The Kookaburras have closed in on top spot in the FIH Pro League after Blake Govers’ double helped them edge New Zealand 4-3 in a thrilling Anzac Day contest in Auckland on Thursday.
Govers, who was named Player of the Match, fired home two second-half goals after the Black Sticks fought back from 2-0 down to level the match in the third quarter.
Earlier Tom Craig (14’) and Flynn Ogilvie (15’) both scored late in the first quarter to open up a 2-0 buffer, but New Zealand hit back via George Muir (29’) and Jared Panchia (37’).
Govers intervened with two goals from penalty corners either side of three-quarter time, before a late Mackenzie Wilcox goal for New Zealand ensured a tense final 90 seconds but Australia held on.
Australia were good value for the win, dominating all of the key statistics including 16-9 shots and 32-18 circle entries but were made to work for the points.
The result sees the Kookaburras move within one points percentage of world champions Belgium on top of the FIH Pro League standings, ahead of Australia’s next match away to Argentina on Sunday 5 May (AEST).
Govers said: “Towards the end New Zealand had us scrambling which made it interesting for the crowd. Luckily enough we held on.”
After an uneventful opening 10 minutes, Australia fired in a quickfire double in the 14th and 15th minutes through Craig and Ogilvie.
Craig opened the scoring with an angled thunderbolt after Govers’ clever pass and Trent Mitton’s release.
Ogilvie added the second moments later after pouncing on a loose ball inside the D and firing home a clinical reverse stick finish.
New Zealand responded in the second period with a series of penalty corners which put Australia under intense pressure, coming closest in the 28th minute when Cory Bennett’s flick hit the post.
The Black Sticks did break through before the long interval when they caught Australia napping at the back, with an unmarked George Muir slotting home.
Defender Matt Dawson drifted forward for a half-chance in the 34th minute where he tested Black Sticks keeper Richard Joyce.
Three minutes later a hopeful New Zealand ball forward was deflected high by Daniel Beale and mis-trapped by Josh Simmonds, allowing Panchia time and space inside the circle to convert to make it 2-2.
Australia searched for a reply and capitalised when Hayden Phillips was green carded in the 41st minute, winning a short corner which Govers converted in trademark style.
Jake Whetton won Australia a 50th minute penalty corner, which was sent to Govers to rocket home the Kookaburras’ fourth.
Australia almost claimed a fifth goal when Jeremy Hayward’s flick hit the post in the 55th minute but New Zealand responded to ensure a tense final 90 seconds.
Wilcox netted in the 59th minute after a turnover in midfield from Ogilvie, but Australia did enough to cling on, expertly milking the clock in the dying stages.
New Zealand 3 (Muir 29’, J. Panchia 37’, Wilcox 59’)
Australia 4 (Craig 14’, Ogilvie 15’, B. Govers 41’, 50’)