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.

Be Sociable, Share!