Hockey: Coach opts for new Batch of players

It didn't take long for new coach Colin Batch to leave his mark on the New Zealand men's hockey team.

The Australian has been in the job for only three weeks but today (Thur) ushered in a new era with eight changes for next month's Champions Trophy in Melbourne, including three debutants and another who has played only one test, from the 16 who played at the London Olympics.

No one has officially retired following the disappointing Olympic campaign but there are doubts around the futures of Ryan Archibald and Blair Hilton, who both made themselves unavailable for the Champions Trophy.

Goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex and defender Brad Shaw are also unavailable because of impending fatherhood and Andy Hayward for work commitments, while Richard Petherick picked up an injury recently while playing in the Netherlands.

Regardless, Batch wanted to hand opportunities to the next generation of internationals and warned some of the older hands they risked not being picked if they didn't commit to the programme. Sights aren't totally trained on Rio in 2016 but will play a large role in Batch's thinking.

"What I want is for everyone to be fully committed to the training programme we put in place and be available to play for New Zealand when required," said Batch, who took over from Shane McLeod. "We understand at the end of an Olympic cycle, players have given up a lot.

"My view has always been that, if you make yourself unavailable, whoever takes your place can outperform you. Every time you make yourself unavailable there's a risk you may not get selected in the future. I have explained that to the senior group and will do it again."

There are still a number with considerable experience, including captain Dean Couzins (260 caps), Phil Burrows (286) and Blair Hopping (258). There are five others in the 18-strong squad with more than 100 caps but nine are aged 23 or younger.

Debutants Jacob Smith, Alex Shaw and goalkeeper Devon Manchester fit into that category along with one-cap goalkeeper Hamish McGregor.

"We had a disappointing Olympic campaign so the natural evolution of a team is we need to bring our younger players through," Batch said. "We believe we have a good youth programme and want to introduce those players into the system.

"It's quite an exciting time for New Zealand hockey and hope to do well at the Champions Trophy. We know it will be difficult but it's a good time to have a newer look to the team. A few players unlucky to miss Olympic selection will be part of the team going forward, and we hope to develop them so we are a consistently top-four team."

New Zealand, ranked sixth in the world, finished fourth at last year's Champions Trophy in Auckland but were a disappointing ninth in London.

A top-five finish would ensure qualification for the 2014 Champions Trophy but preparations have been far from ideal. Along with the changes, a number of players are still playing club hockey in Europe and won't return until next Wednesday, limiting the amount Batch can do with the squad.

They open their Champions Trophy campaign against Olympic gold medallists Germany and also meet England (ranked fourth) and India (11th) in their pool. Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Pakistan are in Pool B and quarter-final match-ups will be determined by the teams' placing after the pool games (1 vs 4, 2 vs 3).

New Zealand squad for the Champions Trophy hockey tournament in Melbourne from December 1-9: James Coughlan (North Harbour), Nick Haig (Canterbury), Simon Child (Auckland), Blair Hopping (Midlands), Dean Couzins (c - Auckland), Jacob Smith (Capital), Hamish McGregor (Southern), Phil Burrows (Auckland), Alex Shaw (Auckland), Devon Manchester (Auckland), Blair Tarrant (Southern), Arun Panchia (Auckland), Shea McAleese (Central), Matt L'Huillier (Capital), Stephen Jenness (Capital), Hugo Inglis (Southern), Steve Edwards (North Harbour), Nick Wilson (Central).

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