Tomorrow (the 3rd of July) the fourth Polocrosse World Cup starts here in Shongweni showground, Durban, South Africa. Our team has spent today at the grounds, talking to players and people in the know in order to get the low down on the eve of the competition.
Firstly, we can report that all the teams seem very happy with their horse pools, which is a promising sign that there should be exceptional polocrosse on display over the next two weekends. The players and their coaches have spent the last five days working with their horse pool (which they draw at random) and all seem to feel they have got a good number of top quality horses in their pool.
However, on the 12th of July only one team will be able to declare themselves World Champions and the feeling on the ground is that South Africa are the favourites to lift the crown. They certainly will take some beating, they are the defending world champions, their men’s section is unchanged since 2011 and so has played together a lot and they have home advantage, including a better knowledge of the horses than any other team. However, there are teams that will undoubtedly push them and a lot of people seem to be expecting a very strong performance from Zambia, who South Africa face in their first game tomorrow. Zambia have trained hard in the last four years and also have benefited from a few of Zimbabwe’s players moving over the border since 2011 and, certainly looking at the team now, it seems very likely that the team will finish far higher than the eighth place they achieved in 2011. Most people seem to feel a top three finish is very achievable for them and possibly they could even win it.
The other team that is being hotly tipped for a top three finish is the double World Champions Australia. They have bought quite a different side than the one that played in 2011, with Will Weston being the only player who remains in the team. They have also changed their coach to Troy Henry, a former double World Cup winner in 2003 and 2007. They have also recalled Jane Cooper, who was in both Australia’s world cup winning sides and then coached the USA to their fourth place finish in 2011. They will be determined to regain the crown they lost four years ago and it seems that they have learnt lessons from 2011 and have come back with a different plan. It would seem very likely that they will make the World Cup final but whether they can quite beat the hosts is a different question.
Australia’s first game is against the United Kingdom, which could be their biggest test in their group. The UK have also changed things since 2011, they now have Jason Webb as a player coach and they have bought in four new faces to the team, including the youngest player at the World Cup which is Max Pedley at 17 years old. If these gambles pay off they could challenge the likes of Australia and South Africa and certainly they will be very disappointed not to finish in the top two of their group and make the semi finals.
To do that they will probably have to overcome Ireland and Zimbabwe. They defeated an Irish team last year in the UK and, though this Irish team is slightly stronger than the one they faced last year, the UK will believe they can beat their old rivals. However, it would be a foolish person who discounts Ireland, who have changed their team (particularly their men) a fair bit since 2011. They start their campaign against Zimbabwe and that could be a very interesting match. Zimbabwe would seem, on paper, to be weaker than they were four years ago. They have lost players to Zambia and some internal disputes have allegedly caused players such as Andy Baker, Sophie Sargeant and Danie Swan to withdraw from the squad. However, they are still a strong team and could well cause Ireland and the UK problems in that group.
The other two teams, USA and New Zealand, are in the first group with South Africa and Zambia and they will have a tough challenge to qualify past the two African nations. Of those two countries it would seem that New Zealand are more favoured by people at the grounds, though the USA men could surprise people if players such as Seth Alcott play as well as they did in 2011. Both New Zealand and USA have made a number of changes since 2011 and New Zealand now have a father and a daughter playing in the same team, with Shane Hill keeping his place in the men’s section and Kyla Hill coming into the ladies’ section.
So having talked to people and listened to the chatter around the grounds, how do we think it will end? Well it’s very tough to call at points (especially as we haven’t even seen the teams play yet) but at this point we think we can predict the top four will look (something) like this. (editor’s note: we will try and predict the full list after we have watched some play over the opening weekend! And we reserve the right to change our original predictions at that point as well….)
1st – South Africa
2nd – Australia
3rd – Zambia
4th – United Kingdom
For a quick run down of all the players and the order of play we have made you a handy downloadable PDF which you can get by clicking on this link – Polocrosse 2015 World Cup Team List and first weekend order of play
Even if you aren’t at the ground, we will be trying to bring you all the action via Twitter and Facebook. So follow us on Twitter @PoloxExtreme and find us on Facebook, Polocrosse Extreme.
The plan is to try and do most of the in chukka updates via Twitter as that is less data heavy for our on field devices (and data isn’t cheap when you are using a UK phone..) and then end of chukka scores and mini reports on Facebook. Then each evening we will (partying permitting) try and bring you fuller reports right here on this website!