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Wales moving closer to top hockey nations despite Commonwealth exit

Wales moving closer to top hockey nations despite Commonwealth exit

Wales insist they are closer to challenging hockey’s top nations despite group-stage exits at the Commonwealth Games.

Danny Newcombe’s men’s side claimed a maiden victory at the Games by beating Canada and then put six past minnows Ghana.

But they still found it tough to compete for long periods against higher-ranking opposition and were put away 4-1 by India in their final Pool B game

Co-captain Luke Hawker said: "We would like to have thrown a few more punches and got a little closer to them.

“They scored a couple of corners at a crucial moment and suffocated us.

"We struggled to get momentum early on and had to do a lot of defending, which took the legs out of us a little bit. Towards the end, we created a couple of opportunities and scored a goal, but it was too little, too late."

Ben Francis replied with a late penalty corner but not before Harmanpreet Singh netted a hat-trick to crush their hopes of a memorable victory.

That means they face South Africa tomorrow in the fifth-place play-off.

Reflecting on the tournament, Hawker said: “For us, it's about understanding how we take on a top 10 team.

“We're getting closer – if you go back to the Europeans [in 2021], we were a long way off, and here I think we're a lot closer to England and India than we have been.

"Our win against Canada earlier in the week was the first time we won a game in the group stages of the Commonwealth Games. We take a huge amount of confidence from that. Hopefully, it is a sign of things to come.”

Meanwhile Wales couldn’t capitalise on a bright start to their home nations tussle with England and suffered a 5-0 defeat.

Amy Burton squandered an excellent early chance from point-blank range and were punished as Grace Balsdon needed a clinical hat-trick.

They also face South Africa in their final game at University of Birmingham with seventh place up for grabs, which would be their highest-ever finish.

“It’s a challenge now for us as it will be really tight,” said Leah Wilkinson.

“We want to win these classification games and top hockey is not something many players get to do.

This is the final major tournament for captain Wilkinson, who is the most capped Welsh sportsperson of all time.

This was the 200th international cap for the 35-year-old Olympian who started playing at the top level in 2004.

"I still feel like I am holding my own but it’s the right time to go," she said. "I want to finish on a big tournament."

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