India join expanded hockey festival

India playing at Park Island in Napier during a previous visit to New Zealand. PHOTO/JAY HUGHES COMING SOON: India playing at Park Island in Napier during a previous visit to New Zealand. PHOTO/JAY HUGHES

Traditional hockey powerhouse and former Commonwealth champions India have been confirmed as the final team to compete in this year’s Hawke’s Bay Festival of Hockey.

Event director David Nancarrow confirmed yesterday that the Neil Hawgood-coached side will join seven others in April for the second year of the tournament.

“The inaugural event in 2014 included six international teams, but the vision was always to expand to eight teams this year,” Nancarrow said. “Hockey NZ and the tournament organisers, Hawke’s Bay Sports Events and Entertainment Consortium, are delighted that India has agreed to come down under.”

Following the announcement speaking exclusively to Hawke’s Bay Today, Black Sticks coach Mark Hager described India as a skilful team with a plethora of nimble and quick players.

“They play quite a different style to the European teams, and even us and the other Asian teams.”

At last year’s inaugural tournament, Argentina defeated Australia in the final by three goals to nil but Hager believes our trans-tasman rivals, ranked second in the world, will be the team to beat this year.

He said third ranked Argentina will again provide world class opposition as will the clinical South Korean squad.

The Black Sticks returned to training about three weeks ago to begin planning for the Hawke’s Bay event, which Hager hopes will provide ideal preparation for the semifinal leg of the Hockey World League (HWL) in Belgium and Spain during June and July.

“Every time we play we want to go out and win – It’s fantastic to have so many teams from around the world come to New Zealand.

“To get this kind of competition you often have to travel to Europe, Asia or the Americas … it also helps save us lots of money.”

Besides a place in the HWL November finals, to be played in Argentina, a huge carrot dangles before every Black Sticks player if they complete a successful European campaign.

Qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics can be achieved at the World League and remains the number one goal for New Zealand this year, Hager said.

India will host World League second round fixtures in New Delhi as they battle for a berth in the semifinals, but despite their world ranking of 13 Nancarrow remained excited to showcase New Zealand to a global audience with India’s inclusion in the Hawke’s Bay festival.

Hockey is second only to cricket in India and generates immense public interest in a country boasting a population of 1.25 billion people. One of their modern triumphs came when they were crowned Commonwealth champions at the Manchester games in 2002.

“The six teams that attended the event last year have given the tournament a big tick of approval, as they have all committed to returning this year,” Nancarrow said. “With the addition of the USA and India, the tournament is now truly global.”

World hockey’s governing body – the FIH – has further reinforced the international importance of the tournament with the appointment of leading international referees and officials from England, Singapore, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Fiji.

The international event will again incorporate an affiliates tournament (7-11 April), which will include 12 teams, including the Hong Kong men’s and women’s teams.

The Furnware Cup (16-19 April) will be played between eight schoolgirl teams including five from Hawke’s Bay.

The 80 games of hockey, across 13 days and involving 28 teams, will be hosted at both the Regional Sports Park in Hastings and Park Island in Napier.

– Hawkes Bay Today