Firstly, apologies for the delay! I stayed over in Australia visiting some friends and so only returned to the UK on Monday, however here is the World Cup Report!
Friday 20th of April
And so it begins! The first thing I do is study the world map in order to discover exactly where Singapore is (I may only be landing there for a few hours but still I like to know where I am!) It’s lower down than I expected. I don’t need the map to know where my eventual destination is; the location of the home of polocrosse is embedded on to my retinas!
Warwick lies halfway up the east coast of Australia and it is here I am heading , to watch the UK take on the world’s best in the Polocrosse World Cup. Of course my travel costs and expenses are all being paid for by Polocrosse X-treme and so I am travelling in the lap of luxury…well, actually not but at least I am not in the baggage hold. Mind you, at least in the hold I could stretch my legs; 20 hours of flying in Qantas economy class seems quite likely to give me deep vein thrombosis (however, I have been provided with travel socks and aspirins, to thin the blood, to prevent this happening). Before I leave Heathrow I eat a pizza at Cafe Uno in order that I won’t starve before I reach Oz, trying to survive on airline food for that long would seem impossible!
Initially, the matches went to form. New Zealand (NZ) beat Ireland reasonably comfortably, 26-12, in the end but Ireland can take pride from the fact they were only down by one after three chukkas and played well throughout the whole match, only ultimately NZ were just a bit too good for them.
The Aussies beat the USA 33-7. The USA played some good fast polocrosse at points but wasted a couple of opportunities. Also, the Aussies won so much ball the USA never really had a chance to match them. Canada were beaten 29-6 by South Africa (SA) but it was clear they had improved greatly since the last World Cup and they never stopped fighting and trying.
Then came the match of the day, the one we had been waiting for – the UK versus Zimbabwe. The UK ladies were on brilliant from the outset and it was clear the Zims would not be able to contain Shelley King, Debbie Harris and Sarah Simkin. They won ball, scored goals and defended hard to win the first chukka 4-1. The Zim men outplayed the UK quite easily in the 2nd to put the score to 7-4. The UK men, Guy Robertson, Jason Burbidge and Martin Brookes, just couldn’t win the ball and without it scoring became very hard! The UK ladies re-emerged and dominated again to level the scores at 8-8 (although Shelley did miss a shot this time).
The UK men switched formations with Jason going to 1 and then Hamish Michael and Guy behind him (Hamish getting his first UK cap). The Zims scored two quick goals and then a nice backwards pass from Guy set up the first UK goal. Then disaster struck as Jason’s horse fell. Jason rose quickly but his horse stayed down and there were fears it would have to be shot as a screen was put round it. Interestingly the screen took about 30 seconds to arrive and be put up but the vet didn’t appear till about another 3 minutes. However, after about 10 minutes the horse got up and walked off, though it wouldn’t play again in this match. Nor would Jason as Martin Brookes returned to the field. The Zims banged away another 4 goals for no return and put the score at 14-9.
The UK ladies again had a lot to do and again they did it. The Zim ladies did help by the fact that two of them managed to take each out while attempting to sandwich Shelley King. Shelley was being hard pressed and was complaining to the umpire about the Zims being all over the back of her horse, however no foul was given and Shelley broke clear. However, the Zims came back for another go, they missed Shelley and crashed head to head. Both fell from their horses and Margot Worswick was taken to hospital with concussion (from which she did recover but didn’t play again at the world cup). Also, the Zims couldn’t bring on another player as the umpires decided that Margot was guilty of dangerous riding and she was sent off (a decision she couldn’t really protest as she was about a mile away in the ambulance at the time). The UK ladies finished the chukka strongly to level the scores at 14-14 and set up the last chukka. The UK men scored first with Guy taking his time in the area. The Zims equalised, despite hard work from Martin Brookes. However, this time the UK didn’t let the Zims get their heads up and scored again. Then some good work from Hamish Michael as he won the ball and then found Guy in space and in the area to give the UK a two goal lead. The Zims came back and scored again but the UK then stretched the lead to three goals and when the hooter went they ran out 19-16 winners. The UK supporters also ran out on to the pitch to congratulate their team.
The day started with NZ taking on Canada. NZ won comfortably, 28-2, but Canada again showed they had improved and, indeed, seemed to have improved since the day before. The Canadian girls worked well as a section and never stopped trying. The Canadian men were more in the match as well and worked tirelessly in defence. Perhaps the highlight of the match was when Bruce Greenslade caught a NZ shot at goal and burst out of the 30 yard area, passed a 20 yard pass to his number 1, Kris Miller, who ran for the area and bounced, reclaimed and headed for the back line with the number three on his inside. He leant out and threw a big shot out the side which when just wide, much to the disappointment of the crowd. However, even though the shot was missed the Canadians had shown that they could play some good polocrosse and given another four years to work further and reduce mistakes and they will have good team for the 2011 World Cup.
The next match saw the UK take on the Aussies. The UK supporters were in good spirits after the Zimbabwe match and took over a section of the stand, naming it “Little Britain”and decorating it with flags and bunting.
Unfortunately the result didn’t go their way as the Aussies won 20-7. The Australians played very well, again winning lots of ball but the UK can take a lot from the game. Afterwards, the UK coach, Greg Sargeant, said he thought the men had played as well as he has ever seen them play. The ladies didn’t perform at their best, though Debbie Harris played well in the number 2 slot. To be fair, they had had a tough match the day before and so may have been a bit drained. Also in the early chukkas the umpiring did seem to go against the UK, particularly in the line ups, where the umpires seemed to feel the UK were constantly crossing the T. The UK didn’t make an official complaint, Greg said he didn’t feel it was worth it and that it would just look like they were bad losers. However, it later turned out that a lot of the other countries, such as NZ and SA, had also thought the umpiring was dreadful. A final consolation the UK can take is that the Aussies only won by 13, their smallest ever winning margin in a world cup (at this point, later on in the tournament South Africa lost by only 5 goals), and the lead only got stretched to this in the last two chukkas as the UK rested players and horses. Lucy Shell got her UK senior debut and afterwards said it felt great to go out and play Australia. Another high point was that Martin Brookes was a rock in defence, holding up Troy Henry for about 2 minutes on one occasion in the area. In fact it got to a point where it was getting ridiculous as Troy tried every which way to get around him but couldn’t. He tried a shot which Martin deflected wide but the umpire ruled (whether or not correctly) that Martin had in fact done a down hit and gave Troy a free shot at goal which he did manage to score. Guy and Hamish were also good as they linked up well in midfield; the UK men won the 2nd chukka 3-2, having lost the first 3-1.
The Zims then defeated the USA, 21-11, but the USA played well in the match and they put the Zims under a lot of pressure at points. The US ladies were a lot more impressive than they had been against the Aussies and the men battled hard throughout the whole game, with Rob Shuttles scoring some good goals. Their downfall was they couldn’t cope with the Zims pace; the Zims, at points, played a very fast and furious game, pumping long balls down the pitch and riding onto them. This was particularly true of the Zimbabwean men, though the long ball didn’t always work for them and the play was a bit scrappy at points. At other points, however, it was brilliant and they deserved their victory.
The final match of the day was SA versus Ireland and it was fitting end to the day. This match was action packed and lighting fast. The Irish went out with all guns blazing having lost to NZ the day before. They held SA for the first few chukkas and drew ahead 8-7 in the fourth. The game was littered with fouls, particularly sandwiches, T-bones and (very) wild swinging from both teams, though the foul count was probably won by SA, particularly when it came to dangerous riding. At one point a SA lady waited on the T and deliberately T-boned the Irish number 3, Avis Watton, as she rode past. This actually turned out to be a silly idea as not only did she concede a goal but also annoyed Avis who then proceeded to return the favour for the rest of the match with some big hits from both horse and racquet!
In the last chukka even the umpires seemed to want in on the fouls! The Irish number 1, Seb Chambers, was heading down the pitch with SA number 1 Charl Du Pleissis for company. Charl aimed two swings at Seb’s chest, which luckily didn’t connect, and the umpires blew for a foul. The umpire then proceeded to demonstrate the foul by swinging his stick around his head, unfortunately the Irish number 3 Aidan McDonagh was right behind him and got the stick straight in his helmet (the Irish unfortunately didn’t get another goal on the board for this)! Charl was sent off but as there were only 26 seconds left it made little difference and SA won 23-14, as they had had a strong second half and scored some very quick goal with Charl banging away overarms. The Irish did really show that they can played fast exciting polocrosse and they matched SA blow for blow when it turned physical. Ultimately, however, the SA just proved too good, after all, they did basically write the rule book when it comes to playing polocrosse hard and fast!
This was a day of rest and so I spent most of it relaxing in a camping site near town with some close friends, near a rather cool camper van called “Festy”
Ireland beat Canada 28-5 in the final pool match. Canada might have hoped to get a closer result but the Irish were ruthless, with Tara Power and Seb Chambers scoring freely early on. Canada didn’t seem to play as well as they did against SA and NZ and they may have been disappointed with this. They did play hard however, giving away a few free goals, the pick of which was a head hit by Kris Miller on James Smyth that left his right cheek swollen and bruised but he played on regardless.
The UK were not convincing as they got past the USA 21-16 thanks to a 6 goal last chukka. The UK ladies still couldn’t re find the form they showed against the Zims, though they were brilliant at points and Shelley King scored some great goals. The men could not find their feet early on and the USA were leading by 3 after the first two chukkas. The UK fans were biting their nails, fearing that a replica of the defeat against the Irish in 2003. They knew the USA were a potential banana skin who could wreck their cup dreams and at points it seemed they might slip up. The pitch was very cut up, which didn’t help the game flow and there were mistakes by both sides. Robbie Shuttles had clearly watched Martin defend against the Aussies because he wasted no time with riding around the area, instead pumping goals over his head on quite a few occasions. However, in the end the UK came good, just like they did against the Zims. The UK ladies gave them a 15-14 lead and though the USA equalised with the first move of the sixth chukka, Hamish, Martin and Guy responded by going on a goal frenzy, scoring six while the USA could only score another one. The UK were relieved to get past a team who had been viewing the UK clash as their chance to cause a major upset but in the end they didn’t quite do enough.
The Aussies again showed their dominance by beating Zimbabwe by 25-9 with some brilliant polocrosse. The Zims were exciting at points but they just couldn’t get enough ball in order to challenge the Aussies, who dominated from start to finish. Near the end, as tempers frayed, both Howie Baker and Aaron Clarke were sent off after some pushing and an exchange of views.
The match between SA and NZ was the match of the tournament so far. The two contrasting styles of play made a brilliant spectacle. It was incredibly even early on with the score at 9-8 after the fourth but the NZ ladies played brilliant to pull it out to 14-9 in the fifth. The NZ ladies just had the edge on their SA opponents throughout the game. The SA men played fast and furious polocrosse, particularly Charl Du Pleissis who seems play his polocrosse on the thin line between genius and insanity. As he scored a lot of high speed brilliant goals and didn’t have any fatal accidents, this was definitely a day of genius. It was him who banged in four goals in the final chukka to put the score at 14 all and set up the golden goal. This was won very quickly by the NZ ladies, as they grabbed it from the line up and ran in it for a straight forward goal.
This match would have made a great final. SA did miss chances; Charl missing a chance which would have won the match, when with 46 seconds to go, he pulled an overarm shot wide and low. Their captain Gavin Cocker also did say afterwards that missed chances had cost his team.
The Zims beat Canada in what was actually a fairly boring match, the Zims had a point to prove and they did prove it, wining in the end 36-5. It was an eight chukka game which partly explains why the Zims scored so many goals; they did try and score some flashy goals as well to keep the crowd happy but the biggest cheers were reserved for each of Canada’s goals, the first of which was the result of a nice move and ended with Kris Miller shooting over his horse’s neck from a tight angle.
The Irish beat the USA by a surprisingly big margin, 30-18. The Irish girls dominated against the USA, who were also guilty of making some mistakes. The Irish men also started to dominate later on in the game. Both the Irish number ones in Tara Power and Seb Chambers were playing well and this helped them to victory.
The UK then caused the upset of the tournament by beating NZ in the first semi final. When it counted all the UK players came good and played their best, though the wet weather may have helped. Early on the two teams matched each other blow for blow and it was pretty even for the first few chukkas. The NZ men gave them a 2 goal lead at the end of the 4th. The UK ladies then came out and pulled it back and even gave their men a slender lead which the men duly converted in three goal advantage, which Guy Robertson protected by catching a ball on the goal line while defending in the dying seconds. The two ladies section then drew the 7th chukka and the UK men came out and played their best polocrosse (as they always seem to in the last chukka) taking the lead out to eight before the NZ scored two late consolation goals to leave the final score at 24-18.
Greg Sargeant kept faith in his team throughout, playing Guy Robertson and Debbie Harris as threes throughout the match, where in early matches he played Martin Brookes and Sarah Simkin. Guy won a lot of ball, particularly out the back of the line up while Debbie defended brilliantly.
The Aussies beat SA but at the beginning of the 8th chukka it did look like it might be a shock defeat as the Aussies were only up 19-18 and Charl Du Pleissis quickly evened it up. However, then it went wrong for SA as Gavin Cocker fell off his horse, nearly rolling in the spectator stands due to his speed of travelling. He was unhurt but the umpires stopped played and therefore denied Charl, who had just picked up the ball, the chance to put SA ahead. From the resulting line out the Aussies got the ball and then never looked back as they pulled out a 24-19 win.
Early on it looked like it might be a far bigger difference as the Aussies lead 7-2 but the SA men just had the edge on their opponents and later on the SA ladies fought hard to level the score time after time. SA could be unhappy with certain umpiring decisions and they certainly deserved a free goal when Charl Du Pleissis appeared to be slashed across his chest by an Australian player, causing him to fall from his horse. The umpire, however, decided it was time for a nice neutral line up and the Aussie crowd booed Charl and accused him of faking it. Later, however, when Jane Cooper was smashed in the face they were full of sympathy. Admittedly, the SA girls did rather seem to celebrate straight afterwards by all tapping sticks, something that caused someone in the crowd near me to describe them as ‘little bitches’, which probably won’t bother them too much. The Aussies did deserve their win, they were more consistent and rarely missed a chance, The SA were brilliant to watch but did miss chances in between scoring lighting fast goals. It was consistency against brilliance and, again, consistency proved too much.
In the final match of the day Canada took on the USA and nearly condemned them to 8th place as they had the lead going into the final chukka. However, the USA managed to turn it around and won 14-11. Unfortunately, I missed this match but apparently most of the crowd was cheering for Canada.
In the first match of day Zimbabwe beat Ireland 22-11 in a match that seemed to slip away from the Irish at the start. They recover a bit later on and held the Zims up more but ultimately the Zims proved too good for them.
NZ then suffered SA’s revenge as the SA’s won by one goal in the final chukka, the end scoreline being 21-20. The NZ ladies couldn’t quite contain a psyched up SA side that was determined to go out on a high. The men were fairly evenly matched but the SA men produced some moments of brilliance near the end to score the winning goal. The SA definitely deserved their win, especially seeing that again some umpiring seemed to go against them. At one point the NZ number 2 two clearly obstructed Gavin Cocker (SA 3) in his 30 yard area, by riding over the ball, but no foul was called.
The Aussies then retained their world cup title by beating the UK by 36-13 in the final. They were relentless consistent, their only mistakes being two missed attempts at goal. The UK didn’t play their best, they seemed nervous when they first came out and in the first few chukkas the Aussies built up a lead. The next few chukkas were more even but then the Aussies again won ball after ball and stopped the UK scoring. The UK were also guilty of wasting some of the chances they had with speculative passing and bad timing.
It is, however, important to remember that it it is a massive achievement for the UK to reach the World Cup final and they really did show the world that UK polocrosse is alive and kicking. Perhaps, without Sophie Lodder’s injury, it would have been a closer affair, as the three girls must have been exhausted from playing nearly every chukka in the tournament (Lucy Shell only played one chukka during the Cup, against the Aussies in the group stages). Also the pitch didn’t help in the final as it wasn’t in great condition having already had about 10 matches on it, including three that morning. The Aussies made picking up on it look easy but the UK struggled at points to pick up and bounce on the cut up ground. Ultimately defeat may a slightly depressing note to end on but the mere fact the UK were even in the final was a lot closer to winning the Cup than anyone really dared dream.