Cape Town - Reigning Polocrosse world champions, South Africa, recently returned from a three-Test series in Australia where they tackled opponents who had never been beaten on their own soil.
The South African team, skippered by Jan Albert Steenkamp and coached by Bruce Maclarty, might not be well known to the South African public, but in the world of Polocrosse they are stars like Richie McCaw or Sachin Tendulkar.
South Africa are champions of the last two Polocrosse World Cups, claiming the title held previously by Australia.
In 2019, the next World Cup with be held in Australia, where the Australians will be determined to claim back the trophy and the South Africans will fight to keep it and make history with a hat-trick of wins.
Wanting to snatch victory over the world champions and get into their heads before the next World Cup, a South African men’s team was invited Down Under for a three-game series. Having never lost against any other international team on their home turf, the hosts were strong favourites.
It didn’t go according to plan for the Australians, however, as the men from Africa underscored exactly why they are the world champions with a resounding 3-0 series win in what has been described as one of the toughest and most competitive Polocrosse series' ever.
Speaking on his return, coach Maclarty reflected on the series: “All the games were incredibly hard, the first game was a ‘let’s see how good we are’ game. It was a game we obviously wanted to win, as it would set us up for the rest of the series. But we were going into unchartered waters. We haven’t ever played against a full men’s side, it was an unknown factor going into the game and there was a lot of uncertainty about it.”
Despite the uncertainty and pre-match nerves South Africa were able to triumph 31-21 in a closely fought game.
Proteas No 1 Graham Maclarty, son of coach Bruce, was in fine form, consistently getting the better of the Australian defence, thanks largely to a tireless supply of ball from his No 3, Travis Timm who went on to win the man of the match award.
Having secured the crucial opening win, Maclarty went on to describe the second game as critical.
“The second game was a different kettle of fish, because if you win that you win the series. So, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be really good in that game. Australia came out incredibly physical and they were desperate to level up the series. Although it wasn’t the hardest game, it was certainly the most physical of the three. But it was one that we had to win, to stay on course to make history, and so we battled it out and claimed the victory.”
Turning the game around in the sixth chukka, Graham Maclarty, along with Nico van Wyk and Travis Timm, scored an amazing seven goals to Australia’s one. With the game ending 28-24, captain Jan Albert “Jannie” Steenkamp, the 62-cap international player, leading his section with Stefan Harris and Attie van Wyk, showed his experience in this history-making game by keeping his head and holding his ground.
Steenkamp, added a comment on the second game: “We had the worst possible start and at one stage we actually found ourselves 11 goals to three down in the third chukka. We managed to claw our way back and by the end we beat them by four goals. They really came at us hard and with everything they had, we were just fortunate enough to have a brilliant coach and management group behind us which helped absorb the pressure and turn it around.”
The third game started slowly for South Africa, but the trio of Maclarty, Van Wyk and Timm caught up once again with a massive 6–0 scoreline in the sixth chukka. They kept the scores close and it was neck-and-neck while both teams fought to keep the lead. Enduring great pressure, South Africa crept ahead just as the whistle blew for full-time, taking the win by one point with a final score of 28-27.
Bruce Maclarty said post-match, “In the third game, everyone thinks the pressure is off, it doesn’t matter if you lose, but for our team it mattered hugely. We were there to win 3-0, we were there to stick it to the Australians. As the score reflects, it was certainly the closest game. How they let us win I’m still not sure, but it was a testament to the character of this team to come from 10 behind and to hold their nerves when it certainly could have gone either way in the end.”
With a sense of deep respect, Steenkamp remarked about the Australians, “They have been one of the top countries in Polocrosse of the past 50 years, so they are right up there with the very best. For me personally, this Test series was the hardest I have ever played, the Aussies are exceptionally good in their own country and on their own horses. Australia is and will always be one of the hardest international competitors.”
At the end of the series, South Africa took the prize of man of the match (Timm) in the first game, both man of the match in the second game and man of the series went to Graham Maclarty. And an award South Africa can be very proud of, playing on Australia’s horses, they received Best Horse of the Series, a gelding called Bud, owned by Trent Collins and ridden by Timm. This gives testament to South Africa’s amazing riding ability and horsemanship.
Discussing with Maclarty how he feels going forward, he said, “I’m always thinking of new things to try and new things to experiment with, but after this victory, we must stay focused and stay grounded.”
“We must find out what’s worked for us and make sure we are on top of that part of our game. And what worked for us was not only in the playing but the management, the administration, the extra-mural activities around the horses and the horse care. By caring for our horses so carefully during the games, we always had really ‘fresh’ horses toward the end of each game. This played a massive part in our success and is vital if we are going to win big games. I don’t know exactly where we will end up but we will keep trying to be different, that’s my motto and I firmly believe it.”
What is Polocrosse?
As the name implies, Polocrosse is a combination of elements of Polo and Lacrosse. The basic form of the sport was first seen being played in England in an indoor arena. It was created to improve the riding skills of students such as balance, co-ordination, control and just overall confidence.
In 1938 a couple of Australians caught wind of this and after watching it being played, brought the concept back to Australia where they developed the game into what we know today.
Polocrosse is a team sport designed to force players to pass the ball among themselves engaging the entire team to work together. Each team is made up of six players which is split into two sections of three. The names of the positions are simply the “One” who is the attack or striker player and the only person allowed to score, the “Two” is the centre or midfielder and the “Three” is the defender.
There are normally three or four chukkas in a game which comprise of 6–8 minutes. The field, being a little larger than a soccer field, is divided into three sections with two end zones on each end and the midfield being the middle section. The “One” and the opposing “Three” of each time are the only players allowed in their respective zones and the “One” can only score when he or she is in the end zone. The ball isn’t allowed to be carried into the end zones but must be either bounced or passed. You score when the “One” throws the ball between two posts. One point is awarded per goal thrown and the aim of the game is simply to score more points than your opponents.
Polocrosse world champions (Shannon Gilson)