By Karen Smith
After the UK vs NSW test matches in South Wales, the horses, team and support crew travelled by lorry and ferry to arrive in Horetown Polocrosse Club, County Wexford with mud and rain in equal measure, making the setting up of camp difficult and slightly disheartening. However, by Wednesday afternoon Jo Carthew had rallied everyone with hot food and the team and coach were starting to think of the matches ahead. The draw was kind to the UK, giving them Ireland first and then South Africa later on Friday and NSW on Saturday. The Irish had previously been beaten by the South Africans by 20-7, a similar goal difference to the UK’s previous matches with NSW, so we were guessing that we had a good chance against the Irish and would be matched against the South Africans.
The Junior tournament at Horetown had been cancelled due to the appalling weather and very boggy conditions, meaning that unfortunately, Kane, Steph and Seymour were denied a playing opportunity. However, they continued to support the players in a true ‘team spirit’. The going on the quadrangular pitch was wet to boggy, but at least it was a pitch and we were playing! The team looked incredibly smart in their playing shirts (designed by Kane – sponsored by Dial A Flight and Xtreme sportswear) and their saddle cloths, white bandages, bell boots and presentation rugs donated by Australian Horsemanship; the bandages stayed white for at least 10 minutes as they made their way down to the pitch.
Nerves showed slightly in the first two chukkas against the Irish, and at times the players were digging the ball out of the pitch. Bounces were very unreliable and therefore good passing was paramount. Pip Rowland soon showed why he was nominated by his team-mates for best player, coming up with the ball time and time again out of the mud and throwing some spectacular passes. As a team, the UK were unbeatable, with every member displaying commitment, hunger for the ball, teamwork and superb stick skills. The final score was UK 20 IRL 5.
The scorelines against the Irish being similar, we knew that the UK was in for a tough match with the South African team. The first goal of the first chukka went to Matt Smith of the UK, giving them confidence, but it was neck and neck and the scoreline was 3-3 at the end of the first, UK then took the lead 8-5 at the end of the second after some great blocking defence work by Ceri Williams and Katie Newbrook, 12-5 at the end of the third thanks to precise teamwork from Matt, Hugh Carthew and Pip Rowland and 14-9 at the end of the fourth with Jazz Henning laying on the wood at every opportunity. The fifth chukka was tough with the South Africans catching up the UK 15-13 with some seriously heavy defensive strategies. At this point coach Debbie Harris lost her voice. The final chukka was tense and the South Africans scored the first 2 goals to bring the scores level at 15-15.We could hardly bear to watch. The UK team showed maturity beyond their years and remained calm (or so it seemed to the watching crowd) and in control of the game with Max carefully protecting the ball and waiting patiently and so calmly for the absolute precise moment to score for the UK not once but twice in quick succession and the pressure immediately told on the South African number 3 who found Max’s head too much of a temptation and eventually was sent off for 2 minutes after a third head hit and some pretty wild swinging. The remaining two then quickly won the lineout stormed down the edge of the pitch, fed the ball and scored. The final line out went to the UK, we kept possession, into the area and the ball was firmly in Max’s net when the whistle blew. But the UK team had already done enough and the final score was 18-16. Celebration was ecstatic!!!! Only the NSW team to go!
The team re-focused to play the NSW team the following morning. Once again, this was a good match with the NSW playing well together as a team and ending with a good win for the UK 21-3– meaning we had won the first ever Junior Quadrangular! The UK team were pitchside later in the day to cheer on the NSW team against the Irish, who finished the day with a good win. The presentation took place with the team turned out in full clean squad kit, which just highlighted the professionalism and organisation that this 2012 Junior Squad had committed to. They looked awesome!
Despite the awful terrain, knee deep mud, persistent rain and no game play this year, the horses stood up to the test matches well and equalled the stamina of the resident horses ridden by the Irish and South Africans, with none going out of the tournament due to lameness or injury and all returning home safe and well to some well-earned turnout and rest.
The success of the UK 16 team was in no small part due to the amazing management team of Mandy Williams and Kelly Dixon, the catering skills of Jo Carthew, the dogged determination of all the parents and supporters to be cheerful despite the weather, and the patience, dedication, skill and humour of their coach, Debbie Harris. Successful teams both on and off the pitch.
The Juniors continue to practise with their NSW counterparts until their departure after the Cotswold tournament. Thereafter home life will go incredibly quiet while we get back to the normality of wondering if the next tournament is on but we’ll have some awesome memories and another group of wonderful friends for life!