The UKPA National Championships takes place on the 9th and 10th of September at Admington. Moved back from its traditional August Bank Holiday date to extend the UK season, this is the moment in the UK Calendar when the clubs try to field their top teams and nowhere will that be more the case than in the A grade, where six teams featuring an array of international stars (including a double World Cup winner) will do battle for the A grade Championships.

Kent Target are the defending A grade champions, they beat Highlanders last year in the final, stopping a Highlanders winning streak stretching back to 2016. Both teams will be going for the win in 2023 and in Highlanders case they actually have two teams in the A grade to try and double their chances. However, there are also three other teams in contention; Warwick, Titans and Ardenwick (a combined Arden and Warwick team).

So who will emerge victorious? Kent as defending champions have a very strong team. Jason Webb, their captain and talisman, will be looking to add another A grade title to his already impressive collection and he has a lot of young talent alongside him, namely five members of the UK’s longlist squad for the World Cup in Jack Brown, Charlie Hewitt, Sophia Harpin, Pip Rowland and Hamish Gillanders.

Two of those Kent players (Jack and Sophia), were on the recent UK tour to Zambia but the bulk of the recent UK touring team (and that is where the smart money seems to be heading in terms of eventual World Cup team selection which will surely be announced at the Nationals) is concentrated in the Highlanders. Their top team consists of three of the men and one of the ladies from that tour; Joel Sics, Rachael Duhig, Josh Smith and Stuart Dyson. They are joined by Danny Woodward (another member of the UK long list) and then the Australian young gun, Harry Semmens, who looked fairly devasting at the recent Cotswold tournament.

Highlanders’ other team is probably not quite as strong. There are five members of the UK Ladies Longlist; Layla Sics, Tegan Bristow, Katie Woodward, Seren Myall and Matilda Marsh and they have another Australian import in Ryan Dyke with them. It is a strong team but with an overall team grade of 81 it may struggle against the three best teams in the grade, who have team grades of 96 and 97.

Kent and Highlanders’ top team both have a team grade of 96 but the highest grade in the division belongs to Warwick. Warwick have never won an A grade title but they have only been in existence for a few years and this year would seem to be their best chance so far. They have a certain Graham Maclarty, a double World Cup winner, in one of their number 1 shirts and then the UK’s Joe Hopkins in the other. Behind them there is a team that packs plenty of power and skill. Debbie Harris and Dara Mangan, who would seem to be nailed on certainities for the Ireland World Cup, are joined by Simon Shearing and Kerry Bean. There are few players who will want to run the gauntlet of that group of players in midfield and defenders will be very worried about getting trapped out of positions by powerful number 2’s who will not give an inch in ride offs. You do feel that the game between them and Highlanders on Saturday afternoon is going to be a must watch event and it will probably determines who makes the final on Sunday from Pool 1.

However, there is one other team in that pool who could cause an upset and that is Ardenwick, a combined Arden and Warwick team. With a team grade of 81 if they do make it through the pool it will be a big surprise but they do feature three members of the UK’s longlist in Chris Milburn, Izzy Baker Cresswell and Charlotte Winder. They are joined by Ireland’s Luke Brandon and Alyson Bater and Ed Flower, who have both not looked at all out of place in stepping up to A grade this year. Chris Milburn was on brilliant form at Cotswolds as he won best player in the A grade and he will be ably supported by Alyson and Izzy in the Arden shirts. However, this whole team will probably have to play at their absolute best to get through the pool to the final.

The final team in the mix is Titans. Titans are the new kids on the A grade block. The brainchild of James Oliver Byrne, they are the closest thing the UK currently has to a professional polocrosse team, with the players being paid to play, provided with horses and apparently on win bonuses. Unfortunately, two of the best players, South Africa’s / Zambia’s James and John Rae, are away this weekend for the Rugby World Cup in France (watching, not playing we believe) and that leaves them a bit weaker than they would like. They still have a lot of talent; Emily Gilfillan is a member of the UK open squad and played in the last World Cup. Max Pedley is the youngest ever player to feature in a World Cup for the UK and Guy Robertson was part of the UK’s second placed World Cup team in 2007. They are joined by Theo Cornforth (the man who has reinvented the polocrosse ball) and the Zimbabwean Connor Sparrow-Campbell. They also should not lack for horse power, James has been steadily buying horses this season, which may be important with the A grade in the UK being multi horse. It is a strong team with a grade of 84 but the lack of the brothers Rae makes it probably unlikely that they will be able to lift the A grade trophy in their inagrual season.

Of course the A grade is not the only game in town, and there will be lots of great action all the way down the grades. There is also the overall National Trophy up for grabs, which Kent have won for a number of years. Arden will once again be looking to try and take it off them this year, having always been runners up for the last few years, and this might be their best chance for a while. If Highlanders or Warwick can deny Kent the A grade trophy then Arden will feel they have a good chance in the B and C grades and in the Junior and Primary Junior grades. Wins at all those levels would probably be enough to get Arden their first ever Nationals Trophy and bring an end to Kent’s reign. There was also talk of the scoring system being changed to stop Kent’s numerical advantage in this trophy having such a great effect, whether that will happen we will wait and see but if it does then the smaller clubs might also have a chance to get their hands on the trophy.

We look forwards to seeing it all happens over the next couple of days and will bring you the full results afterwards! We believe there might even be some online streaming for some of the games, if so we will share the link with you!