5th PLACE FINISH FOR WALES IN FIH SERIES FINALS
After a narrow defeat to the hosts, Malaysia in the quarter finals on Wednesday, Wales faced China in the 5/6th place match.
China who at the recent World Cup drew with England and are consistently just outside the top 10 in the world, would be a tough examination, particularly on the back of an energy sapping display against the Malaysians the day before.
The game didn’t start well, with China scoring in the opening minutes. But Wales responded superbly and completely dominated the rest of the first half. Jacob Draper scoring a hard back hand to the bottom corner after eliminating several Chinese defenders before entering the D, to draw Wales level just before the end of quarter one.
Into quarter two and even a green card for Jolyon Morgan couldn’t halt the Welsh momentum. Once back to eleven, Wales seized the initiative by scoring two in quick succession. First Gareth Furlong fired a trademark drag flick high into the net, followed two minutes later by James Carson, who scored from open play. 3-1 at half time and Wales in full control. The next quarter saw Wales navigate their way through the 15 minutes unscathed on the scoreboard, however the toll of 5 games in less than a week, in extreme temperatures, were beginning to take their toll. Naughalty came off with a calf issue putting him out for the remainder of the game and fatigue was a struggle for many. Ben Francis was already playing on with a fractured finger, sustained earlier in the match.
As the game moved into the final quarter Wales began to come under siege from the Chinese efforts to get back into the match. Some heroic penalty corner defending first from Kelly and then from Gooch thwarted the Chinese flickers. Both bravely putting their body on the line to run down efforts from the top.
Having run off those knocks, Gooch couldn’t run the next one off, after a ball flew up off a stick, catching him square on the nose. He would take no further part.
Down a key defender in Gooch, Wales had to re-jig and matters were not helped further when Prosser received a green. Whilst he was off, China scored. 3-2 with 10 remaining. Prosser back on, but two minutes later Jolyon Morgan received a harsh yellow.
Playing the majority of the final ten minutes with a man down, Wales were under constant pressure and spent vast amounts of time in deep defence. But China couldn’t break them. Wales hung on, battered, bruised and exhausted they claimed 5th spot and another high ranking scalp.
Head coach Zak Jones said he couldn’t remember a more gutsy and brave performance from Wales.
‘That kind of performance is what we’re renowned for. Sean Edwards (Wales rugby defense coach) would have been proud of that defensive effort. People putting their bodies on the line and grinding it out. If we play like that we can give any side in the world a game.’
So Wales end the tournament in 5th. A tournament that started brightly, ended with arguably the best performance. A few defeats in the middle, where Wales came out the wrong side of some tight matches, halted their chances of achieving a higher final position.
All in all the squad will be pleased with their work and the trip has no doubt been beneficial, as they now build towards a big summer and the European Championships.