21 July 2011
South Africa captured the Polocrosse World Cup title for the first time when they defeated neighbours Zimbabwe in the final at the Onley Grounds Equestrian Centre near Rugby in the United Kingdom on Sunday.
Both teams were undefeated heading into the final and both had beaten Australia, who had previously never lost a game at the World Cup, which was held Down Under in the first two editions in 2003 and 2007.
South Africa had finished third in both the 2003 and 2007 events, while Zimbabwe had finished fifth in 2007 and fourth in 2003.
For those not in the know, polocrosse is a combination of polo and lacrosse and the format features men and women playing alternate chukkas. It’s easy to understand and makes for a fantastic spectator sport.
Much was expected of the Zimbabweans this time around, after they defeated a South African team full of capped internationals three-nil in a series in Johannesburg in early June. It was not, however, South Africa’s World Cup team.
Playing in the United Kingdom proved to be a test for the two southern African nations, who are used to dry conditions.
Heavy rains in the final created some muddy patches on the field, but South Africa adjusted especially well to them to run out convincing 29-18 winners after eight exciting chukkas.
For the record, South Africa’s World Cup winners were Gavin Cocker, Jossie Spilsbury, Graham MacLarty, Nikki Crook, Jan Albert Steenkamp, Celicia Jacobs, Nico Van Wyk, and Julie Royden-Turner.
“It was phenomenal, especially for Southern Africa,” to be playing Zimbabwe in the final, South African captain Gavin Cocker told SAinfo. “And to win it was the ultimate, a special moment.”
Jan Albert Steenkamp was in excellent form for South Africa in the title-decider and was later named the best male player of the tournament. The women’s award went to Kelly Redfearn of Zimbabwe.
South Africa had earned their place in the final with an excellent 25-11 victory over Australia in the semi-finals. Zimbabwe reached the title-decider with a 24-10 win over the USA.
It was in the game against the highly-fancied Australians that a huge turning point occurred, said Cocker.
‘After four chukkas, it was over’
“In the first two chukkas, our girls went down 3-0, but then pulled it back to 3-3. Our men then won their first chukka 5-0. After four chukkas, it was over, Australia weren’t going to come back from being so far down.”
Zimbabwe had earlier downed the Australians 21-12 in pool play. They also edged New Zealand 17-15 and saw off Zambia 22-10.
South Africa won their first two pool matches 19-9 over Ireland and 18-7 over the USA before sneaking past the UK 14-13 on a last-gasp goal by Graham MacLarty.
Australia dominated the USA in the clash for third place, romping to a 31-8 win, while New Zealand held on for a 20-19 victory over the UK in thee battle for fifth.
It was a World Cup win a long time in the making, explained Cocker. Work on the South African challenge began some nine or 10 months before the tournament and visual skills’ work with world-renowned Doctor Sheryl Calder was “very helpful”, he enthused.
At a World Cup, for health and safety reasons, players use borrowed horses which are put into pools and draws are then made for them. Adjusting to the horses is vital and this, too, was part of the South African team’s preparation, Cocker related.
“We got the horses into the right positions for the right riders and we were lucky that the horses suited our playing style.”
Questioned about South Africa’s stellar defensive showing throughout the tournament – the 18 goals they gave up to Zimbabwe was by five the most they conceded in any game – Cocker again put it down to game planning for each side they faced.
Winning the World Cup is a “great opportunity” for South African polocrosse, he said. “People are excited and interest in the game is on the up. People who were doubters about South African polocrosse are now on board.
“It’s also good for Zimbabwe,” he said about the all-Southern African World Cup final and what it means for polocrosse in the region.
And with the next Polocrosse World Cup taking place in South Africa in 2015, the defending champions have plenty to look forward to, and to build towards.