Royal Navy Polo 2013 Season Report

Published in Navy Polo on 17 Feb 2014

Following on from the extremely successful season in 2012, the aim for 2013 was to consolidate the focus on the next generation of RN players.  As in previous years, 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 3 inexperienced RN players, captained by a professional, would be entered in 8 tournaments.  This year the number of players available for the season was particularly limited by the operational programme and only 11 players, namely Adrian Aplin, Hiro Suzuki, Nick Cooke-Priest, Steve Spiller, Mike Bowen, Andrew Heavyside, Andy Corbett, Bob Santrian, Mark Robson, Mark Elliott, Tom Burrows, together with new players Dain Thorne and Simon Dinsmore were available as the season commenced.

The season started early for 4 players when Aplin took Spiller, Heavyside and Rourke to South Africa for some winter training, which was hugely enjoyed by all.  Back in UK, the first official fixture of the season was the Kumar Cup against Eton on Sat 4th May.  As usual, Eton fielded a very competent and competitive young side and the 0 goal RN team of Suzuki, Spiller, Cooke-Priest and Heavyside knew they would have to work hard to make good the 1½ goal advantage that Eton had at the start.. Unhappily the visitors were quicker off the mark, scoring before the Navy settled down.  In the second chukka the RN began to find their rhythm and closed down Eton to regain a goal leaving the score at 2½ – 1 at half time.  The second half of the game was fairly evenly matched with both sides scoring.  Unfortunately at the final bell Eton had maintained their handicap lead to win 4½ – 3.

Saturday 1st June was the start of the RN weekend.  Following Millfield’s decision in 2011 to withdraw from the fixture, the Sacher Cup was recast as an Intra-RN tournament.  At the inaugural match in 2012 the Navy were fortunate to have 12 competent players available and thus able to field 3 teams in an American style tournament.  Looking to repeat this in 2013, 8 members of the RNPA were joined by Lt Cdr Fahmy Sallehuddin from the Royal Brunei Navy (currently training in HMS Collingwood) and three very welcome augmentees in Debbie Aplin, Robert Santrian and Jack Bowen.  As in 2012, the format was three 2 chukkas games with the teams arranged to ensure an equitable spread of talent.  Adrian Aplin led the White team, supported by Sallehuddin (great things were expected of him once it was known that he plays regularly on HM The Sultan of Brunei’s ponies), Robson and Rourke; Debbie Aplin led the Red team with Spiller and both Santrians; whilst Richard Mason made a welcome return to Navy colours to lead the Blue team with Corbett and the two Bowens.

The tournament began with Blue v White.  From the first roll in the White team fought an aggressive campaign, keeping the play entirely in the opposition half.  Aplin and Sallehudin continually peppered the back line but were unable to find the posts.  Blue reacted in the appropriate fashion and a charge was led from a hit out by Cdre Mason, from which Corbett ran the length of the pitch to score the opener.  A further break by Mason resulted in a second before the White’s forced a 30 yard penalty, allowing Aplin score for White.  But the final goal came from Mason to end the match at 3 – 1 to Blue.  The second game was Red v Blue.  The Red team started strongly with Spiller, resplendent in his new helmet and face guard, scoring two goals in quick succession to give his team the lead.  Although Blue fought back hard, neither side could find an advantage and the game ended at 2 – 0 to the Reds.

The final match between Red and White brought a level of anticipation from the crowds as it would decide the result of the tournament as well as the much anticipated Aplin v Aplin battle.  Aplin Jr settled his team with an early goal followed by a run by Rourke from the left half way line towards goal but was hooked in the final shot.  The ball was determined to find its home however and rolled, very slowly over the line.  Flushed by this success White found the goal again in the shape of an excellent run by Sallehudin.  By now it was clear that the tournament would be decided on goal difference and all was to play for.  Spiller slotted one for Reds then White had a further opportunity to score from a 40 yard penalty but as Aplin Sr’s comment proved correct (“he always knocks these wide”) resulted in a Red hit out. The final goal went to Rourke; although missing the crucial shot, his pony took pity on him and kicked it home.  The final score was 4 – 1 to White.  This ended a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon with Whites winning on goal difference.  Special thanks go to the Aplins for providing refreshments, cheese and chorizo for an impromptu gathering afterwards.

On the following day the RN met an equally handicapped Taunton side in the annual battle for the Kemble Salver.  Following the RN win of 12 – 1 in 2012, the team of Sallehuddin, Spiller, Cooke-Priest and Aplin knew that Taunton would be keen to redress the balance.  Taunton had fielded a young, fast and extremely talented team and the game got off to a blistering start with the visitors’ speed immediately showing in open play.  First blood went to Taunton who quickly scored twice but were immediately countered by a 30 yard penalty from Aplin and a field goal by Spiller.  Play in the second chukka was fast and open but neither side could break away, leaving the score at 2 – 2 at half time. After the break the game continued in the same vein with plenty of open play but fouls played too great a part in proceedings. The third chukka saw a further two penalties being scored by Taunton leaving the RN with much to do.  Again with penalties dominating, Aplin was able to bring the scores level with 2 minutes to go but in a desperate attempt at last ditch defence the RN conceded a further penalty from which Taunton scored the winning goal to reclaim the Kemble Salver.

After the usual programming difficulties, the RN met the Welsh Guards to play the first round of the Inter Regimental trophy on Fri 14th Jun.  The 1 Goal Navy team of Aplin, Suzuki, Cooke-Priest and Spiller faced a 0 Goal Army side of O’Dwyer, Hackwill, Bartle-Jones and Talbot-Rice.  Starting half a goal down on handicap, the RN pressed hard from the first throw in and Suzuki soon opened the scoring.  The Welsh Guards fought back and only spirited defending by Aplin maintained the RN slender lead at the end of the chukka.  The next quarter was similar and another goal by Suzuki extended the Navy lead to 2 – ½ at half time.  In the 3rd chukka the Army played well and O’Dwyer scored to close the gap.  But the RN retaliated with 2 excellent goals by Aplin, both down the length of the field, followed by a 40 yard penalty by Suzuki, then a lovely nearside under the neck shot by Aplin to end the chukka 6 – 1½.  In the final chukka the Navy were lucky to survive a penalty but then goals from Spiller and Suzuki settled the match at 8 – 1½.  This was a very polished performance by the RN which augured well for the next round.

Three weeks later the RN met the Queens Royal Lancers for the semi-finals of the Inter Regimental Tournament.  The 3 goal Army side of ffrench-Blake, Hankinson, Heelis and Purbrick were firm favourites and the Navy knew they needed to do something special to win.  Starting with a 1½ goal lead, Suzuki was the first to score from a penalty but the QRL were quick to retaliate with 2 goals from ffrench-Blake.  Just before the bell excellent team play between Aplin and Suzuki resulted in a goal, maintaining the lead at 3½ – 2.  In the second chukka the Navy upheld their discipline and both Cooke-Priest and Spiller found the posts.  Shortly before the bell the QRL converted a penalty, putting the score at 5½ – 3 at half time.  In the third chukka the RN moved up a gear and the Army were slow to follow.  Suzuki scored once and Spiller twice to lengthen the lead to 8½ – 3.  The pressure was maintained in the final chukka with 2 excellent goals by Suzuki.  The QRL rallied towards the end and converted 2 penalties but the RN maintained their composure to win 10½ – 5, a particularly good result against a very strong team.

at 13 July was a glorious sunny day and, following their success in the qualifying rounds of the Inter Regimental tournament, the 1 Goal RN team of Aplin, Suzuki, Cooke-Priest and Spiller knew that the 4 Goal Army team of Nick Hunter, Mike O’Dwyer, Matt Eyre-Brook and Piers Hankinson had been carefully selected to maximise the Army’s chances of regaining the Rundle Cup.  Starting with 2 goals on handicap, the Navy made their presence felt from the first throw-in and Suzuki scored from a penalty in the first 2 minutes.  The Army were quick to retaliate and a few moments later Hunter also scored from a penalty.  Both sides had their share of the play for the rest of the chukka but it was Eyre-Brook who scored as the bell went to end the chukka with the RN retaining their lead 3 – 2.  In the second chukka the Army maintained the pressure and Eyre-Brook scored again.  The Navy re-grouped but despite some excellent defending by Aplin, Hunter was able to add a further goal to the Army tally, putting them in the lead at 4 – 3 at half time.

In the third chukka the RN battled hard and Suzuki ran the ball through the posts to level the score.  But the Army were quick to retaliate with a further goal from Hunter and the chukka ended at 5 – 4 in their favour.  The final chukka was closely contested with both sides looking to capitalise on any loose balls.  Hunter scored for the Army and Suzuki retaliated with a penalty.  The Navy were then unlucky when the ball bounced wide of the goal and in the final moments Hankinson found the posts to end the game at 7 – 5.

On the following day the RN travelled to Guards Polo Club for the final of the Inter Regimental tournament. The 1 goal team of Cooke-Priest, Spiller, Suzuki and Aplin faced the well balanced 3 goal team of the KRH.  The Army started strongly, playing well together, making good use of their 3 plus goal players and, in-spite of some valiant defending by the RN, scored 5 unanswered goals in the first half.  The third chukka continued in a similar vein with the KRH scoring a further 2 goals.  Not to go down without a fight the RN rallied in the final chukka, with Suzuki scoring two excellent field goals to make the final score KRH 8 – RN 3½.  Despite the disappointing result, the Navy should be pleased that they have reached the final in 3 of the last 4 years, winning the event in 2010 and 2011.

The Captains’ and Subalterns’ Trophy for 2013 was competed for by some 19 teams over 4 separate divisions on the 20th and 21st July.  The Royal Navy entered a -6 goal team comprising Bowen, Santrian, Robson and Burrows (Sat) / Rourke (Sun).  On the Saturday the Navy faced an equally handicapped Welsh Guards side and competed well in their league, allowing some of the more junior players to shine.

The next official fixture which took place on the following weekend was the Duke of York Cup against the RAF.  The Navy has lost this match only once in the last 10 years and are always adamant that winning this contest is a priority for every season.  However, keen to maintain a sporting element to the fixture, it was decided that the team would match the RAF handicap and Suzuki was consequently not included.  So, on a beautiful sunny afternoon on Sat 20 Jul, a -4 goal team of Aplin, Spiller, Sallehuddin and Robson met a -3 goal RAF team at Perham Down.

The Royal Navy started strongly with Aplin scoring two field goals in the first chukka.  However, after last year’s heavy defeat the RAF had invested in some team training which paid dividends and brought them back into the match scoring twice in the second chukka and another in the third, leaving the Navy trailing by ½ a goal going into the final chukka.  The RN rallied, scoring quickly but the RAF matched them shortly afterwards.  Aplin then scored again with a minute to go.  A final attack from the RAF looked to be repulsed but they managed to find the posts with a 60 yard backhand as the bell tolled making the final score RN 4½ – RAF 5.  This is the first time they have won this trophy since 2006.

On Mon 27th Aug the RN fielded a JDS side for the AGC Cup, now in its 5th year.  Having won it every year since its inception, the RN team of Rourke, Santrian and Spiller, led by Aplin, were keen to continue their unbroken run.  This proved to be the case, with Aplin leading the team to a 7 – 0 victory against the AGC and a 4 – 1½ win in the final against a very competent Reserves team, to maintain the unbroken record in this cup.

The final match of the season, the Faulkner Cup against TVPC, was held as usual at Taunton Vale Polo Club, with another magnificent lunch provided beforehand by the Aplins.  The Navy team of Robson, Santrian, Spiller and Aplin faced an equally handicapped Taunton side and were keen to make good their narrow loss to Taunton in June.  The game started at the expected fast pace and robust style, with the Navy asserting their authority and quickly establishing a 3 goal lead.  Taunton rallied slightly in the third chukka to score 1 in response, but a good team effort meant that the Navy never really lost control and ended up the victors 7-1.

As is usual at this match, Emma Roe kindly awarded the Sailor on Horseback Trophy for the most improved player over the season to Mark Robson.

This completed another good season for the Royal Navy.  Although we were unlucky not to win the principal military tournaments, we did well to make it to the finals of the Inter Regimental Cup and, under Jason Dixon’s tutelage, we are maintaining the improvement in the standard of polo played in the RN.  We have continued to spread experience as broadly as we can and introduce new players into the sport; in this we must thank Temeraire and the CSPA for their generous assistance.  We must also thank Tidworth Polo Club for the enormous part they play in enabling polo to continue in the Navy and we are truly delighted that Chris and Jess Andrews have taken over the club so seamlessly.

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