Evolution of the Polocrosse World Cup Teams
Former Australian Polocrosse World Cup coach, Ross Shepherd, whose teams won the World Cup twice, has given his thoughts on the 2019 World Cup teams and how they have evolved.
The Australian team was the only undefeated team in the World Cup competition, winning against Zimbabwe 24 to 11, the USA 29 to 14, Zambia 25 to 8, New Zealand 29 to 15, and South Africa 34 to 21.
Australia didn’t begin the competition as the stand out team to win, but having changed their style of play in their preparation in recent months, over the competition they became the favourites to win the final.
The team has good combinations between Jim and Lance on the men’s side and between Lauren and Lucy on the ladies’ side, and can use these combinations all the time successfully. Ross predicted that the team that would win the World Cup would be the one that had set combinations of players that worked the best.
The Australians had both the best men’s side and the best ladies’ side of any team over the course of the competition. The Australian men have the advantage of playing together regularly as they all live in the same state and play state polocrosse games together. The women’s side is very slick. The dominance of the Australian women was a highlight of the final match; they played perfect polocrosse.
Ross doesn’t believe being on home turf with a home crowd makes a significant difference to any team. However, the Australians had the advantage over some of the teams of being used to playing on Australian Stock Horses.
South Africa came to the 2019 World Cup as firm favourites to win. The South Africans have set the world standard over the last eight years, particularly the men. They are extremely good athletes with an extremely good coach.
However, all the other countries have improved in recent times. Eight years of South African dominance in the sport has forced other countries to change their style of play. Because South Africans tend to ride on the fast but less manoeuvrable Thoroughbreds, they have become adept at long throws; their ball skills have been very impressive. Now it is newly more common for all teams to use the long throw and the overarm throw. However, as was seen in the final, the long throw is not accurate, and a lot of these throws go astray which can be free gift to other team.
It seems that the eight remarkably even pool of horses provided to the World Cup teams provided a more level playing field to showcase the skills of the players. In last two World Cups South Africa was blessed with pools of horses which gave them an advantage. To illustrate this, at the 2011 World Cup South Africa beat Australia men’s section 16-1 and the players are pretty much the same in these teams today.
South Africa doesn't have the depth of players that Australia has. Their top four players outrank Australia’s top four but Australia’s top seven players are better than South Africa’s top seven.
In the past, their best players never rode over a ball or missed a pass. They are not as confident in their ball handling as they were previously. Their execution was always almost 100%. In 2015, the South Africans took a year off their normal lives to prepare for the World Cup. They weren’t as well prepared for this World Cup, and practice makes the difference.
Ireland had the greatest improvement of any team in the tournament. Both their men and women have improved but the improvement in their women has been astronomical. Having five-time World Cup player, Debbie Harris from the UK join their team has helped a lot. The combination of Dara, Joanne and Debbie is outstanding. They all know where the others are on the field and have confidence in each other. The Irish men Luke, Seb, and Conor have made the biggest improvements in any men’s side of the competition. The team has a South African coach, though it is unclear how much of a difference that has made.
Certainly, after the last two World Cups the Irish realised they had to really improve if they were going to compete. Coming to the 2019 World Cup as a lower ranked team, they had nothing to lose and got better with every game. A highlight match of the 2019 World Cup was Ireland beating New Zealand after New Zealand had just beaten the number one team in the world, South Africa.
Australian Beau Moore has strengthened the New Zealand team; he has been a breath of fresh air to them. There's every possibility he might have made the Australian team if he hadn’t moved to New Zealand a year ago.
In New Zealand there isn’t a high level of competition to help the team prepare so the test matches against Australia earlier this year helped them significantly. However, New Zealanders do get to play with each other regularly as they live relatively close to each other.
New Zealand drew the best pool of horses which helped them beat South Africa, though Ross believes the NZ v SA match was an off day for South Africa; South Africa likely thought they just had to turn up in order to win.
Zambia came to the 2019 World Cup as favourites for second place after their performance at the 2015 World Cup when they beat Australia to join South Africa in the finals. Back in July 2018, Australia played a test series against Zambia and beat them on their home turf, though in those matches Zambia’s two best players were not present.
Team Zambia’s coach, Henry Harris, is a Zimbabwean who played for South Africa, and Damien Harris is another player who has joined the team from Zimbabwe. Kudos to Zambia for having a vocal crowd of supporters to cheer them on.
The UK tend to be a lower ranked team. Ross says he is not sure why they came second in the 2007 Polocrosse World Cup. However, Charlotte Pykett is a world class #1. The UK women have lifted their game, though the men’s side have marked time with not much improvement. Jason Webb, the brother-in-law of Australia’s Will Weston, is from Australia.
Zimbabwe have a South African coach, a Zimbabwean who played in two World Cups for the South African team. Sophie Sergeant, a former UK player, has strengthened this team. When Ross watched her play eight years ago in the UK, he thought she was one of the better players in the world. On the other hand, Zimbabwe has lost a couple of good players to the Zambian team. Zimbabwe beat Australia at the 2011 World Cup, though the teams are different now and Australia was handicapped by a poor pool of horses at that World Cup.
This team is a work in progress. Team USA has a South African coach, James Hackland, who has helped the team play an international style of polocrosse. Polocrosse is a very young sport in the USA, and the American style of horse is not really suitable for polocrosse; their horses tend to not adapt to polocrosse if they have learned another skill such as cutting. The US is starting to import Australian bloodlines to help grow the sport.