High Spirits for the Polocrosse World Cup

SA rider, Jannie Steenkamp in action

The Polocrosse Association of South Africa (PASA) is to host the 2015 Polocrosse World Cup which starts this week at the Durban Shongweni Club.  The tournament sees international teams from 7 countries around the world competing in South Africa for the title of 2015 Polocrosse World Cup champion. The proceedings kick off on Thursday 2 July with the Opening Ceremony and Development Games, with the main World Cup tournament starting on Friday 3 July until Sunday 5 July; and the battle resumes the following Friday 9 July with the final on the 12th of July.

The Protea team have their sights set on defending their Polocrosse World Cup title on home ground in South Africa. The Australian team is looking to make up for the title that they lost in the Polocrosse World Cup in 2011. Captain of the team, Jane Cooper, believes that Australia has a very strong side with great experience, “We are hoping to do better than our last World Cup attempt”.

Cooper says “the entire team is extremely excited to be playing World Cup Polocrosse in South Africa, we are sure it will be a great and memorable event.” “South Africa will be the team to beat this year and I’m sure the South African crowd will be behind them” says Cooper, but the Australian team’s plan is to win.

Gavin Cocker
Gavin Cocker

The last time Australia met South Africa was in the 2011 World Cup, South Africa played with skill and in true sportsmanship Cooper admits that “South Africa had a good win against Australia.”

Australia is a father to the game of polocrosse and Cooper explains; “It is a fantastic family sport and is enjoyed by generations around the country. The culture here in Australia represents the lifestyle.”

The Australian team seems prepared and confident going into the 2015 Polocrosse World Cup, “We are so lucky to have such an even team of strong, versatile players all offering individual strengths to complement each other. We have a couple of experienced well known players and some exciting newcomers who are young and explosive.”

While Australia comes in as giants, the Ireland polocrosse community is still in its infancy, it may be “a small community but we have lots of young players coming through and the future looks good” says Dara Mangan (ladies utility player).

“Many people ride in Ireland in lots of disciplines from hunting to dressage so polocrosse is relatively small still but definitely growing,” says Irish coach David Young.

Ireland’s men’s number one, Aidan McDonnagh, has played in 3 previous World Cups and is their highest ranked player. On the ladies’ side, Joanne Lavery and Dara Mangan have been on the previous World cup team in 2011 and have played many international test matches. The Irish team is certainly in high spirits and Young believes that the highlight of the Irish Polocrosse Team is yet to come.

Ireland played South Africa at the 2011 World Cup where their ladies beat South Africa, while their men lost against South Africa. The South African team is the world’s current number one and is evidently the team to beat. “South Africa play a long and fast game but we are prepared,” says Mangan.

The Irish team is excited to see the venue; wherever they are they say that they will definitely have a bit of ‘craic’, which they explain is Irish for fun.

Coach of the New Zealand team, Errol Gloyn has a long history of coaching at an international level and has coached New Zealand and United Kingdom teams before. The New Zealand team “is very excited about our tour to South Africa as the country has its own unique culture and heritage,” said team manager Bronwyn Dempster.

New Zealand rate their chances as good this World Cup. An advantage being that the South African horses should suit them explained Dempster.

Dempster complimented the South African polocrosse team, stating that South Africa has a great flair for the sport and “are such athletes on horseback.” Dempster also commented that New Zealand have a free running and playing style, which is similar to South Africa’s approach to the sport.

Shane Hill, New Zealand captain, has a wide reaching international track record and he has played in South Africa several times. Other talented young players to watch out for will be Jarrod Richardson, Beth Peaker and Kyla Hill.

Travis Timm
Travis Timm

The Durban Shongweni Club will be a new experience for the international teams; Dempster says “it looks exotic and a remnant of South Africa’s colonial days. Also your wildlife is another feature everyone is looking forward to seeing.”

Jason Webb has been the United Kingdom (UK) coach since August 2014. “He is one of the best players in the UK and a great coach,” says team manager Steve Whitehouse, team manager.

“We are a strong, confident team; we have trained hard and are very determined,” says Whitehouse. South Africa, for the UK will be the team to watch out for, “We like their style, the use of the long ball has its place.”

The last time that the UK and South Africa met was a playoff at a Quadrangular series in 2013 at Mooi River (KZN), the UK came in third, Zimbabwe in second and South Africa in first.

The UK polocrosse team has a handful of experienced players such as Debbie Harris (captain) who has played in every World Cup. Charlotte Pykett is another player to watch; she has been in the UK team since 2009. Jason Webb, being one of the best players on the UK, has a very unusual role this year as he  isstanding as both a player and coach for the team, and lastly, Joel Sics.

Zambian Coach Henry Harris, 49 years old and originally from Zimbabwe, grew up playing polocrosse. He is still an active player here in South Africa playing men’s interprovincial polocrosse.

The Zambian team are “super excited” says Harris. Behind the team from Zambia is the great support of the ‘zarmy army’. “They have already done a reconnaissance mission of the places to visit on non-playing days. They are going to love the superb venue that is Durban Shongweni Club and its’ surrounds,” says Harris.

Zambia came 8th 4 years ago in their first ever World Cup and they anticipate that they will make into the top 4 this year as the ‘dark horses’ says Harris.

The last time that Zambia played South Africa was in 2013, where South Africa won. “South Africa are a well-drilled side, almost unchanged from 4 years ago, South Africa can be very proud of their team,” says Harris.

“Southern Africans play a faster game with more passing and are known for throwing overhand goals, something the rest of the world has more recently emulated since South Africa won the last World Cup. A decade ago, the rest of the world looked up to the Australian’s more conservative style of playing and they will be wanting revenge and to get back to the top,” says Harris.

The Zambian team will consist of key players such as Mikey Krynauw who played for Zimbabwe in the last World Cup, Kelly Krynauw, voted the most outstanding Lady Player at the last World Cup, Audrey Logan and Damien Harris (captain).

At present the Zimbabwe Polocrosse Team is number 2 in the world, as they were runners up to South Africa in the last World Cup.  “We intend to go one up on that but there is some tough opposition out there and in sport anything can happen,” says Allan Molloy, team manager for Zimbabwe. “As a team we are very excited about playing in the World Cup in South Africa. Zimbabwe has participated in all World Cups since its inception in 2003.”

Again, as other teams have said, Zimbabwe regards South Africa as the team to beat this year. “Zimbabwe has a very similar style of polocrosse to South Africa with things like the overarm throw and long passing. We are neighbors and have a long history of Internationals at all levels against each other,” says Molloy.

Ted Wilmot is the coach for the Zimbabwe side, he has been playing polocrosse for over 40 years and has represented Zimbabwe on several occasions. Wilmot’s players include Suzanne Sargeant, who has played international polocrosse for many years together with her sister, Paula Sparrow. Jo-Anne Cocker is playing in her second World Cup, Sonia Mansfield has also played for Zimbabwe previously.

Hamish Michael, captain, played in the Quadrangular in 2013 and also has a history of international polocrosse. Craig Mannix has previously played at international level in both Senior and Junior level, Terrance Keith played at a Senior and Junior level and Codi Campbell has represented Zimbabwe at Junior internationals and now earns his colours at Senior level. Molloy, knowing the Durban Shongweni Club and having played there before, believes that the venue is ideally suited for the 2015 World Cup.

The USA polocrosse community is small compared to most of their competitors’ polocrosse communities, although it is expanding and gaining more support. The USA polocrosse team is coached by Narelle Toole, of New South Whales, Australia. Narelle was selected in top New South Whales team at 6 nationals and won 5. “We are very excited to experience as much of Africa as we can,” says Patti Cifelli, USA team manager. “We are a young squad, but I think we will surprise people. We have worked very hard, but luck and horses play a huge role.”

The last time that the USA played South Africa was an under-23 test match in South Africa in 2009. USA was unable to win but spoke very highly of their experience in South Africa, the horses and their hosts.

USA players to look out for include Ryan Strider, 2-time World Cup veteran, a tough and versatile player. Also Dori Johnson, World Cup professional and top rider in many disciplines. Lastly Seth Alcott, experienced World Cup player and professional polo player.

Cifelli explains that getting selected for this team has been a huge honour and since then the players have played together every chance they could and worked on communication and strategy. Their biggest highlight for their team is this year’s Polocrosse World Cup.

Although the Protea polocrosse team seems to be the team to defeat this year, the other teams seem determined and energised about taking them on, and the South African polocrosse team will have to play all their strengths to keep their world number 1 ranking.

The 6 key tournament days of the Polocrosse World Cup 2015 will feature the following:

DAY 1 Friday 3rd July
09h00              New Zealand vs USA
10h30              Australia vs UK
12h00              Zimbabwe vs Ireland
14h00              South Africa vs Zambia

DAY 2 Saturday 4th July
09h00              Australia vs Ireland
10h30              USA vs Zambia
12h00              Zimbabwe vs England
14h00              South Africa vs New Zealand

DAY 3 Sunday 5th July
09h00              Zambia vs New Zealand
10h30              Ireland vs United Kingdom
12h00              Australia vs Zimbabwe
14h00              South Africa vs USA

DAY 4 Friday 10th July
09h00              Fourth Pool 1 vs Third Pool 2
10h30              Third Pool 1 vs Fouth Pool 2
12h00              Second Pool 1 vs First Pool 2
14h00              First Pool 1 vs Second Pool 2

DAY 5 Saturday 11th July
10h00              Play for 7th and 8th place
12h00              Bundy Transformation game
14h00              Play for 5th and 6th place

DAY 6 Sunday 12th July
10h00              Play for 3rd and 4th place
14h00              Finals

Visit www.polocrosse.co.za for VIP tickets; general admission tickets can be purchased on the day at a cost of R20 per person, entrance for children under the age of 12 is free.

For more information and to follow the event, visit the official Facebook page – Polocrosse World Cup South Africa and the Twitter page – @PolocrosseSA.

Photography: Shannon Gilson