Todd Williams assesses the international scene and current game trends after Great Britain’s second weekend of FIH Pro League action
Circle entry blues
The strength, speed and physicality of the international game is excellent and great for the viewing public. The trouble is that this now makes getting the ball into the circle more difficult. Teams and players are going to need to become braver to play the ball into open spaces for players to move onto, rather than looking for more guaranteed, stick-to-stick passes. The use of the aerial ball into space on the far side of the circle is the perfect example.
The power of the PC
The results of many of these matches would have different had teams converted more of their PCs. Belgium men obviously missed Alexander Hendrickx, while China will be looking at why their normally productive options were so often blocked. With entering the circle in open play being more difficult, the onus is falling more than ever onto PCs. But just as defenders are limiting how and where to get into the circle, PC defences have also moved up a gear and attacks are being dealt with more often and more efficiently.
Umpiring the aerial
Again, with the speed and physicality of the game (a good thing) making the pitch seem smaller, the line-breaking aerial pass is becoming more prevalent and effective. The problem is that with players becoming more accurate and creative with the pass, the arbitrary “5 yard” interpretation and all the other sub-headings just don’t cover all the scenarios that are arising. I’d also add the idea that defenders should run away from attackers in and around the defensive circle is utterly illogical and counter intuitive.
The answer is common sense both in principle and practice. Players need to exhibit common sense and if you don’t then you are penalised. If you are second to the ball, then you need to let the player receive it, bring it to ground and then you can engage them, wherever you are on the pitch. Then, just as in rugby union at the breakdown, umpires can use their common sense to decide if and when they need to blow the whistle.
So when a defender nicks the ball away from the forward before they have a chance to control it, it’s a free hit to the forward. But if the forward decides to smash it out of the air when a defender is giving them space, it’s a free hit to the defender. Common sense.
State of the nations
GB men will be broadly positive although they will be looking for more consistency, with matches often fluctuating between the extremes of being well on top to out of sorts. Nonetheless, Paul Revington will probably be the happier of the two GB coaches, with good results and performances combining with some interesting positional and tactical experiments. In comparison, GB women showed glimpses of good form but for the most seemed out of sorts, struggling to establish the fluency and penetration of what they know to be their best form.
Belgium in comparison will see big steps forward for their women with an unbeaten series reflecting the improvement and form of a team aiming to make the jump from top the six in the world to top three and beyond. For the Red Lions, Michel van Heuvel will be quietly delighted to have had the opportunity to test several new players, and some old ones, whilst at the same time being able to see what direction the new coaches of GB and India are taking their respective teams in.
As one of those new coaches, India’s Craig Fulton will be pleased with how his team finished this series, having started with two losses. And while the scoreline against Belgium in their return match may have been a little flattering, Fulton would be particularly happy with how his team moved on from that result to show the sort of fluency and penetration in their second match against GB that causes any team in the world problems.
With the clock ticking down towards Paris, this was surely a highly useful step in combining the existing strengths of this group with the successful ingredients that Fulton has brought to Ireland and Belgium in his previous roles.
Which brings us to China and their stellar coaching team. Results wise there will be concerns but as they say, it’s always darkest before the dawn. Scoring goals is the obvious issue and to make matters worse, many of the goals they conceded came from not converting excellent opportunities at the other end.
One senses though that, if China can learn from to jump this final hurdle, then they will be well placed to head towards the world’s top bunch of teams. All the ingredients look to be there, they just need the confidence that comes with results and results need the ball going into the goal at least two or three times a match.
Hats off to England Hockey and FIH. The double headers are great and the whole match day experience inside the stadium for the spectators is very good.
The Hockey Makers are wonderful and the fun stuff for the crowd at breaks and access to the pitch afterwards are lovely touches.
But, for all of this, Lee Valley is an utter pain to get to. Even when you get there, you’re still not there and by the time you cross the bridge, you feel like hitting your stopwatch and collecting a medal, rather than watching a hockey match. Credit where it’s due but seriously, if Lee Valley isn’t the hardest place in the country to get to, it’d be in the Grand Final.