Hockey’s Talent Takes Centre Stage at the Gold Coast Games
In just over a month, the best sportspeople from across the Commonwealth will be descending upon the Gold Coast for the 21st Commonwealth Games. Over a two-week period, 23 sports will be on show to the world, with athletes from as far afield as Rwanda, Guyana, Monserrat and Tuvalu travelling to Australia to represent their nation.
In the hockey event, which has been included in the Games since 1998,10 men’s teams and 10 women’s teams will be participating at the 5,000-seater Gold Coast Hockey Centre over nine days of intense hockey action. Some of the top ranked teams in the world will be playing, so this is a fantastic chance for Australia to host a top level hockey event.
Pool action starts on 5 April, where both the Wales teams will be in action. The women face India women in the opening match of the entire competition, while the men will face Pakistan in the opening men’s match.
Here are the Pools and International Hockey Federation (FIH) Hero World Rankings (WR) for all participating teams.
Men’s Pool A
Australia (WR:1), New Zealand (WR:9), Canada (WR:11), South Africa (WR:15), Scotland (WR: 23)
Men’s Pool B
India (WR:6), England (WR:7), Malaysia (WR:12), Pakistan (WR:13), Wales (WR:24)
Women’s Pool A
England (WR:2), India (WR:10), South Africa (WR:14), Malaysia (WR:22), Wales (WR:26)
Women’s Pool B
Australia (WR:5), New Zealand (WR:4), Scotland (WR:18), Canada (WR:21), Ghana (WR:30)
Who is in the running for medals?
In the men’s competition, it is hard to see beyond the world number one team Australia. They have won gold at every edition of the Games, so this time around will be seeking their sixth consecutive title. The Kookaburras also recently returned the the number one spot, after taking gold at the Hockey World League Final in India. There is the added incentive for this fiercely loyal Australia team to gift their inspirational captain Mark Knowles one last medal to add to his collection as he has announced his retirement at the end of this event.
Knowles, who has 312 caps to his name and is a four-time Olympian, said of his decision: “Where I am now in my career with my balance in my life has made this decision easier for me…. I’ve got a beautiful family with a wonderful wife who has supported me for so long now with all of our trips away.
“She’s ridden the journey. I’ve got kids who have watched me at the Olympics, the World Cup and hopefully the Commonwealth Games.”
Knowles currently has three Commonwealth Games gold medals, including his first which was won at the previous home games in Melbourne in 2006.
The main challenge to Australia’s supremacy at this event will come from India. The team from Asia have faced Australia in the previous two finals, losing 8-0 in 2010 and 4-0 in 2014. In recent years India have moved up the ranking courtesy of two bronze medals at the Hockey World League Finals and gold at the Asian Cup in 2017. In Harmanpreet Singh they have a goal scoring machine and head coach Sjoerd Marijne has been working ceaselessly to meld his talented group of players into a cohesive team.
England are a team with medal ambitions. They took bronze at the previous edition but will want to make the gold medal match this time around. The team, under head coach Bobby Crutchley, has been winning bronze medals in the past few months at both the Hockey World League Semi-Finals and the European Championships, but England’s squad should have the ability and experience to push for a place in the final.
Two outlier teams, both with the ability to surprise but playing very different styles of hockey, are Malaysia and Canada. The Malaysian team are quick, skilful and hugely talented, as they proved at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in London, where they took fourth place, ahead of many higher-ranked teams. Canada play a far more structured game but are equally adept at upsetting higher ranked opposition. They beat India 3-2 in the race for a World Cup qualification spot at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals and won fans with their strong and steady approach to the game.
In the women’s competition, Australia are the reigning champions and four times winner of the event. India women are the only other team to win gold (2002 Manchester). Coach Paul Gaudoin has been rebuilding the Australian squad and, with the return of Jodie Kenny and Emily Hurtz to the team and an influx of new exciting talent, it would be no surprise if Australia retain the medal they dramatically won in 2014. This is a far from one-horse race however. With the Hockeyroos sliding down the world rankings, they have been leap-frogged by continental rivals New Zealand and sit three ranking points behind England.
The Black Sticks are due a gold medal after some excellent performances at Hockey World League level (they finished in the silver medal position after losing out to the Netherlands). However, when it comes to matches against their nearest rivals, Australia does seem to have the psychological advantage as the Hockeyroos beat New Zealand 2-0 in the recent Oceania Cup.
England come to the Gold Coast with the psychological advantage of being the highest ranked team in the competition but the baggage of a heartbreaking loss in the final to Australia in 2014. As Great Britain, they won the Olympic gold medal in 2016 but a lot of those players have retired and as head coach Danny Kerry is keen to remind his players, “this is not a medal-winning squad yet.”
Another team who will want a good showing in Gold Coast are the Asia Cup champions, India. The team is on a high after a good year which saw them win their
continental championship and earn qualification to the Hockey World Cup. Captain Rani is happy with the progress her team has made in recent years
and says the impact can be seen back home in India: “With good infrastructure and playing facilities we are encouraged to perform better and better.
The results are evident as we qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games after 36 years, we won the 2017 Asia Cup after 14 years and now we are preparing
for the prestigious Women's 2018 World Cup in London after earning qualification.
“Good results are also increasing the popularity of hockey among women and the team is aware that good performances in the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Cup this year will only help grow the sport further in India."
There will be a huge difference in style on show at these Games as the participating teams represent four continents and range in ranking from number one in the world to number 30. For many of the players, this is what sets the Commonwealth Games apart. For South Africa’s Shelley Jones, the event is a great chance for teams to play against sides they don’t get to meet very often. It is also a chance for the ‘smaller’ nations to shine. At the recent Indoor Hockey World Cup, the men’s team from Trinidad and Tobago won minds and hearts with their flamboyant skills and attacking style of play – expect more of the same from them in Australia. Likewise the Ghana women’s team. One of their coaching staff, Darren Cheeseman, described their potential and raw talent as “frighteningly good”.
The Commonwealth Games hockey tournament will be fierce, frenetic and exciting – what more could hockey fans ask for?