotdogs: 0 - 8. This was the team that came first. They were very classy, with three Australia A players and two ex-Australian representatives who happen to be among the best players Australia has produced.
- vs Lakers: 2 - 2.
- vs Samurai: 4 - 2. This was the other half of the Japanese Worlds squad, and we played pretty well in this game. A good way to finish the competition.

Our final result from the Inter-Clubs was 7th place. Apart from the one big loss, the other games that we didn't win were all very close, and in two consecutive rounds of the competition we placed second in our pool only because of goal difference. Still, it was an ideal buildup competition for the Oceania Championships.

Oceania Champs Results (NZ score first)
- vs Australia A: 2 - 6. A very competent team, but not unbeatable; our score was 2-2 at half time, then Australia got ahead by 2 in the second half. We then pressed in an attempt to play some positive polo, but this resulted in two further goals against us.
- vs Singapore: 10 - 0. The Singaporean players had good skills but were not very strong on the ball and lacked structure both offensively and defensively.
- vs Japan: 6 - 8. This was a fun game, even though we lost; quite intense, with several good, well-structured goals off our offense. The Japanese played with some real hunger and intensity, which was something we would do well to emulate. The game was won for Japan in a brief two-minute period in which they scored three goals in succession.
- vs Australia B: 6 - 1. This was our best game of the tournament - a complete shut-out on defence, with the only Aussie goal coming from a goal-penalty shot after a foul by one of our guys pushing a restarting player as he tried to take up a position slightly closer to the goal than he was entitled. This win put us into the position we wanted, a semi-final against Japan.
- vs Japan: 4 - 5. This was a great game to be part of, apart from the fact that we lost! It was very intense, and very close. The score was 4-4 with 25 seconds to go, then a Japanese player was fouled in front of goal and they scored off a nice feed from the free shot. If we'd won we would have had at least a silver medal. But the loss put us into the 3rd/4th playoff against Australia B.
- vs Australia B: 1 - 3. We lost in a solid game from the Aussies. We had worked very hard in the last two games, both played earlier that morning, and it was hard coming off the last-minute loss to Japan. Probably some good lessons in the value of mental toughness here. But Australia B had a very competent game here and deserved the win. For us though it was a bitterly disappointing last result, and it meant we were the only team in the squad that did not return home with a medal of some sort.

There were many lessons for us, such as the types of offensive strategies that worked (and those that didn't) against what was usually a tight inside style of defense. We saw some finely honed skills on display, and recognised that some of the close results that could have gone our way may have come down to our handling or passing errors. I was impressed by the vision and situational awareness shown by some of the senior Australian and Japanese players. I felt that there were times when they were able to make just the right feed when we would perhaps have hesitated or not even seen the opportunity. And the intensity and desire for the ball and focus and commitment that some of these international players demonstrated was something that I really noticed and will try to emulate.

We also saw that although these other teams were playing with some real ability, we were very competitive and I think we earned some respect. We have plenty of opportunity to work on some of these things between now and the World Champs, and if we do then I think our future looks good, and the NZ Men will remain a team to be proud of.

Some Highlights
As a post-script, I'd like to thank the folks who organised and managed the tour and made it possible for us to even get to Brisbane and play in some of the best polo I've seen - especially our unManager Maree.

I also wanted to mention that I appreciated the role played by each person in the team, and thought I'd point out some individual highlights that I remember related to each person. These are not necessarily the "greatest moments" in each case (and sorry guys if I've missed your favourites!); they are just particular instances (among many) that have sprung to mind as I'm writing this. I'll do this by player number...

Coach. Nick: My most memorable image is of Nick heroically retaining his composure while being in the unusual position of being able to do exactly *nothing* to influence the play at the other end of the pool. This unprecedented display of stoicism was repeated many times over the course of the tournament...
10. Ben: That classy goal against the Bulldogs - the first goal when playing for your country is always something special...
9. Mark: The charge starting Wolverine! Don't make him angry...
8. Juno: Juno's miraculous retrieval at the sideline near halfway of a wayward outlet from under goal. Me, the other subs, the coach, and especially the goalie, were all thinking "Oh. That one's going out...". Stop, stretch, turn, reach, flail, dive, grasp - all in one movement. Poetry in motion...
7. Jase: The sublime change-up against Australia B in our final game. And the video commentary of the women's Inter-Club final - wait till that one hits the public...
6. Paddy: What sticks in my mind the most for Aidan was not his usual game heroics but the image of him on that fateful Sunday night looking like something out of Star Trek, with phaser definitely set to "Stun".
5. Jimmy: Lighting up the targeting radar long enough to drill our opening OC goal, against the Aussies.
4. Eoin: The huge buzzer-beater goal from way outside, right before half-time in one of the internationals.
3. Paul: An amazing feed inside from a deep 45 position on the right of the pool, against Japan. I was at point, and was nearly deafened by the sonic boom.
2. James: Who caught the above-mentioned feed and then stuck the ball in the back of the net. In fact, over the course of the tournament, James came up with the best haul of quality inside goals that I've seen in a long time. And this from a guy whose thumb was injured so bad he couldn't even open his hand to let go of a drink bottle.
1. Dean: While shaking hands with the Singaporeans at the end of the game, which I think was their first international (they seemed a bit overawed at how much they were beaten by), one their players asked me, "Do you play full time?". Heh. Not.

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