The Auckland Grammar School First XI hockey team were runners up in the India Shield last year, a result that didn’t accurately reflect their ability 2016 captain Will Stables says.
“We were disappointed to be honest. We finished third in our group at Rankin Cup which meant we went into the bottom half of the draw. We recovered well to make the final, but ended up losing to Timaru Boys,” he says.
Grammar won the Auckland Championship, a feat they have repeated this year.
In the round robin of the Auckland Championship they thrashed St. Peter’s College (7-0), St. Kentigern College (3-0) and MacLeans College (9-0). In the semi-final they battled past Mount Albert Grammar School (1-0). The final against King’s College proved to be a real cracker.
“It was a really good final. There was a big crowd and it was a tough game. We started well and got ahead 2-0. We then conceded a card and they pulled one back. King’s started to pressure us and it soon became 2-2. With about five minutes left we won a penalty corner and Marshall Wells, our drag flick specialist, put us in the lead,” Stables recalls.
The ability to defend is a real strength of the Grammar outfit in 2016. The majority of the defensive until from 2015 has been retained.
“Were quite an experienced team this year. We look to play balanced hockey with an emphasis on attack, but obviously the ability to defend for long periods is important. To only concede goals in the final was a great effort,” Stables says.
The top four teams in Auckland now combine with the top four teams in North Harbour for the Super City competition. Matches are played on a Wednesday night and Stables believes Grammar are in good shape to make a real tilt for the title.
“I think we got ahead of ourselves at times last year. We didn’t bring the same intensity every week and suffered for it. I think we have learned not to take anything for granted. Westlake, the Rankin Cup winners, were only third in Harbour this year so the Harbour teams are looking strong. In Auckland MAGS and King’s were tough games,” Stables says.
Stables is an experienced campaigner. He has played over 50 games for the First XI since 2013 and occupies the central midfield space when his excellent passing skills and leaderships helps coordinate Grammar’s offense. In addition to his school duties, Stables plays for the Somerville Seniors on Saturday and has been an Auckland Under-18 representative.
“Hockey season is pretty busy and exciting. I love the challenge of playing with seniors and marking current and former Black Sticks. School hockey is good, especially the games against Kings. I think it we can stay in the right head space this season it’s going to be a good one,” Stables concludes.
Hayden Phillips played an incredible 124 matches for the Palmerston North Boys’ High School First XI hockey team. He made his debut in 2011 as a Year 9 when he was called up to play in the Rankin Cup in Invercargill and was never usurped in the midfield.
In April this year Phillips’ high school coach Bruce Kensington, who also coached Black Sticks striker Nick Wilson, told the Manawatu Standard he believed Phillips could be selected for the Rio Olympics later this year.
“I’m very biased because I watched Nick Wilson and Hayden Phillips closely because (of my) association with Boys’ High….I don’t think he’s (Hayden) doing anything wrong; he’s playing very good hockey,” Kensington said.
Since debuting for the Black Sticks against South Korea, Phillips was picked for the team that’s competed at the Azlan Shah Cup tournament in Malaysia and has now played 11 tests. Phillips was modest when asked about his initial performances for the Black Sticks.
“My debut was against Korea and it was a 3-3 draw. To be honest my performances have been nothing special. I think I have done my job and that’s been enough.”
Phillips loves the Black Sticks environment. The side will be led by two-time Olympian Simon Child (260 tests) and features seven others with 150-plus tests.
“The experienced players have really embraced me. They have been quick to offer me support when I need it and have always encouraged me to be myself.”
Despite a warm reception from veterans and solid form, Phillips was surprised to make the Olympic cut.
“I found out while driving in the car and about a week before the team was made public. I told Mum, but it was hard to contain the news from my friends,” Phillips admits.
Bates won the Super 8 title in 2014 and 2015 at Boys’ High. He was named MVP of the tournament in the final and scored the winning goal against eventual Rankin Cup winners, Hamilton BHS.
“Hockey at Boys’ High played a huge role in my development. I had a strong relationship with co-captain Greg Bates in my final year. Mr Kensington was a great teacher and mentor,” Phillips says.
In July 2015 Phillips was MVP at the National regional championships. His Central under-18 team won the title defeating Midlands 2-1 in the final in North Harbour. Central didn’t drop a game at the tournament, beating Auckland 4-3, Canterbury 4-2, Northland 8-0, Midlands 2-1 and North Harbour 3-0 before reaching the final. Phillips scored the winning goal in the decider.
Phillips’ quick assent in hockey was accelerated by a hockey-mad family. His two sisters and mother are all fine players.
“I was brought up on hockey. I love it. It’s surreal I am training and playing with the guys I used to watch on TV and pretend to be in the back yard,” Phillips says.
The Black Sticks are set to face world No. 1 Australia first up at the Games, with Great Britain (unranked), Belgium (5), Spain (11) and hosts Brazil (32) also in their pool.
“I can’t wait. It’s a massive opportunity,” Phillips concludes.
The New Zealand men’s hockey team will take plenty of experience as well as some youthful talent into the Rio Olympic Games in August.
The team of 16 players named by the New Zealand Olympic Committee today includes four players who will be playing at their third Olympic Games and a further four confirmed for their second campaign.
Captain Simon Child (260 test caps), Ryan Archibald (313), Shea McAleese (225) and Bradley Shaw (179) will suit up for the third time while Hugo Inglis (176), Nick Wilson (156), Blair Hilton (153) and Stephen Jenness (150) were all members of the New Zealand men's team at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
An exciting addition to the team is 18-year-old Central Mavericks midfielder Hayden Phillips who has earned Olympic selection having made his debut against Korea in Auckland earlier this year.
Phillips, from Levin, is an impressive young talent who has progressed from the New Zealand Youth Olympic Team which competed at the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympic Games. With his slick elimination skills he will be looking to cause trouble for anyone marking him in Rio.
Midlands 20-year-old Nic Woods (47 tests) also lines up as a defender, having developed into one of the country’s most lethal exponents of the drag flick as well as offering sharp athleticism and quick hands on the ball.
Goalkeeper Devon Manchester will be under the bar in Rio and looking to use his speed, agility and awareness to keep the ball out of New Zealand’s goal.
Head coach Colin Batch said the naming of the team now allows the group time to work together and focus solely on hitting the turf in Rio.
“We have named our team early which gives us extra time to prepare and train together as a unit. I believe we are in a good position to accelerate our development, both individually and also as a team,” Batch said.
“Our team is well balanced with eight new Olympians and eight having experienced Olympic competition before, although Rio does offer many more challenges than what athletes experienced at London 2012.
“It is not just about coping with the environment, but all teams face tough competition in both men’s pools. Hockey has developed into a global sport and the depth and consistency of the competition means there is no easy path to securing a quarter finals spot. However, I’m confident that we can perform well and be a strong contender at the business end of the tournament.”
New Zealand Olympic Committee CEO Kereyn Smith noted the opportunity that lies in front of both the men's and women's hockey teams in Rio and wished them well in the final stages of preparation for the Games.
"Rio is set to come alive in August as a vibrant and exciting city and with the newly renovated Olympic Hockey Centre forming a key part of the Deodoro cluster of venues, we're looking forward to cheering on the team at this world-class facility.
"With the men's hockey team named today, the players are one of the first team-sports to be formally welcomed into the New Zealand Olympic team and the players can now knuckle down over the next two months in the lead up to the Games.
"One thing we can be sure of is that the competition well and truly shifts up a gear at the Olympic Games, I know the team will be looking forward to laying it all on the line in Rio and New Zealanders in turn are looking forward to tuning into the hockey teams' progress at the Games."
The New Zealand Men are in action on the opening day of competition against trans-Tasman rivals Australia at 4:30am on Sunday 7th August (NZ time) before the Women open their campaign against Korea at 1:00am the following Monday morning.
Two pitches will host both events and for the first time in an Olympic hockey competition, quarter-finals will be played with the top four teams from each pool qualifying for the knock-out stages.
The winners of the quarter-finals will qualify for the semi-finals which will determine who will play in the gold and bronze medal matches. These final two men's matches are scheduled for Thursday 18th August.
The New Zealand Women’s team will be named in early July following the conclusion of the Champions Trophy in London.
New Zealand hockey teams have won several Commonwealth Games medals dating back to Kuala Lumpur 1998 right through to Glasgow 2014. The Olympic hockey highlight for New Zealand came at the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976 when the men's hockey team triumphed over Australia to claim the Gold medal.
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand