Archives from 2011

End Of Season Report – 2011

Published in Navy Polo on 03 Dec 2011

Following on from the outstanding success of the 2010 season, the declared aim for 2011 was to retain the focus on the next generation of RN players. This was to be maintained by continuing the structured programme of team training to bring on both the experienced and the novice players, together with the ‘Junior Development scheme’, where a team of three inexperienced RN players, captained by a professional, is entered in 8 club and military tournaments. As ever, the number of RN players available for the season was limited by the operational programme but 21 players, namely Richard Mason, Adrian Aplin, Hiro Suzuki, Al Wilson, Arnie Lustman, Mike Bowen, Nick Phillips, Steve Spiller, Peter Meigh, Bob Santrian, Giles Hadland, Chris Grey, Tom Burrows, Mike Ball, together with new players Mark Elliott, Andy Corbett, Mark Robson, Harry Rourke, Ange Mason-Mathews, Max Cosby and Stuart Fawcett were available for some, if not all of the season.

The first official fixture of the season was the Admiral Kumar trophy. Traditionally a challenging start against talented and well mounted players from Eton, this year proved no exception. To take up the challenge the Navy fielded a -1 goal team of Philips, Meigh, Suzuki and Spiller, matching the handicap of the Eton side. Adding to the incentive to play well the three -1 players were vying for the last remaining place in the senior training squad. The match started as expected at a fast pace, with Eton just edging ahead in the first chukka to score a field goal. The Navy regained the initiative in the second chukka, with Meigh scoring a 30 yard penalty to level the tally, but poor defending in the dying moments of the half allowed Eton also to also score, making it 1 – 2 at half time. Both sides had opportunities in the third chukka but it was Eton who capitalised to consolidate their lead with another field goal. The final chukka started well with Suzuki scoring straight from the restart; however, this was matched immediately by Eton, restoring their two goal lead. With five minutes to go Suzuki scored another excellent field goal giving the Navy sufficient time to tie the match. But with two opportunities skimming just wide of the posts it was not to be and Eton held on to win 4-3.

The next event was the RN weekend, commencing on Saturday 28th May with the Sacher Cup. The traditional match against Millfield unfortunately was cancelled this year as Millfield could not field a team so the Army kindly stepped in to help. Thus the RN team of Suzuki, Mason, Phillips and Meigh faced Piers Hankinson, Cameron Humphries and Matt Eyre-Brook from the Army together with Jess Andrews providing the ex-Millfield connection. Starting with ½ a goal lead on handicap, the Navy dominated the first 2 chukkas and led 3½ – 2 at half time. But the Army came back very strongly in the second half to win 6 – 3½.

On the second day of the RN weekend a stronger (3 Goal) Navy team of Mason, Suzuki, Lustman and Wilson met Taunton for the Kemble Salver, which, as in recent years, was preceded by an excellent lunch organised by Colin MacGregor and Robert Guy.  The RN faced an equally handicapped Taunton team who had comprehensively beaten TPC on the previous day so knew this would be a hard match.  The RN started well and were first to score with a field goal from Mason but Taunton soon equalised to end the chukka at 1 – 1.  In the second chukka Taunton pulled ahead with 2 goals but just before half time Lustman had a good run to claw one back for the RN, leaving the Navy just trailing 3 – 2 at the whistle. The second half was very equally balanced with both teams working hard to dominate.  In the third chukka Taunton gave away 2 penalties which Suzuki successfully converted but also scored twice to keep their lead at 5 – 4 going into the final chukka. The last seven minutes was very evenly matched with exciting end-to-end play. Suzuki scored an excellent goal to level the score but Taunton also found the posts to maintain their lead 6 – 5 when the game ended.

The next game was the recently established fixture at the centrepiece of the Royal Artillery Polo Day on Thorny Island, culminating in a match between the Army and RN Development teams. The Navy team comprised of Corbett playing at 1 and making his JDS debut, Philips at 2, Suzuki at 3 and Spiller at 4. With the Army handicap 1 goal higher, the RN started with a ½ goal advantage. The Navy team quickly settled, applying pressure throughout the first chukka, resulting in a 30 yard penalty being awarded and duly converted by Spiller. The second chukka continued in the same vein with the Navy tightly marking their opponents in defence whilst finding space to press forward in attack, leading to an early field goal from Suzuki.  An excellent example of team play followed with Suzuki passing forward to Corbett who took the ball forward into the Army’s 30 yard area. Phillips rode off the remaining Army defender leaving a straight forward opportunity for Spiller to extend the lead to 3½ – 0. The Army changed their tactics in the third chukka, trying in vain to close down Suzuki and disrupt the RN distribution. This failed to make an impact and resulted in more space for the other Navy players.  Philips applied pressure on the Army Back at their hit out and further field goals from Suzuki and Spiller followed. The final chukka saw a more even contest with the Army trying very hard to get a point on the scoreboard but both teams missed a number of opportunities to leave the final result 6½ – 0 to the RN.

The next match was the start of the Navy’s bid to retain the Inter Regimental Trophy.  As the winners of last year’s tournament, the RN received a bye in the preliminaries and met the QRL in the semi-final at Tidworth on Sunday 3 July.  The 4-goal opposition was extremely tough, comprising 4-goal captain Martin ffrench-Blake, an ex-QRL officer and polo professional as well as 3 other very competent 0-goal players, so the match had the makings of one of the hardest of the year. The RN team of Wilson, Suzuki, Aplin and Mason had recently benefited from 2 sessions with their coach Jason Dixon, and were very much up for the challenge.

From the first throw in the game proved to be hard and physical. Unfortunately the Navy’s play was initially muddled, giving away a 30-yard then a 60-yard penalty which were converted by Mark Cann and Martin ffrench-Blake respectively.  But, settling into their stride as the chukka progressed, the RN also found the posts with a field goal from Wilson, from a long, accurate pass from Mason. With the score at 2 – 1½ going in to the second chukka the Navy continued to attack and Mason scored twice, once with a neat backhand in the QRL goal mouth, followed by an impressive under-the-neck shot from 40 yards out. Unfortunately the Cavalry also scored and the chukka ended with the RN leading 3½ – 3.

The third chukka continued at the same pace. The Navy missed a 60-yard penalty, but scored a superb field goal with a fantastic display of polo from Aplin who stole the ball from the QRL 15 yards out from on the boards and dribbled it to goal fending off 2 players whilst doing so. The QRL were unable to retaliate and the chukka ended 4½ – 3 in the Navy’s favour.  In the final chukka the Army upped the pace but it was the RN who scored twice early in the chukka, firstly through a 40-yard penalty by Suzuki, then by a field goal from Wilson who benefitted from a strong Mason back-hand to turn inside his marker and cut the ball to goal from 40 yards.  However, the QRL’s ffrench-Blake then truly played to his handicap, and, despite some valiant marking and defending by the Navy, scored 3 spectacular field goals in quick succession. Notwithstanding this late effort by the Cavalry, the RN did enough to stave off a further attack and the match finished 6½ – 6 to the Navy.  This was a particularly good game, displaying the best of Service polo.

With the sad demise of the Cornwell Affiliates trophy, held for the last 11 years at Ascot Park, the next fixture was the Rundle Cup.  So on a slightly damp afternoon on Saturday 9th July, the Navy and Army met at Tidworth, home to the Combined Services Polo Association, for the highlight of the Services’ Polo season.

This year the 3 goal senior RN team of Cdre Richard Mason, Capt Adrian Aplin, Cdr Al Wilson and SLt Hiro Suzuki faced a 5 goal Army side of Lt Col Nick Hunter, Maj Philip Kaye, Capt Harry Wales and Capt Matt Eyre-Brook.  Over the last 10 years the tally for this ardently contested tournament has been 5 wins to each Service and the Army were extremely keen to avenge last year’s defeat. As the weaker team on handicap, the Navy started with a 1½ goal lead but immediately came under sustained pressure and an early attack by the Army allowed Prince Harry

to score a good goal to open their tally.  The RN were quick to respond but were unable to find the posts and gave away a penalty which the Army duly converted.  Not to be deterred, the Navy rallied to press home an aggressive attack which culminated in an excellent tactical goal by Aplin, leaving the RN in the lead 2½ – 2 at the end of the chukka.  Unfortunately the second chukka did not go well for the Navy; the Army stepped up the pressure and a lack of team cohesion and some bad luck hampered the RN defence.  The Army scored four field goals and the only reply from the Navy was a penalty goal from Suzuki, leaving the RN trailing 3½ – 6 at half time.

In the second half the Navy’s cohesion and discipline improved and they started to dominate the field.  Suzuki converted another penalty and Aplin scored an excellent goal with a crisp shot under his horse’s neck, having out foxed the Army pivot to gain position of the ball.  But the Army also found the posts, putting the score at 5½ – 7 going into the final chukka.  This last chukka was fast and evenly fought but the Navy’s bad luck returned with some unfortunate breakdown in plays and the only goal was an Army penalty which left them in the lead 5½ – 8 at the final bell.

The following day the Navy team met at Guards Polo Club at Windsor for the final of the Inter Regimental tournament.   Similar to last year, their opponents were the Household Cavalry who on this occasion were an even stronger 6 goal side of Mark Dollar, Capt Harry Wales, Jack Mann and Maj Rupert Lewis.  Although starting as the underdogs, the Navy knew that if they played as they had done in the semi finals, where they had beaten a 4 goal team from the Queen’s Royal Lancers, they could upset the Cavalry’s plans to regain the silver; but they were under no illusions that this would be a hard match and their performance would need to be sharper than it had been on the previous day.

Starting with a two goal lead on handicap, the RN attacked from the very beginning and immediately had the Army on the back foot.  Tight marking and good team discipline proved effective and by the end of the chukka the Navy were leading 4 – 1. However in the 2nd chukka the Cavalry settled down and began to recover ground.  They found the posts on three occasions with no reply from the RN to level the score at 4 – 4 at half time.  Following a constructive debrief by Jason Dixon, the Navy’s coach, the second half found the RN once again playing aggressive but controlled polo to take charge of the game, scoring twice and only conceding 1 goal, to regain the lead 6 – 5.  In the final chukka the pace quickened and the HCR scored early to level the tally; but in the 5th minute Suzuki had a spectacular run and the Navy once again led 7 – 6.  In the last moments of the chukka the RN gave away a 40 yard penalty whilst defending an HCR attack but the shot went wide to seal the Navy victory as the final whistle sounded.  This had been a very worthy final on Guards Polo Club’s premier ground, presenting a fast and physical game worthy of the Services’ oldest and most prestigious trophy.

This outstanding win against the Household Cavalry completed an excellent weekend of Services’ polo.  Although disappointed to lose the Rundle Cup, victory in the Inter Regimental tournament for the second consecutive year, especially against the cream of Army polo, is testament to the grit, discipline, training and teamwork of the Senior Service.  SLt Hiro Suzuki, for the second year running, deservedly won the ‘Most Valuable Player’ award for his outstanding performance at Windsor.

The weekend of the 16th/17th July found the Royal Navy competing against 16 other teams in the Captains and Subalterns Tournament at Tidworth.  Placed in the top division, on Saturday the -3 goal Navy team of Fawcett, Mason-Mathews, Phillips and Suzuki met a well balanced but slightly worse handicapped QRH team who started with a half goal lead.  In the first chukka, the RN played well, concentrating on marking their opposite numbers, which was particularly pleasing as Fawcett and Mason-Mathews were playing in their first ever match.  This allowed Suzuki to make a good run with the ball to score, putting the Navy into the lead at the end of the chukka.  In the second chukka however, the RN gave away a penalty while in defence and the QRH made good use of the error to score from 40 yards, leaving the score at 1 – 1½ at half time.  In the second half, the QRH stepped up a gear and played a tight game, marking Suzuki well and allowing their 1 goaler time with the ball to score in both the third and fourth chukka; finishing the match 3½ – 1.

This result meant that Sunday’s match had the Royal Navy, with Cosby (also playing his first tournament) replacing Fawcett, facing a -3 goal RAF team.  In the first chukka, the Crabs really grasped the importance of tying up Suzuki which allowed their well practiced team to score.  The Navy found more aggression in the second chukka but failed to turn quickly enough on Suzuki’s backhands which gave the Crabs the upper hand allowing them to find the posts again, leaving them in the lead 2 – 0 at the end of the chukka.  After a half time team talk, the Navy came out revitalized and determined not to allow the Junior Service to be victorious.  Hitting hard from the line-out, the RN played well and Phillips scored midway through the third chukka, boosting team morale.  Good Navy marking allowed Suzuki to make a great run three quarters of the field and a score an excellent goal which evened the tally at the end of the third chukka.  In the final chukka Suzuki scored once again to put the Navy into the lead and when the RAF gave away a penalty in the last two minutes, the game seemed to be over.  Unfortunately Cosby’s shot went wide but, despite Suzuki losing his stick and playing the last moments without one, the Navy held on to beat the RAF 3-2, to come 3rd out of 17 teams.

The final tournament of the month took place the following weekend when the RN met the RAF for the Duke of York cup.  Aplin and Suzuki were joined by Lustman and Corbett to face a competent and balanced RAF team of Air Cdre Tim Brown, Wing Commander Martin Adcock and Flight Lieutenants Vicky Woodhead and Richard Williams.  Starting with 1½ goals on handicap, the RAF were quick to attack but confident defending by Aplin soon turned the play into a Navy assault which culminated in Suzuki opening the RN tally.  The Navy were then unlucky not to score on 2 further occasions but converted a penalty before the end of the chukka  to take the lead 2 – 1½.  Maintaining the pressure in the second chukka, the RN scored 3 further goals (2 penalties and a field goal) but the RAF also converted a penalty to put the score at 5 – 2½ at half time.  In the second half the Navy continued to dominate although the RAF defended bravely.  An excellent backhand pass by Lustman had Suzuki scoring the 6th RN goal as the chukka ended.  The RAF fought back in the final chukka to gain their second goal but Suzuki scored once again to give the Navy a convincing win 7 – 3½ at the final whistle.  Corbett, in his first formal fixture for the RN, played particularly well.

On Monday the 29th August the Adjutant General’s Corps held their annual charity day, with the RN represented by the -4 goal team of Aplin, Spiller, Phillips and Rourke (in his first appearance for the RN).  The first of two 2-chukka matches was against the AGC, who started with ½ a goal on the scoreboard.  The RN were quick to settle in to structured team play with appropriate man-marking and timely turning on the ball.  In the first few minutes, a nice back-hand from Aplin allowed Phillips to find the posts and put the RN ahead.  Scrappy play on the back line allowed the AGC a penalty but they were unable to score and when another penalty went our way, Aplin proved his accuracy to add a second goal to the RN’s total.  In the second and final chukka, a clean neck shot from Spiller and two more off-side forehands from Aplin left the score at 5 – ½ and the RN were placed to meet the Air Force in the final.

The equally handicapped RAF team (which included Brown and Adcock) were looking to get back at the RN after a season of defeats.  The match started hard and fast with Spiller and Phillips marking the RAF’s 0 – goalers to free up Rourke and Aplin to make the attacks.  The first goal came from a 30 yard penalty, easily converted by Aplin and a second nearly came from a nice run by Rourke, only to be denied by an opponents stick at the 30 yard line.  In the second chukka, quick turning by Phillips and good backing-up by the rest of the team allowed Aplin to finish the attack and add another to the score.  In the dying minutes

Spiller scored what was arguably the goal of the season with a 45 degree, under the tail, offside backhand, leaving the Air Force licking their wounds with a 3 – 0 victory for the RN.  Thanks must also go to Aplin for picking up all of the day’s RN umpiring commitments and congratulations to Rourke who, in his first ever match, showed great promise for the future.

The final formal fixture of the season had the RN at Taunton for the Faulkner Cup, preceded once again by an excellent lunch hosted by Debbie and Adrian Aplin.  Facing a young and energetic opposition, the Navy team of Mason, Aplin, Wilson and Corbett knew that they had a tough challenge ahead.  The first Chukka was hard fought with Taunton scoring early and notching up 2 goals in as many minutes, however the Navy answered with a field goal just before the bell.  Having had a quick pep talk in the break, the Navy returned strongly and scored early in the second chukka.  The remainder of the chukka, however, was extremely scrappy with both teams giving away a number of fouls although neither side managed to capitalise on the penalties.  The second half saw improved teamwork from the Navy.  Wilson and Corbett pushed upfield to receive long passes from Aplin and Mason and the RN scored 2 goals; but poor marking in the latter half of the third chukka allowed Taunton to even the score.  Coming out for the final chukka the Navy was quietly confident that a win was within its reach but loose marking and a mismatch in pony power gave Taunton the space to score 2 goals allowing them to run out as the winners at 6 – 4 at the final whistle.  Andy Corbett had a particularly good game and thoroughly deserved the award of most improved player – awarded by Emma Roe.

Although not able to match 2010’s exceptional results, this was an excellent season for the Navy.  We were unfortunate in the Rundle Cup but victory for the second consecutive year in the Inter Regimental Tournament Cup is quite outstanding.  In March Hiro Suzuki was recognised with a prize for sporting achievement at the RN Sports Awards Ceremony in HMS VICTORY which was fitting recognition of his great contribution to RN Polo.  In 2011 we have had 14 players representing the RN in official fixtures during the season and horse ownership among the players continues to grow.  Most importantly, we have continued to bring on the next generation of Navy players in the JDS scheme and 10 RN and RM personnel have completed the Novice course at Tidworth.  As ever, we are hugely grateful to Temeraire for their very generous support from the Sports Lottery and RNRM Charity, and to Brigadier John Wright for all that he does to maintain Tidworth as such an excellent home to Armed Forces polo.



Cranwell Polo Weekend

Published in RAF on 30 Nov 2011

The 2011 RAF Cranwell Polo weekend started again this year with a three-day training camp at Leadenham with nine both established players and beginners in attendance. The emphasis of the course led by the Leadenham 2 goal professional Mateus Jolley was on riding for polo; the mornings were spent in the sand school mastering the horsemanship required on the pitch; the afternoons were spent finessing rules and positioning then finishing with stick and ball and usually a frantic Gold Cup paced chukka.

The team selection gave the RAF two -4 goal teams for the weekend tournament which were matched by most of the attending sides. The draw saw the RAF teams pitted against all civilian teams from Leadenham and Ranksborough.

Whilst the RAF Spitfire team led by Wg Cdr Martin Adcock eventually dominated the Leadenham team into a convincing defeat, the RAF Hurricane team led by Gp Capt Affi Ashraf suffered at the hands of a well disciplined and hugely under handicapped Ranksborough. The final match in the draw was between the Army development team made up of the AGC and HAC and Rutland polo team made up largely of extremely talented and well horsed young protégés flown in especially for the high profile event.  Rutland took full advantage of all of this to dominate a well led but outclassed Army team.

After a well attended polo dinner kindly allowed by the Station Commander to be held in College Hall, the next day of competition was going to be a struggle. The loser’s final was played off against Leadenham and the RAF Hurricane side with the RAF finishing second. However it was a great opportunity for the RAF team; for Flt Lt Ross Thomson and SAC Ross Barriball to represent the RAF and play a faster pace of polo and for Flt Lt Hoogewerf to demonstrate all that she had learned in New Zealand with big ride offs and hits alike!

The subsidiary final was played between the well matched RAF Spitfire team and Army Development team. The two players of note in these teams were Wg Cdr Martin Adcock who lead from the back continuingly coaching his team and scoring the majority of the goals and LCpl Ben Dirvas whose huge shot and excellent horsemanship later earned him the MVP (Most Valuable Player) of the tournament. The outcome was ‘just’ in favour of the RAF with a flourish of goals in the 2 final chukkas, a thoroughly enjoyable and hard fought match was had by all with lots of points to work on.

The final saw all civilian teams against each other for the first time in years. The horse-power and carefully selected team from Rutland took the advantage over Ranksborough to win the RAF Cranwell weekend for the first time ever. Players of note were the 12 year old Edward Banner-Eve who played like a veteran and the slightly older Nick Winterton who controlled the game placing shot after shot in front of goal.

The RAF Cranwell tournament is always an excellent start to the season for players and ponies alike. This year may not have seen the right result on the score sheet for the RAF but in terms of player development and finding the first team players of the future it was a huge success and the perfect start to a busy polo calendar.

Leadenham Polo Club hold weekly lessons for local RAF personnel and offer military rates. For more information please contact Flt Lt Dave Black on 95721 7575 or go to the RAF Polo Association website www.raf.mod.uk/rafpolo


Hackett Army Novice Polo Team Vs Project Ultra Rmas

Published in Army Polo on 30 Nov 2011

Adorned with Audi sponsorship hoardings and bright sunshine, the Round Ground in front of New College at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) provided the most beautiful setting for an exhibition polo match between the Hackett Army Novice Team and the Project Ultra RMAS side.

For the Army, Maj Ben Marshall RGR lined up at back, Capt Matthew Blakiston LD at 3, Capt Alex Eade RE at 2 and 2Lt Nick Price and Gnr Lawrence Jackson both RA shared the number 1 jersey. RMAS fielded OCdts Henry Edwards at 4, Cameron Bacon at 3, James Willcox at 2 and James Garton and James Foster shared the number 1 spot.

Ponies for the Hackett Army side were kindly provided by J J Spark of Greenpoint Polo and fresh from the EFG Private Bank Army Polo Training Day the red shirts rode onto the pitch in confident mood. Gleaming sports cars adorning the touchline, a large crowd drawn from the RMAS Heritage Day and the mercurial commentary of Lt Col (retd) Simon Ledger all produced a fantastic atmosphere.

Through a series of rehearsed moves and accurate team play, the Army forged an early lead. Marshall, Blakiston and Eade all landed opening blows. Some great hitting from the back and purposeful mid field scrapping suggested a one sided affair but the never-say-die attitude one might expect from the Army’s fresh blood was clear for all to see. The ever-present Bacon went close to evening up proceedings on a number of occasions.

As the game marched on the Army were able to change formation as attention from the RMAS players increased which allowed Marshall to add 2 more to his tally with a series of surging runs. Blakiston and Eade picked up another couple in addition as well as putting several efforts wide and the stage was set for newcomer to the Army team: Gnr Lawrence Jackson. Late in the third chukka he capped a stirling all round performance with a fantastic angled strike bisecting the uprights.

Bacon was eventually able to trouble the scorers and the 4th chukka was largely about controlling the ball from the Army side’s perspective. The final score was 8 – 1_ in favourite of the Hackett Army Novice Team but the roar from the crowd and appreciation shown at the prize giving suggested it had been a much more closely fought affair.

OCdt Bacon’s pony Pogolina won the Best Playing Pony award, indicative of the effort he had put in, and Gnr Jackson became the first known player to be legally allowed to keep his Hackett Army polo shirt by the Chairman of Army Polo.

 


Efg Private Bank Army Polo Scholarship – South Africa

Published in Army Polo on 30 Nov 2011

Winston Churchill famously made the observation that a polo handicap is a passport to the world. And many people who have been involved with the sport would be inclined to agree with him. But they would also observe that, whilst a passport is necessary, you still need money to buy the ticket! So, with the generous support of an EFG Private Bank Army Polo Scholarship, Major Ben Marshall travelled to Jurassic Park Polo Club, South Africa, to spend 10 days taking advantage of a headstart to the English season. Here’s his report:

A key element of deciding where to go for pre-season training is finding good weather in April. Traditionally the UK is wet – ‘April showers’ are so-called for a reason, they happen in April – so people look overseas. Thus, I left England basking in 20-plus degrees of glorious spring sunshine and arrived in Durban to rain, thick fog and temperatures struggling to make it into double figures; clearly passports do not guarantee good weather!
Fortunately, the sun had followed me out there and, for the duration of my trip, glorious sunshine and clear blue skies were the order of the day.

The change in the weather enabled us to get straight on with the task – playing polo. The quick-draining grounds at the adjacent Swartberg Polo Club meant that we were able to play chukkas from the off, whilst waiting for the home pitch at Jurassic to dry out. The depth of talent in South Africa is such that their ‘farm chukkas’ normally start at the 4-goal level and, at Jurassic, are facilitated by having some of South Africa’s best home-grown talent on call in the area.

Selby Williamson (5 goals), playing captain and team selector of the national side, was a great influence and one quickly realised you were in the wrong place for a pass when it went sailing past you into space – where one should have been! Jean du Plessis (4 goals), who plays for Urs Schwarzenbach’s ‘Black Bears’, is also local and he welcomed the chance to cruise around on his youngsters, educating me as to how much closer I would have to be if I stood any chance of hooking him. I would like to say that I did manage to steal the ball off him once, but I think it was more the exception proving the rule!

Sessions on the wooden (more metal actually) horse with Selby served to highlight the full range of shots and angles that could be achieved, proving how comfortable I had become with the classic four shots with only marginal variation in angle.

This was all the more apparent when Selby would pull off the most outrageous nearside tailed-backhand whilst galloping towards the backline, sending the ball travelling parallel along the backline towards the goal – I still
maintain there was witchcraft involved.

But, with practice and perseverance, and no small amount of colourful language, the angles started to come and with them an enhanced appreciation of an opponent’s options. This was all then put together during chukkas which increased in style, speed and quality as the days ticked by.

By the end of the 10 days, I was playing with a higher level of consistency and accomplishment than I had achieved by the end of last summer, setting me up well for my return to England and the start of our season.
None of this would have been possible without the very generous financial support, nor would it have been as rewarding and productive without Selby’s patience and tutelage – a big thank you to all involved.


Efg Private Bank Army Polo Scholarship – New Zealand

Published in Army Polo on 30 Nov 2011

Under the EFG Private Bank Army Polo Scholarship Captain Alex Eade set out for Witchwood Polo Farm, Waipukurau, Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand. Here is his report:

I hit out for the sixth chukka with only a picture perfect moon for light. Playing two on two in the dark on a full pitch at 9pm was not something I had expected when landing in New Zealand only two hours ago. Thoughts of jet lag were banished and the phrase ‘go hard or go home’ offered as comfort.

Polo in New Zealand is organised slightly differently from the UK: most teams don’t have patrons and are selected by your club on merit at each handicap level. My aim was to play for Wanstead Polo Club in the historic and prestigious Savile Cup at the end of the season.

Consequently I found myself playing in a team with the Club President and Club Secretary the day after flying across the world for a month of intensive polo coaching. The tournament was the Denbeigh Cup and
pitted Wanstead at home against their arch rivals Rangitikei. No pressure then! Somehow the other three members of my team managed to gel and eventually win our division but I spent the first chukka some way off the pace, on several occasions even behind the umpires.

The polo was fast, very fast with barely a shot missed. The players are all talented and extremely skilful riders and utterly committed. At one point I was turned inside out by a man at least 75 years in age.

The celebration of our famous victory lasted longer than the games themselves with Export Gold becoming
a familiar friend. A day off on Monday was very welcome.

Buoyed by the weekend I strode up to the yard early on Tuesday morning to meet my host and coach for the next month, Mr Brett Hamer, a great 2 goal player and superb coach, having spent 18 seasons in the UK teaching mostly at the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club.

He is a typical Kiwi, calm on the outside with a belly of fire on the pitch. He also does not mince his words. The programme he laid out doesn’t do justice to the phrase ‘back to basics’ but it was exactly what I needed to improve my horsemanship and all-round game. Eight ponies were suddenly ‘mine’ with instructions on exactly what I should work on.

So began my immersion into New Zealand polo and Witchwood Farm life. I exercised or schooled my string every day; we rode them on the beach, we herded cattle and sheep on horseback, we stick and balled, played
chukkas on the farm and at the Club; all under the ever watchful eye of Brett. Slowly but surely my riding improved, my hitting became more consistent and some matches didn’t seem quite so fast.

As we supped our electrolyte replacement fluids after Club Chukkas one evening, I was surprised but incredibly proud to hear my name called as part of the 0 goal team to compete in the black and white stripes at the Savile Cup. The Savile Cup is the national club championship and one of the oldest sporting trophies in New Zealand first presented by Capt Savile (ADC to the Governor General) in 1889. Always uttered in the hushed tone reserved for legend it takes place in early March each year and is a fantastic and fiercely competitive event.

In a series of close-fought and tough battles we managed to win our opening games and progress through to the semi-finals. Here we encountered the eventual winners and despite our best efforts succumbed to a well organised and skilful team from Kihikihi, the club hosting the tournament. These amazing memories will live with me forever.

My riding and polo have undoubtedly improved immeasurably and there is a possibility I might catch the handicap committee’s eye during the coming season in the UK. But I have gained much more than that. I have been privileged to experience New Zealand Polo and the way of life it brings at its very finest.

Without exception I was welcomed by friendly and engaging people; all passionate about their sport and keen to promote it at every level. My thoughts are already turning to how I can engineer a return trip next year.

Witchwood Polo Farm and Wanstead Polo Club provide the perfect setting for anyone looking for a polo holiday. It is a joint venture between Brett Hamer (2) and Martin ffrench Blake (4) who both offer lessons along with another resident professional player.

It was run at cost last year with excellent rates from around £500 per week and a range of options for grooming and accommodation. Discounts are available for groups, which they are particularly good at hosting and bringing on collectively as teams. The whole experience is highly recommended by all who have been lucky enough to visit so far.

For further details contact witchwoodpolo@xtra.co.nz or martin_ffrench_blake@hotmail.com


Malaysia & Singapore

Published in Army Polo on 18 Nov 2011

The Hackett Army team enjoyed a tour of Malaysia finished off with a match in Singapore.

An Army team of Col Michael O’Dwyer, Late IG, Major Rupert Lewis, Blues and Royals, Gaston Devrient, Army Coach and Tim Johnson HAC toured Malaysia as the guests of the Sultan of Johor.

The visit took place between 14 – 18 November before going onto Singapore for a match against the Singapore Polo Club.

The hosts were most generous and the team had the opportunity to make use of some of the best ponies in the Far East. The result was a victory for the Army Team by 4 to 2 1/2.


RAF In Argentina

Published in News on 31 Oct 2011

Flt Lt Rich Williams reports on his stay at San Sebastian Polo Club in Argentina.

As October started I was boarding my one stop flight to Argentina.  I’d escaped the UK and all of its October based misery for the sunshine and polo delights of Argentina.  Or so I thought… writes Flt Lt Rich Williams of 33 Squadron, RAF Benson.

Like most RAF arrivals I was late!  This mattered not in the relaxed land of Argentina where nothing gets going in a hurry and the night is just getting started at 2am.  So arrival drinks went on, late into the first night.

The next day arrived too soon and it was time to meet the grooms, my string and the rest of San Sebastian Polo Club members.  And in what better way than six chukkas played at around 7 goal standard in the midday heat.  This was my first introduction to polo in Argentina. The pace was hard, fast and aggressive and the ponies gave so much more than your average pony for hire, but demand so much more in return.  This was going to be my first lesson of many taken from my visit.

My host for the month was Argentine 2 goaler and San Sebastians resident polo coach, Matias Jolly Araya. His hair is as big as his personality, with a flamboyant flair on and off the polo field, I was rarely left unaware of what I had done wrong and spent most of my time on the receiving end of his a huge offside shot!

We spent the first week riding, schooling doing stick and ball and playing chukkas at the farm along side his brother Federico also 2 goals and other club members who ranged between 1 and 3 goals.  So already I had seen; the way that polo is played is faster, the ponies are a step up, the standard I was being exposed to was much higher and I always seemed to be at least a step behind the game!  A lot to learn and all perfect conditions for me to up my game!

The end of the first week was supposed to mark the first tournament. A 10 goal affair to be played at the local Jockey Club in Rosario.  However, torrential rain hit the region, the first of many down pours in my time in Argentina, flooding pitches and corrals, leaving conditions unplayable for days at a time.

During these wet weather days, we decided to travel to avoid the weather.  This was where staying with a well-connected local was the only way to travel.  On the first occasion, I was taken to La Pampas to stay on a vast cattle farm. We rode the local Criollo horses, learnt the art of the Asado and spent a few long cold nights on the hunt for the illusive wild boar.  Our second wet weather trip took us to the North of Argentina again to cattle country but this time to hunt amongst the islands and waterways.  The two day trip saw us bag two big crocs, two Carpincio and three wild boar, one of which was a boar piglet caught by hand…only in Argentina!

Back to the polo, the water eventually subsided and the pitches dried out.  We took this opportunity to make hay…a 6 goal tournament was scheduled at San Sebastian over two days, the RAF team lost their first game but learnt by their mistakes and convincingly won their second to take third place in the tournament.  The rain and lack of polo to start with meant that the club now offered daily chukkas with everyone as desperate as myself to play.  This all culminated in the last tournament, a three day 12 goal tournament played at a local private polo ground.

This 12 goal tournament marked my last few days in Argentina, up until this point we had played whenever the weather would allow but this still left weeks of frustration waiting for the rain to cease or the ground to dry.  Conditions were perfect, the pitch and surroundings immaculate and the competition fierce.

The first few matches for the RAF team didn’t go our way, the team was beaten by a single goal in the seventh chukka of both games to the eventual first and second place teams.  The last match was all to play for and as tight as the first two.  Lessons from the first match were learnt and applied leading the RAF team to run away with it in the last few chukkas in a fast and frantic flurry of goals.

Now what I haven’t told you is that my 12 goal career so far lasted for roughly 20 seconds of the first chukka of the first match.  I dismounted at the gallop, knocked myself unconscious where I stayed for the next 5-10 minutes and spent the next few days trying to remember my glorious performance!

Argentina is a truly beautiful country, the people are relaxed, the pace of life slow and the polo fast. My experience of it was only tarnished by the weather, with weeks of rainfall putting a full stop to any hopes of the polo everyday that I had hoped for.  Despite this the chance to play any polo anywhere is always a welcome one and in Argentina more so than most!  As with anything, you pay your money and take your chance.  And while I may not have played as much polo as I would have liked, the lessons learnt are invaluable.  Now just the small matter of putting them into practice for the RAF this coming season.


Major Generals Cup

Published in Army Polo on 02 Sep 2011

The HACKETT Army team won the Subsidary Cup at the 2011 Major Generals tournament held at Guards Polo Club at the beginning of September.


Major Generals Tournament

Published in Army Polo on 01 Sep 2011

The HACKETT Army team won the Subsidary Cup at the 2011 Major Generals tournament held at Guards Polo Club at the beginning of September.


Winter Polo Training

Published in News on 18 Jul 2011

Special deals are available to CSPA members for winter polo training through Martin ffrench-Blake, either in Argentina or New Zealand.

At La Esperanza, Coronel Suarez, about four hours south of Buenos Aires, the price per week is £1000 cash.

Dates available are between 8th January to 12th February and again from 23rd February to 10th March. There is now a direct flight with BA around £900 if booked early.

New Zealand offers a different polo playing opportunity. The costis £500 per week with food on top (self catering). Dates anytime at the moment on a first come basis. You will need the best part three weeks leave to make the most of New Zealand.

If interested, please register through your individual Service polo association. CSPA will offer £250 subsidy per individual undertaking this training. Individual Service Polo Associations may be able to offer more.