The UK National Championships was held at Ashfields Polo Club in Great Canfield, Essex. On Thursday rain lead to wet fields and some lorries got stuck in the mud on entry but Friday was brighter and on Saturday and Sunday the site was soaked in glorious sunshine, perfect weather for the Nationals.
A Grade Cup
Kent did what the pundits had tipped them to do and claimed their first National title for 5 years. They beat the defending champions Highlanders in a tight and thrilling final. It was very even early on but in the 4 and 5 chukkas Kent started to build a small lead and the Highlanders couldn’t do enough to pull it back, despite some brilliant play from their captain, Guy Roberston. The Kent firepower of Todd Weston and Jamie Grimmond was unstoppable as they jinxed, skipped and swivelled past the Highlanders defence, though Jamie did seem to become slightly obsessed with trying to throw overarms and missed a couple of opportunities as he clearly hasn’t perfected them yet. Todd Weston’s goal shooting was all the more remarkable, seeing that his right eye was swollen and bruised as a result of a hit from Rick Murray’s stick during the semi finals.
Both teams had come through very tough semi finals, Kent narrowly defeating the Crusaders and Highlanders beating their old rivals Arden. These semi finals just showed the level of polocrosse within the UK now as all four teams were packed with brilliant players. Many people thought that this year the Highlanders might not reach the final but they showed why they were the defending champions as they firstly defeated the Welsh Dragons and then Arden to claim their place. Kent, however, were ultimately just too good for them but you can bet that Highlanders will be desperate to claim their trophy back next year.
Best Numbers (all Kent):
1) Todd Weston
2) Oscar Harding
3) Beau Moore
Best horse: Lauren Lee, owned by Guy Robertson (Highlanders)
A Grade Plate
The Welsh Dragons claimed the A grade plate and condeemed Pennine to second place for the second year in a row. The Welsh would have been disappointed that they weren’t in the A grade Cup,as they lost their first round match with Highlanders, but once they were in the Plate they made the most of it, defeating Pennine reasonably easily, with particularly good play from their Australian imports, Kristy Crook and Chris Robinson. Pennine probably won’t be too disappointed as they are still a very young side. They had amongst their number this weekend Alex Richardson who is only 16, and have plenty of years in which to build upon this result.
1st) Welsh Dragons
1) Chris Robinson (Welsh Dragons)
2) Joel Sics (Pennine)
3) Kristy Crook (Welsh Dragons)
Best Horse: L’oreal, owned by Lizzie Wright-Roberts (Welsh Dragons)
B Grade Cup
The Welsh Dragons dream of a second straight B grade victory were dashed in the final by a very slick Arden side. Before the final the Arden duo of Richard Chapple and Rob Jenkinson both had their hair cut into ridculous styles and it seemed to do the trick as throughout the game the Arden team purred like a well oil machine. The Welsh didn’t play as well as they had in the earlier matches and they did have horse problems, they had about three horses go out before the final and also during the final Charlie Wright Roberts had to change horses as his first pony refused to line up and clearly was not happy. Nothing should be taken away from Arden though, who worked as a team brilliantly and it must have been very hard to pick best numbers as all the Arden team did their job so well for all six chukkas, with some brilliant passing play and goal scoring.
2nd) Welsh Dragons
Best Numbers (All Arden):
1) Chris James
2) Tor Phillips
3) Dan Duhig
Best Horse: Erika, Chris James’ horse
B Grade Plate
The Welsh Dragons did manage to defend their B grade plate title, with a team that had been put together at the last minute and only had five players, meaning that Matt Hale had to double up for all three matches. They defeated the combined force of Pennine and Pendle in the final. The Welsh lead by six going into the last chukka but Pennine fought back hard and pulled it back to within one at the final whistle. However, the Welsh had done enough early on as they put away their goals and limited the Pendle/Pennine scoriung chances.
1st) Welsh Dragons
1) Iain Heaton (Welsh Dragons)
2) Dean Chappell (Pennine)
3) Alex Edwards (Pendle)
Best Horse: Opepo, Lucy Proctor-Nichols horse (Welsh Dragons)
The C grade was played as two pools and then the winner of each pool meant in the final. The two teams were Solent and Celyn and it was Solent who ended their excellent first season with a Nationals C grade win. It was close throughout but Solent always lead and Celyn coiuld match the goal scoring rate of Matt Fookes and Nick Foley for Solent. Simon Amor did try and slow down Nick Foley by hitting him in the head in the second chukka, causing a nosebleed, and then Nick’s horse stumbled and fell in the fourth chukka, leaving him with cuts and bruises. However these minor injuries could not stop him scoring and Celyn could not stop Solent claiming the title. Celyn, however, will be delighted with their final spot as they are a very young team, with most of the players still being under 16 and they would seem to have a very good team for the future (as the majority of them are UK junior players)
1) Matt Fookes (Solent)
2) Amy Hughes-Clay (Celyn)
3) Annie Mitchell (Celyn)
Best Horse: Faleene, Annie Mitchell’s horse (Celyn)
The D grade was played as a round robin and it was here that Solent claimed their second National title. There were four teams in the grade, Kent, Arden, Centaur/Pendle Wildcats and Solent. It was Solent who proved themselves the best of the four, winning all their matches. Victories in this grade this year should hopefully bode well for the future of Solent, particularly as they have young players in this grade, like Dan Kelly and Jess Fagot.
3rd) Centaur/ Pendle
1) Jess Fagot (Solent)
2) Laura Donnelly (Pendle)
3) Oliver Gardener (Arden)
Best Horse: Will Arnold’s horse, Fleetwood (Pendle)
Kent claimed their second Juniors title in two years as they defeated Centaur in the final. The Kent Junior team was a class above the other junior teams this year, particularly seeing Celyn (who Kent defeated in the final last year) didn’t field a full Juniors team, instead chosing to run their youngsters out in the C grade. Centaur tried their hardest to match Kent but Kent were just too good and in the end their ran out winners by a reasonably big margin.
1) Sammy Rowden (Kent Target)
2) Rosie Townend (Pennine)
3) Sarah Newall (Arden)
Best Horse: Sammy Rowden’s horse, Manader (Kent Target)
The Primary juniors was again played as a round robin and it was the Pennine Team who emerged victorious, overcoming Kent target and a Mix and Match team. Victory in the primary juniors is a great reward for Pennine, who have out a lot of time and effort into recruiting new players into the sport and developing young talent and hopefully they have in their team some stars of the future.
3rd) All Sorts
1) Alex Rowley (Pennine)
2) Becky Shaw (Kent)
3) Katie Newbrook (Centaur)
Best Horse: Alex Rowley’s pony, Arnie (Pennine)