Birmingham — Danny Newcombe, the Wales men’s coach, says his side need to play more matches against the top nations to arrest the hands-off scenario at the top of the rankings. Wales hope to change that during their six-month odyssey towards a first World Cup next January.
Since the start of the FIH Pro League, the global league’s nine sides have continually played each other and hold the upper hand when it comes to major competitions. For those teams outside the world’s top 10, finding competition and ranking points have been hard to come by.
“The Pro League has accelerated the top teams away and they get to play each other all the time and the game evolves away from you,” said Newcombe, who took over from Zak Jones in 2020 after two years as assistant.
“You come to a tournament like this and you are playing catch up, but it doesn’t seem to have stopped the Aussies.
“The reason why we can compete is that this group has been together for six years and they have developed so much and we can just about go toe-to-toe with them.
“Funding makes it hard, and time away makes it hard. I guess the key thing is the World Cup in January, and the tournament before that in Cadiz where we are playing the top nations. Hopefully we can keep pushing and the real aim for us is to beat that top 10 team.”
Newcombe says that Hockey Wales are close to securing commercial support ahead of the 2023 World Cup in India. That will aid the Welsh squad’s conundrums with their employers, with weeks needed for training and tournament proper.
“I think we have some support around the World Cup which is great,” added Newcombe. “The biggest challenge for us is time off work for the boys. They all have full-time jobs [barring the GB programme players] and trying to get annual and unpaid leave is tough.
“But they love it. They are a family and they all stick together. The next six months we have an opportunity to make that next step within the restrictions we have. But we do need to play more top teams more often.”
Against England, Wales rued the two costly yellow cards in the space of a minute which ultimately laid the platform for their home nation rivals to edge out to a 4-2 win.
“We rode the first quarter and then the boys just dug in. I felt like we were just starting to get momentum when two cards killed us.
“But what an effort from the boys. I said before the game that we wanted to go toe-to-toe with them, we didn’t want to back off.”