Birmingham — England feel they have a counter attack “as good as anyone in the world” as Paul Revington’s side attempt to topple Australia’s trophy-hogging grip on Commonwealth men’s gold.
The world No 1 Kookaburras have only been beaten once at the Games and are currently on a run of 37 successive wins after six straight golds since 1998. Here, they have kept three from four clean sheets. Exponents at tournament hockey, the question against England is whether they have yet to peak in Birmingham.
The possession game will be key to England’s bid in reaching a first men’s final, as will be their ability to dictate the pace (Australia will likely begin at high speed). Speaking to England players after their 11-2 win over Canada, matching each Kookaburra in the mentality stakes will also be pivotal.
“Obviously they’ve come into this tournament as favourites,” said Chris Griffiths. “They’ve only ever lost one game here, so we know it’s going to be a difficult challenge, but we’re very confident that we can beat them.
“We back our ability. We feel that our counterattack is as good as anyone in the world, so we know that if we defend well against Australia we give ourselves a good chance of winning.”
Phil Roper, who has four goals in Birmingham, will be one of England’s key cogs in the circle and in their corner battery. England’s corner routine will also have to run at a high percentage if they are to find success. From the group games, Australia notched 15 from 33 corners, while England have accrued nine from 43.
Roper said: “They have an unbelievable record. We know that but we’re not here to shy away from that. We want a good battle on Saturday.
“I think one of the biggest things you have to do with Australia is match them mentally from minute one, they’re always going to come hard from minute one.
“If you can match that, that is where you can have a little bit of gold dust in your locker room and you make sure that you match it for 60 minutes, and we’ll see how it goes at the end.”
Roper added that it will take a bit of “gold dust” in the circle to make the difference.
“We have a really, really tight group of guys,” he added. “We’re all buzzing to get out there with a bit of fire in our belly and really see what we can do. I’ve never been with such a forceful, strong competitive team, so I’m pretty excited for a Saturday.”
Matthew Dawson, who has been a standout for Australia at these Games, said: “We’ve shut them down previously when we’ve played them before. They play with a lot of confidence and a home crowd is what drives them, but our defensive unit and goalkeepers are holding up.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but one we are going to love.”
Ones to watch
Nick Bandurak heads into the match as the tournament’s top scorer with 11 (6 PCs). Jeremy Hayward has five PC strikes, with fellow dangerman Blake Govers on five. From open play, Phil Roper’s dazzling circle runs and stick accuracy has netted him four, with one PC goal. Nathan Ephraums, another circle exponent and a future Kookaburras star after being omitted from Tokyo, has four goals overall.
Australia have won 37 successive matches in the Commonwealth Games since they were beaten by South Africa in the group stages of the inaugural hockey competition at Kuala Lumpur 1998. It is their only defeat.
Australia have won their last five matches against England, who last beat the Kookaburras at the Champions Trophy in 2014.