RNPA Season report

Published in News on 22 Jan 2016


The 2015 season was characteristically busy for the Royal Navy Polo Association (RNPA) which remains at the heart of Services’ polo. The senior team reaped the benefits of a new coach whilst JDS maintained its popularity and success. Encouragingly, even more enquiries were made by naval service personnel about taking up polo.

The aims for 2015 were:

  • To strive for success in the principal military fixtures,
  • To bring on established players and assist them in progressing to the next level,
  • To encourage new players into the sport,
  • To contribute to the CSPA.


To Strive For Success in Principal Military Fixtures

For the senior squad of Cdre Aplin, Cdr Wilson, Lt Cdr Spiller, Lt Suzuki and L/Cpl Kamper the season started as early as February, where the players enjoyed Friday afternoon training sessions with James Lucas, the new coach.  James comes from the Lucas polo dynasty, which has produced a number of international and high goal players over the years and James has played at the highest levels.

Most know him from Tidworth, and he very kindly stepped in to replace Jason Dixon who’s other growing coaching and umpiring commitments precluded any further involvement with Navy polo. The senior team had a number of credible successes during Jason’s tenure, including Rundle Cup and Inter Regimental victories, and most notably the ‘triple’ in 2010 of the Rundle and Duke of York Cups and Inter Regimental and RNPA thank him for his years of support. However, looking ahead as always the RNPA is hugely excited to have James as senior coach and his unique coaching style has already reaped benefits.

The first fixture in the 2015 RNPA calendar was, as always, the RN v Eton match for the Admiral Kumar Trophy. Still buoyed with the 2014 success after an unfortunate run of 3 consecutive defeats, the Navy team of Lt Cdr Spiller and Lts Burrows, Santrian and Suzuki was keen to make a positive start to the season. However, Eton was, as always, an incredibly strong and well-mounted team with the team all playing above their handicap. Sadly, the RN could not keep pace, and, despite some encouraging team play, was defeated 6 ½  – 2.

The next core fixture in the season was the modified RN Weekend on 31 May and 1 June. The Navy still played Taunton for the Kemble Salver on the Saturday, and the team of Cdre Aplin, Capt Bassett, Surg Cdr Rourke and L/Cpl Kamper redeemed last year’s disappointment to defeat Taunton 6 – 3.

The Sunday event, where the RN met the RAF for the Duke of York Cup in the first match of the day, promised to be on a scale similar to 2014 which drew in crowds comparable to the Rundle Cup.

2015 did not disappoint – both in terms of support and the Navy team’s performance on the field.  Cdre Aplin, Lt Suzuki, Lt Cdr Spiller and Surg Cdr Rourke started slowly, taking time to get into their stride, but once warmed up struck a decisive blow to the RAF defence, winning 3 – 1. From a social and supporting perspective it was fantastic to welcome RNPA’s President, Vice Admiral Sir Phillip Jones, to the event, and, as always, it was great to see the retired officers’ cadre present for their annual luncheon.

With the RN weekend under the belt the focus started to shift towards Rundle Cup preparations and the Inter-Regimental tournament. In mid-June an invitation team of Cdre Adrian Aplin, Capt Bassett, Lt Hiro Suzuki and L/Cpl Kamper visited the New Forest for its annual ‘Mariners’ tournament, where the team lost 6 – 3 to Maize Dulce in the Saturday preliminaries but defeated the New Forest home team 5 ½ – 3 on the Sunday. So, missing out on the Saturday to make the final for the Barfoot Bowl, the team acquitted itself on the final day to win the Mountbatten Cup.

The senior military polo season got off to start with the Inter-Regimental semi-finals on 3 July when the Navy team of Cdre Aplin, Lt Cdr Spiller, Lt Suzuki and L/Cpl Kamper was drawn against a strong Lancers’ side. A fast-paced and exciting match ensued and until half time it was very open. However, the RN seemed to gain in strength during the second half and dominated the game, emerging as the victors with a very pleasing 5 – 2 score.

One unfortunate outcome was that Maj Matt Eyre-Brook, in the final year of his commission, collided with one of his own team and suffered a broken leg. This was followed by his replacement Capt George Walker falling from his horse soon after the game re-started, and suffering concussion. Luckily, he eventually walked away from the fall but the umpires wisely decided to end the match in the 6th minute of the final chukka.

The senior team then completed its Rundle Cup preps by participating in the TPC Douglas Nugent 2-goal tournament in preparation for the Rundle Cup.  Although the team lost both matches the event served its purpose, and, under the tutelage of James Lucas, was most beneficial in preparing for the main event of the season.

On a beautiful summer’s afternoon on Saturday 11 July the Navy and Army met at Tidworth for the Rundle Cup, the highlight of the Services’ Polo season. In front of a 6,000-strong crowd the 0-goal senior RN team of Cdre Adrian Aplin, Lt Cdr Steve Spiller, Lt Hiro Suzuki and L/Cpl Max Kamper faced a young 3-goal Army side of Maj Rupert Lewis, Lt Cameron Bacon, 2/Lt Paddy Self and OC Jamie Drummond-Moray. One of the closest matches in the recent history of the Rundle Cup ensued, with the Navy leading 6½ – 5 in the final chukka. However, a fast field goal by the Army was followed by an unfortunate foul against the Navy with 2 minutes to run, resulting in an Army penalty which was decisively converted for them to grab victory from the jaws of defeat, winning the 2015 Rundle Cup 7 – 6½ . Vice Admiral Sir Phillip Jones KCB, president of Navy polo, and Jeremy Hackett, sponsor of the Rundle Cup, awarded the prestigious trophy to the Army captain. Tristan Young of Gore, sponsor of the Royal Navy Polo Team, presented best playing pony award. Despite the obvious disappointment of the Navy team this was a fantastic day for Services polo and the hosts, the RNPA.

There was no rest for the team after the Rundle Cup as the Inter Regimental final was held the following day at Guards Polo Club. The Navy team of Cdre Aplin, Lt Cdr Spiller, Lt Suzuki and L/Cpl Kamper was pitted against a very strong side from the Kings Royal Hussars. Starting with a 1 ½ goal advantage the Navy struggled to man-mark a very fast and well-mounted KRH side that benefitted from the strength of their No.4 and Captain, Colonel Nick Hunter.  Sadly, despite a valiant effort by the Navy the KRH was just too strong and won 7 – 6 ½, the result a carbon copy of the previous day’s Rundle Cup. Nevertheless, the Navy did extremely well to get to the final, which they have done for 5 out of the last 6 years and shows how RN polo continues to compete with the very best of military teams.

The final core fixture of the season was the Faulkner Cup, the second of 2 matches played against Taunton Vale Polo Club (which used to be the spiritual home of Navy polo) and this time an away match for the RN. Preceded by the traditional and excellent lunch hosted by the chairman and his wife Debbie, the team of Cdre Aplin, Capt Bassett, Lt Cdr Spiller and Lt Suzuki was determined to maintain the momentum of an early-season Kemble Salver success. An open match, which saw some excellent discipline and teamwork from the Navy, resulted in a well-deserved victory for the RN, defeating Taunton 8 – 1 and finishing the season in a very positive manner.

As is the tradition, the Navy’s Most Improved Player trophy was also awarded at the prize-giving, this year very deservedly to Capt Dean Bassett.

So, a great end to a productive season; in summary RNPA played 11 core fixtures, winning 5 and losing 6, but the tote does not reflect the fantastic progress that the senior team made in 2015 under James Lucas, which is most encouraging for the future.

To bring on established players and assist them in progressing to the next level

This aim is achieved through the Junior Development Scheme which is run by Lt Cdr Steve Spiller, the Young Players’ Rep. With over 20 players in the Junior Development Squad 2015 was a busy and productive season where we entered teams into 6 Tidworth tournaments and ran 6 training sessions with the Tidworth instructional team.

The Sacher Cup is usually held towards the end of the season but in 2015 it was held relatively early on 4 May to deconflict with the KRH tercentenary. This year, with the help of some RNPA family supporters (namely Debbie Aplin, Robbie Santrian and Jack Bowen), the RNPA managed to turn out 3 teams in an American-style tournament.

The first match between RN Reds led by Max Kamper and RN Blues led by Adrian Aplin, started well for the Red underdogs as Harry Rourke put through an early goal. However, a combination of slips in discipline from the Reds and the ability of the Blue players to get into their stride quickly made the match very one-sided. Aplin cut through the Reds like a sea-skimming Buccaneer to score numerous goals and Mike Bowen unleashed his renowned nearside reverse swing to loft the ball through goal from 30 yds. The RN Whites, touting Steve Spiller and Debbie Aplin in a killer combination, battled against the recently victorious Blues in a closely run match. It was clear to the supporters on the side-lines that the cup would go to one of these teams; it was just a case of goal difference from the final match of the day. The battered and thrashed RN Reds emerged onto the pitch for the third match like HMS Glowworm from the squall to once more face overwhelming opposition. As was expected, the RN Whites relentlessly battered the gallant but inferior Reds and nothing the Reds could do would change the outcome.

The spoils of the day went to a well-deserving RN White team, runners up being the Blues and the Reds as tail-end charlies. It was a very successful afternoon and the talents of young Robbie Santrian and Jack Bowen are definitely in our recruiting cross-hairs for the future!

Additionally, a JDS team played and won the Adjutant General’s Cup and we entered ‘hybrid’ teams (a mixture of JDS and senior RN players) in the now established ‘Leadership and Excellence’ match at Sandhurst, where refenge was sought for last year’s defeat, and of course, the prestigious the Captains and Subalterns tournament.

The Leadership and Excellence Cup hosted at Sandhurst on 22 July offered a round robin competition of 2 chukka matches between Sandhurst, Cranwell and the Royal Navy Development Squad. The aim of the tournament was to field low goal teams of between -4 to -6 goals to allow inexperienced players to get some valuable game time. The RN team consisted of Lt Cdr Spiller, Maj Robson, Lt Burrows and Mid Hussey. After a little confusion over the order of play the first match between Sandhurst and Cranwell started.  This proved to be a very close match with both teams playing well; the Sandhurst team ended up on top and ended the game with a lead. The game allowed the Navy to scope out the stronger players and to formulate some loose tactics.

Next up, it was time for the Navy to play Sandhurst. The pitch proved to be quite hard and uneven in places making it hard to maintain possession. Steve Spiller and Mark Robson were playing very well together, keeping possession and making some good chances at goal. Fortunately the Sandhurst team let themselves down on a number of occasions giving away fouls. Steve Spiller managed to convert most of these, on one occasion with a helping kick from a Sandhurst pony. This held the Navy team in the lead for the match with the game finishing with the Navy in the lead. The final game saw the Navy facing the Cranwell team. Some initial sloppiness from the Navy team saw them go 1 – 0 down and a second foul was soon awarded but not converted. However things soon turned around with a number of good constructive attacks from the team and a fantastic run from Mark Robson resulting in a penalty. Spiller provided a solid defence throughout and a number of excellent penalty conversions. The game finished with the Navy leading 4 – 2.

Prize giving then ensued, with thanks going to Sandhurst for hosting the event and to Simon Ledger for his usual fantastic commentary. Prizes were received from the Sandhurst Commandant before a chance for some Tri-Service socialising.

On 25 and 26 July, and with the scars of a close defeat still in their minds from 2014 the Royal Navy came to the Captains and Subalterns with a strong view that they needed to remedy the score. Returning from 2014 were Surg Cdr Harry Rourke and Lt Hiro Suzuki; fresh talent was provided by Capt Dean Bassett and Lt Bob Santrian. With the sun shining on the Saturday the RN defeated the Household Cavalry 5 – 1, therefore making it to the Sunday final against the KRH.

Aware of a replay of the inter-regimental match vs the KRH the RN team felt the expectation of the entire RNPA on their shoulders as they lined up in the rain on a muddy, cut up pitch. The game started well with a ball from the line out hit by Suzuki who was shut down, backed up by Rourke, shut down and finally scored by Santrian.  A second goal was scored by Suzuki after being turned by Bassett. A third was scored from a 30 yard penalty by Suzuki.  The KRH then had a resurgent rally with Selfe scoring 2 field goals and a penalty. He then scored a goal after a superb run by Churton earning him MVP.  Walker then took the score to 5 – 3½.  Moving into the 4th chukka the RN had all to play for and a potential victory was in their sights.  The ball was run up the field hit by all RN players resulting in a scrappy play in front of goal. Suzuki hit a well-timed tail backhand which was picked up by an unmarked Rourke and scored bringing the difference to ½ goal with a minute remaining. Straight from the line out the Navy fought hard but calmly.  Suzuki ran the ball up but was shut down; Santrian, Bassett and Rourke hit the ball a few crucial centimetres but more importantly kept it in the KRH half allowing Suzuki to circle and come back.  With 20 seconds on the clock he made contact and the RN did their duty by keeping their men away from Suzuki who calmly ran the ball to goal in front of a horrified but paralysed KRH team, putting the RN ahead 5 ½ – 5.  As they cantered back to the line up the whistle sounded and the RN won the Captains and Subalterns trophy for the first time since 2007.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, and, as always, the additional factor in the success was the support from long-suffering family and friends on the pitch and side-lines. Hopefully next year will see more teams entered from a growing number of available players in the RNPA.

The RNPA’s  JDS, now in its 8th year, has had the desired effect of drawing players through to the senior squad. However, it does not intend to rest on its laurels and the committee has identified the next major challenge which is to pull our large -2 community through to -1 and 0 to sustain a senior squad into the future.

To encourage new players into the sport

The RNPA has an increasing number of naval personnel who have expressed an interest in playing polo.  As with all RN sports clubs, the RNPA suffers from the perpetual fact that naval personnel invariably spend a great deal of their time either at sea or deployed with squadrons and units. That said, over a dozen new enquiries were made this season, and, with 52 players or potential players on the Secretary’s list the RNPA is looking very healthy, but it must continue to encourage, and make it finically viable for, the newcomers to attend courses and instructional chukkas to allow their progression to club chukkas and JDS matches.

To contribute to the Combined Services Polo Association

The CSPA, as parent organisation, does not have many UK fixtures. However, the ICOA tournament comprises 3 matches where the CSPA play a visiting foreign team, often from the U.S., South Africa and New Zealand. Custom and practice prohibit any player below 0-goal to play in a CSPA match, so our contribution is limited to the RNPA’s senior squad of 5 players, and the ICOA tournament always clashes with the Inter-Regimental tournament and Rundle Cup preparations. Unfortunately, with a senior cadre of only 4 the RNPA failed to provide any players for CSPA events in 2015.

Tidworth

Tidworth Polo Club, now firmly established under the management of Chris and Jess Andrews, thrives as the home of Services polo. Chris continues to improve the facilities at the club, and, in conjunction with the CSPA, has refurbished the pavilion which is now a fantastic resource for military polo.

Courses

The first class courses at Tidworth again proved particularly popular during the 2015 season with number of RN personnel attending for the Novice sessions, as well as offering bespoke packages for potential players such as Jack Carlisle and Charlie Sendrowski when courses were not available. The RNPA also had a healthy number of players consolidating what they learned on courses in the progressive instructional chukkas before advancing to club chukkas and JDS matches.

Tours

Four lucky players had the opportunity to visit South Africa in January 15 on a pre-season training tour. The trip, organised by Lt Cdr Dain Thorne also included Surg Cdr Bowen, Surg Cdr Rourke and Maj Simon Dinsmore and was under the tutelage of former 6-goaler and Sprinboks captain Rod Gutridge.  His Franshoek Polo School, a few hours south of Johannesburg and in the shadow of the breath-taking Draakensburg mountains, was the perfect venue to consolidate individual performances and teamwork in prepare for the 2015 season.

Another Navy player had the opportunity to play some polo whilst deployed in RFA LYME BAY in the Caribbean. During a stop-off in Jamaica Lt Max Cosby, and FAA colleague (and potential player) Lt Danielle Welch, had the chance to play at the St Ann polo club under the instruction of the coach Shane Chin. St Ann Polo Club is used as a pre-season training venue by the Army Polo Association and is definitely one to watch as a future RN tour venue. In addition to this fabulous playing experience Max took every opportunity on board ship to hone his skills on a homemade wooden horse. Not sure what the ship’s company thought though….!

RNRMEA

One of the RNPA cadre, Capt Nick Cooke-Priest RN, has recently been voted in as chairman of the RNRMEA.  Cdr Wilson remains the RNRMEA Polo Rep.

Sponsorship

The RNPA is extremely fortunate to continue oits healthy relationship with Gore as principal sponsor. However, it continues to seek out any sponsorship opportunities, and a huge thank you to those who make contact with companies and businesses to do so, especially Lt Bob Santrian whose tireless efforts have paid dividends in developing the FAA polo team. No new major sponsors were found in 2015.

Social Media

Lt Hiro Suzuki kindly administered the RNPA Twitter account this season, with Cdr Al Wilson and Lt Cdr Steve Spiller managing Facebook and the PDev Portal respectively. The aspiration is to maintain a continuous feed of both RNPA and general polo information via social media and all input is very welcome.

Closing Thoughts

Whilst the RNPA has had an encouraging number of potential new players, both Mark Robson and Dain Thorne will leave the naval service in 2016. On behalf of the committee and players the RNPA thank you both for their contribution to Navy polo and wish them the best of luck for the future.

To finish, as started, RN Polo has had a great season and has largely fulfilled the RNPA aims of:

  • To strive for success in the principal military fixtures,
  • To bring on established players and assist them in progressing to the next level,
  • To encourage new players into the sport,
  • To contribute to the CSPA.

For any more information contact the RNPA Secretary:


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