Black Sticks men missing key players

Stephen Jenness. Photo: Getty Images
Stephen Jenness. Photo: Getty Images
Black Sticks coach Darren Smith will have to engineer a comeback without his two best players. His side is last in the FIH Pro League and desperately needs a win or two to get the campaign back on track.

The Black Sticks play Spain at the North Harbour Hockey stadium this afternoon and Olympic champion Argentina at the same venue on Sunday.

That is a big challenge on its own. But the Black Sticks, who have lost all four games in the tournament, will be without potent striker Hugo Inglis and skipper Blair Tarrant. The Otago pair are in Europe, playing for their respective clubs, and are expected back later in the competition.

In the meantime their absence would be something like the All Blacks having to make do without Beauden Barrett and Kieran Read.

"Oh yeah, it is a challenge, no doubt," Smith responded when asked about the comparison.

"But we have to be careful because if we are belligerent and say, `Hey listen, you play for the Black Sticks and you can't honour your European contract', it really takes a fair chunk of their livelihood away.

"What we want to be able to do is have Hugo and Blair, and several others in the squad, honour their contracts ... and continue to play well for the Black Sticks when they get that chance.

"Blair is available for significantly more games than he is unavailable, and the same is true for Hugo.

"It makes it a bit of a challenge, but it is OK. This is an opportunity for us to see how it works with some other guys and give them the chance to play against two of the best teams in the world."

The Black Sticks defence has leaked 17 goals in four games, so Tarrant's absence is not ideal. The vastly experienced defender is closing in on 200 games.

Inglis, meanwhile, has popped in four of New Zealand's 10 goals and is the leading scorer in the tournament.

On the positive side, Stephen Jenness returns after missing the 3-1 loss to Germany in Christchurch last month. The striker will help offset Inglis' absence.

Spain is one place higher than New Zealand in seventh. It has been a surprise package so far. It recorded shootout wins against world No1 Belgium and the impressive Netherlands side.

The Black Sticks women are better placed, having won two of five games, and are sixth in the nine-team league.

They bounced back from 1-0 losses to the Netherlands and Belgium to beat Great Britain 5-1 and China 2-0. A 3-1 loss to Germany was sandwiched between those wins, though.

Black Sticks striker Olivia Merry has been in tremendous form with a tournament-high five goals.

She will be hoping she can find the back of the net against the bottom-placed United States team in Auckland this evening.

The US produced an improved showing in its 2-1 loss to Australia in Sydney earlier this month.

Blacks Sticks women's coach Sean Dancer has made three changes to the side which beat China. Madison Doar will make her Pro League debut and her younger sister Katie Doar (17) is to make her debut for the country.

The team will have one day to recover before its match against Argentina.

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