The 2019 Adina Polocrosse World Cup got underway in Warwick, Queensland today with some action packed matches and some brilliant displays from horses and their riders. Morgan Park prides itself on being the best polocrossse venue in the world and there is no doubt after 12 years of not hosting this event they are aiming to make it the best yet. As always there are very well manicured and marked pitches, spectator seating stands alongside both sides of the pitch, well stocked and well priced bars and catering outlets around the venue. However, now there are also two very large screens at each end of the field to help show the matches on and also for instant replays of goals and this did add another dimension to the experience.
The stands were packed for the opening match of Australia versus Zimbabwe. However, the match didn’t start exactly as Australia would have wanted, with Suzanne Sargeant grabbing ball from the opening line out for Zimbabwe, taking it down field and feeding it to her sister in law Sophie for the opening goal. For a moment, the Australian crowd looked a bit shocked and Zimbabweans (and anyone else in the crowd who was keen to see Australia defeated) wondred whether maybe an upset could be on. However, Australia struck back through the combination of Lucy Grills and Lauren Sillitoe to level it up and Australian nerves settled slightly. The Zimbabwean ladies continue to push the home team though; Suzanne Sargeant in particular giving them trouble. At the end of the chukka Australia led by one goal, 3-2.
In the men’s section the Australian men were in strong form from the start. Lance Anderson was a machine out the back at number 3 and Jimmy Grills was similarly reliable in the area. Andy Baker started as Zimbabwe’s number three but the man who had been a wizard for Zimbabwe up the front in 2011 looked completed outclassed by Anderson. By the end of chukka 2 Australia had a 9-4 lead and it was not surprising that for the second men’s chukka Graham Keith appeared in the number 3 shirt.
The match continued in that vein, the Zimbabwean ladies continued to offer a strong resistance to the Australians and scored some good goals; indeed all three ladies’ chukkas ended 3-2 to Australia. The men’s second and third chukkas were closer than the first, being 4-2 and 5-3 respectively, with Danie Swan, who was playing number 1, and Graham Keith showing more of what they could do (a backwards 20 metre pass across the top of his own horse from Keith to Swan being a particular highlight) but ultimately the gap continued to grow in Australia’s favour. By the final hooter it was 24-11 in favour of the host nation.
However, this match was about more than just a scoreline. No one expected Australia to lose to Zimbabwe really but what was more important was how they played. Would they simply offer the same style of play that had not proved to be enough in the last two world cups or would they show something new? This match answered that question; Australia showed that they had learnt from their defeat at the hands of South Africa four years ago, no longer did they looked to carry the ball safely to the thirty yard line to pop it to their number 1; no longer did their number 1’s look to work the area for as long as necessary to try and find the much loved underarm shot. Instead long, quick passes were thrown and even more extraordinarily there were over arm goals, even when they possibly weren’t entirely necessary. Indeed, there was one moment when after Sophie Sargeant missed an overarm shot at one end, Australia went down the other end and Lauren Sillitoe banged in a cross body overarm, as if to say to Zimbabwe, “We can now throw these better than you”. Admittedly later on in the match she did also miss one so perhaps the technique is not perfect yet but they definitely showed there is more versatily in their play than in previous years.
The big question now is will it be enough to get them past the stronger teams of Zambia and South Africa? We will probably find that out in the next few days!