The Polocrosse Association of Australia have confirmed in a written statement that the player who will replace their former World Cup captain Suzette Thomas is to be the Victorian Jess Jolly. Jess represented Australia at the Quadrangular tournament in 2008 but then was not named in the initial squad for the World Cup in 2011. However, the removal of Suzette Thomas from the team three weeks ago reopened the door for her. It also created a vacancy for a new Captain and that has been filled by Cameron Shepherd of Queensland, with Will Weston staying as Vice Captain rather than moving up to Captain as some might have expected.
In their statement the PAA put a positive spin on the whole affair, focusing on the fact that Jess has been named as a player for the World Cup squad and the fact that Cameron is captain. They make no reference to Suzette or what led to her being removed from the team. Rumour has it that the reason was actually a dispute over whether players could bring their children to the World Cup and whether they could stay alongside the team in the United Kingdom. It has now also emerged that Suzette is pregnant but this was apparently not known by anyone when she was released from the squad, not even Suzette herself.
The rest of the statement is fairly standard information about polocrosse and the World Cup in general, as well as confirming that the team will be coached by Ross Shepherd (Cameron’s father) who coached Australia to both their World Cup victories and now has an unbeaten record stretching back for 19 matches as international coach.
In a recent interview with Warwick Daily News Ross Shepherd did reveal that he is possibly looking to play Will Weston as a number 3, Cameron Shepherd as a number 2 and Rob Sibley as a number 1 with Lance Anderson as a utility player who can play all three positions, however, he said “We have a lot of flexibility in the men’s section” so clearly feels he can swap the section around if needed.
He probably has less flexibility in his ladies’ section now with the removal of Suzette who was probably Australia’s best lady player and there is no doubt their team is weaker for her departure. How much weaker remains to be seen, it is still a very good team and in Jodi Tiver and Sandra Weston they definitely have a world class number 1 and number 3.
As always Ross, and Australia in general, is keen to talk down their chances, they did the same before they toured the UK in 2007 and promptly defeated the UK 4-0. Ross said “New Zealand will be stronger in 2011 due to new players. The UK defied the odds by reaching the final in 2007 but have lost two of their best players since then.” Who exactly he means isn’t clear but it would seem likely that Shelley Yirrell (nee King) is one name in his mind and then maybe Martin Brookes or Hamish Michael from the men’s section. Sophie Sargeant (nee Lodder) has also left the UK squad since 2007 but she never actually played at the 2007 World Cup due to a broken arm, suffered falling down some stairs in New Zealand while at pre World Cup training.
Australia have called up additional reserves in case anything else should happen to their Ladies’ section. With Leanne Polglasse out, as she is now also pregnant, they have called up Stephanie Thorsby (nee Brook) of Queensland and Leith Pryor of NSW to join Lizzie Lyster of WA on the reserves list.
Australia will hope that from now on they don’t have to make any more changes to their squad, the removal of Suzette caused a large amount of uproar in the Australian polocrosse community and any more changes could be disastrous. The squad will train together in Victoria for two weeks in February and then two weeks in NSW in June before flying to the UK for the World Cup. They would still seem to be the favourites to defend their title at the moment but the odds probably just got a little bit longer.
To read the full PAA statement click here.
To read the Warwick Daily News article with Ross Shepherd click here.