Thursday, November 30, 2023

Commonwealth Games Hockey: Welsh power sets up England men clash to savour

Birmingham — It’s Not Unusual rang out at the University on Saturday. The Tom Jones classic summed up the four-goal firepower of Gareth Furlong, who once again showed his corner strength as Wales opened their Commonwealth Games campaign with another rankings upset, this time a 5-1 win over Canada.

Furlong’s three first-quarter goals in five minutes set up a tussle for penalty corner supremacy on Sunday when Wales take on England with a potential semi-final berth in the offing.

Furlong’s stock has risen following his stint at HC Tilburg in the Hoofdklasse, where he plied his trade working alongside Olmer Meijer. The 29-year-old notched four from seven attempts against Canada and the Surbiton player said afterwards that this authoritative win sets up a “free hit” against England.

There will be no love lost against their rivals.

At EuroHockey 2019, it took a late equaliser for England to draw their opening game, while a late Sam Ward goal edged Wales 3-2 at the 2018 Commonwealths.

With GB internationals Jacob Draper and Ruper Shipperley, Wales have added weight in ball carrying and the match is set up for another big battle on the global stage.

It will also be another key 60 minutes as the Welsh build up for a first men’s World Cup in early 2023, many of whom have negotiated with full-time work to take weeks off both for these Games and the Indian World Cup.

Businesses will also start to take notice of their continued success, judging by this rankings scalp. Canada, at world No 12, are four places above the Dragons, but from the outset you would never have guessed following this physical contest.

Furlong’s shoulders saw to that as his trio of flicks put paid to any hopes the Canadians had. Toby Reynolds-Cotterill pulled off a smart save to deny Canada’s first PC attempt in the second quarter, but the Welsh stopper was hardly troubled.

BIRMINGHAM – Commonwealth Games 2022 04 Canada v Wales (Pool B) Picture: Harbir SIDHU and Ioan WALL COPYRIGHT WORLDSPORTPICS ADY KERRY

Ethan McTavish was then forced into four saves late in the third quarter as Wales searched for a fourth. A goal was certainly coming and it took a fine bit of stick skill from Gareth Griffiths to make the game safe, albeit one coming 12 hours after New Zealand’s theatrics. 

The 22-year-old somehow conjured a hit with little backlift and space, but found the gap through McTavish. Furlong’s fourth came in the final quarter, comfortably slotting home as the Welsh continued their intense pressure in the Canadian circle.

There was a late consolation from Matthew Sarmento three minutes from time as Wales finally let in Canada, but this “late blip”, as Dan Kyriakides called it, shows the continued progress of Danny Newcombe’s side.

“The game tomorrow is a big one,” added Kyriakides on the English clash. “We’ll be firing on all cylinders – and we’re so looking forward to it.”

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