Amy Wood, left, in action for St Matthew’s Collegiate in last Friday’s play-off match against Wairarapa College. PHOTO/JAMES CRAWLEY

HOCKEY

JAKE BELESKI
jake.beleski@age.co.nz

Entering a final as the clear underdog may seem strange for a defending champion, but you will not hear the St Matthew’s Collegiate First XI hockey team complaining about that tag.

St Matthew’s will be aiming to defend their premier 1 title in tonight’s final in Wellington [6.30pm], but the task in front of them is a daunting one.

They will be up against a strong Wellington Girls’ College side that went through the round-robin phase unbeaten, and beat St Matthew’s 2-0 last time they met.

St Matthew’s coach Phil Hall is under no illusions as to how tough a match his side are in for, but they have been in this position before.

“We were in the same situation last year – we were the underdogs, which is a great spot to be in from our point of view.

“We lost 2-0 against Wellington Girls’ College last time but both those goals, from our point of view, were soft defensive goals that we let through.”

Last year, St Matthew’s finished third after the round-robin but worked their way through the play-offs and beat Queen Margaret College 1-0 in a thrilling final.

This year they finished the round-robin in third place once again, and have navigated their way through two must-win matches in the past two weeks.

Wellington Girls’ College, on the other hand, are yet to play a must-win match.

“They’re a very strong team but they’ve had a few close ones this season,” Hall said.

“We competed with them and certainly have the capability of doing that this Friday.”

Hall was hopeful getting through two tough knockout matches – including last week’s narrow 2-1 win over Wairarapa College – would hold his team in good stead for tonight’s match.

“There’s a bit more planning this week around how to approach a final because of extra time if it’s a draw.

“In the last few weeks I think we’ve laid a really good foundation to take the team into the final.”

If the scores are tied at the end of the match, the teams will drop down to nine-a-side and play an extra five minutes, with the first team to score winning the match.

If neither team scores in that period, they will then drop down to seven-a-side.

Finally, if the deadlock still cannot be broken, they will go to a shootout.

The majority of the St Matthew’s team were part of the group that won last year, and that experience could be crucial in what is expected to be a tight play-off match.

After the final, the team will have a week to prepare for the Federation Cup – the premier national secondary schools tournament in girls’ hockey.

“It’s perfect timing having a match like this so close to Fed Cup,” Hall said.

“We have a week of preparation after the final, and the good thing is we don’t have to play a game on the Friday before we start Fed Cup.”