The UK Pony Club held their first ever Home nations competition, featuring teams from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. the competition was held alongside the annual Celyn polocrosse club tournament at Backford, on the 25th and 26th of July and the event attracted much praise, from within both The Pony Club and the UK Polocrosse Association. Celyn kindly agreed to host the event and as a club they put a huge amount of effort into making it a very special event for the players involved, giving over their best playing pitch to be used almost exclusively for the competition throughout the weekend of play and producing a detailed programme of players so that each player was immortalised in print.
All the teams were gathered at Backford from Wednesday the 22nd of July and each team did three days of training and team building before the competition started on Saturday morning. Each nations team consisted of a section of Minis (Under 12’s), Juniors (Under 16’s) and an open section (Under 25’s – the maximum age limit for the UK Pony Club) in an innovative format devised by The Pony Club (editor’s note: we believe actually it was a certain polocrosse playing Pony Club ambassador who came up with that idea….) to allow players of all ages to take part. Each Nation was allowed to select four players within each age group and so was allowed to rotate the players around between chukkas and have an impact player ready in case they had to make a substitution during a chukka. Each match was nine chukkas, with the Minis playing first, followed by the Juniors and then the Open section.
The competition was initially played as round robin, which decided the individual placings for each of the three age groups as well as the placings for the final and the third/ fourth play off. Then the top two nations from the round robin played off for first and second places and the next two nations played off for third and fourth places.
In the round robin competition there were some very hard fought matches, with different nations’ different sections proving stronger or weaker than their opponents and so overall the results were pretty even across the board. The England team managed a clean sweep of their round robin matches but they were pushed hard in all their matches, particularly as their Open section struggled at the start against Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, their Minis and Juniors overcame both those Nations and their results saw the overall team home and put both those sections in contention for winning their age groups when they faced Wales early on Sunday morning.
Wales almost managed to defeat Northern Ireland and Scotland on the Saturday in two hard fought and close matches, with their Minis in particular proving very strong and their Juniors and Open section also playing well. Their Open section, like England’s, lost both their contests but they did enough in each match to ensure an overall victory. On Sunday morning Wales Minis proved their strength again as they overcame the English Minis by 3 goals but this time the Junior and Open Sections for England did enough to defeat their Welsh counterparts and ensure a very narrow overall two goal victory. As a result, the English Juniors were undefeated and so received the NVable Junior trophy but the Welsh Minis took away the Kimber Tarbuck Minis trophy.
Northern Ireland took on Scotland in the next match on Sunday and this match decided the outcome of the Open section competition, as both Scotland’s and Northern Ireland’s Open sections were undefeated at this stage. The Northern Irish Open section proved just how strong they were, as they overcame the Scottish section and so claimed the Scott Trophy for the winning Open section for the first time. They also made sure of an overall Northern Irish victory in the match, after the Scottish Juniors and Minis had initially kept it close.
The final on Sunday afternoon was a rematch of the England and Wales game and it was Wales who started the stronger as their Minis pulled out a 5-1 lead and their Juniors held their opening chukka to keep it at 6-2. However, then England’s Open section started the comeback and their Minis and Juniors followed suite, with the English Minis holding the Welsh Minis far closer in their second chukka and the English Juniors building them a lead in the fifth chukka, which England then gradually extended to win by 6 goals and so became the first ever name inscribed on the Triple Diamond Trophy for the winning nation. Northern Ireland claimed the third spot with Scotland in fourth.
The Simkin family also donated the Mark Simkin Memorial trophy, which they awarded to a player who they thought embodied the spirit of Pony Club polocrosse and was showing both talent and good sportmanship. This was awarded to William Armstrong of Northern Ireland.
All the teams benefited from kit which was part sponsored by Redrow Homes, Ollard Westcombe and Polocrossse Extreme (editor’s note: Oh that’s us…).
The high standard of play at all age levels and the closeness of all the matches was testament to how much all the nations have developed in the last few years but it is particularly impressive of Scotland, whose first players only really started playing in 2011, when the last Pony Club International matches were held alongside the World Cup.
Overall the event was a brilliant occasion for the players and for spectators. Even some fairly persistent rain on Sunday could not take away from the spectacle and excitement. The Pony Club now plans to run similar events every two years so as to ensure that players at the top of their respective age groups get additional opportunities to compete against each other but with an international twist to it. So if event was anything to go by then roll on 2017!
We would like to also just add our own congratulations to everyone who helped make the event a success, Celyn polocrosse club, the organising committee for The Pony Club, all the coaches and managers, all the umpires, goal judges and table officials and of course the players! You all did brilliantly so well done everyone!