Thursday, 9 August 2012



2012 has been a difficult year for South African polo with attendance at many tournaments down and a general apathy and lack of support. During the past few weeks, a number of emotive issues have arisen with much behind the scenes “bar talk” undermining individuals, Clubs, Provincial structures and SAPA.

It is important to remember that we play polo for the love of the sport and that no one is bigger than the game. It is equally important to recognize that we are a small “polo family” possibly on the decline due to a worldwide recession and the economic squeeze. Events during the past weeks have resulted in emotional outbursts with emails, often derogatory, flowing back and forth not to mention backstabbing of certain individuals. With the BMW International Series around the corner, I appeal to players and polo followers to pull together as gentlemen becoming the sport. I humbly ask that we put aside differences, support our national team and show world polo that we are a force to be reckoned with.

The above plea doesn’t mean that administrators and/or players should be unaccountable but the manner in which differences/disputes/disagreements are handled is crucial to the success and happiness of the sport and its members. There are correct channels to work through if systems are not being implemented or adhered to. Communication is crucial and it is impossible for administrators to execute their duties without feedback from the players. Issues arise of which I have no knowledge until it is too late to rectify – issues which could have been resolved with communication from the you players. Previous newsletters have alluded to the importance of this with only a handful of players responding with feedback.

I appeal to all SAPA’s members to pull together for the good of polo in South Africa. That way the “happy polo family” can be restored again.

I was privileged to attend this prestigious event and many of you will have watched the match on the Internet. Our young South African team did us proud playing aggressive quality polo. With the average age of the team being 22 as opposed to that of the England side weighing in at 33 we have much to be proud of. I am certain England will extend another invite in the near future – it was said to be the best international day they have had in years.

For those who are interested – I have included the official match report of the day below:

Luke Tomlinson, captain of Audi England, lifted the Coronation Cup for a third successive year after a nail-biting match against South Africa at Guards Polo Club, Windsor. Audi England faced a tough and talented South African opposition and, with the teams adding up to a 26- and 25-goal handicap respectively, those watching the match were ensured a competitive and exciting display of the sport. Thousands of spectators, including VIPs HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, Dominic Cooper, Matt Smith, Douglas Booth, Dionne Bromfield, Gemma Chan, Annabelle Wallis and Steven Moyer, enjoyed some rare English summer sunshine after months of endless rain.
Under the captaincy of 23-year-old Nachi du Plessis, the Equus & Co sponsored South Africans also included Chris Mackenzie, Jean du Plessis and Tom de Bruin - four players under the age of 25, not only making them the youngest international team ever to have taken to Smith’s Lawn on International Day, but also an indication of the young polo talent that South Africa, as a country, is producing. After the match, David Woodd, Chief Executive of the Hurlingham Polo Association was quick to praise the South Africa team saying: “It was a great privilege for England to play a young go-getting South African team.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the England line-up is one we have seen many times before – James Beim once again playing in the Number One position, the Tomlinson brothers, Mark and Luke, working together in the middle, and Malcolm Borwick at back – a combination that has previously produced England with the desired results. It was perhaps the team cohesion that has been established as a result of playing with one another for many years now that gave them that extra advantage, plus some experienced coaching from another International Day captain, Chile’s Jose Donoso.
From the moment the ball was thrown in, it was evident that the game would be one between two very competitive sides, with the young and fresh energy of South Africa facing a more experienced England side. With the half time score reading 5-3 in favour in England, the home crowd was perhaps beginning to relax a little. However, impressive team play and confident attacks from South Africa kept England on edge and in the final chukka, with just six minutes left of play, de Bruin equalised for South Africa, and this game was very much back on. The next crucial play was by none other than the England captain himself, who executed a perfect 30-yard penalty shot to take the home team into the lead with just five minutes to go and who deservedly won the Most Valuable Player Award which he later received from HRH Prince Philip.
Adding more excitement to the game, the du Plessis duo together produced another goal for South Africa, equalising again with just two minutes left of play. It was England’s Borwick though who would be the one to secure the 2012 show, sending what would be the final and most important shot of the day which somehow found its way between various players and finally the posts as well thus securing England their third successive Coronation Cup victory, after defeating New Zealand (2010) and Brazil (2011).
England’s James Beim was delighted to receive the Best Playing Pony award for his own Yacht. This 11-year-old chestnut gelding is James’s favourite pony and he showed his delight in the post event press conference, saying “It is always wonderful when your ponies are recognised, not just for me but for my grooms too.”

The young South African team can be proud of their achievement and certainly did their country proud. David Woodd Chief Executive of the HPA commented that England were lucky to have played the South African team in 2012 and not in a few years time !!

The SAPA Handicapping Committee reviewed handicaps at the recent meeting held at IPT in Bergville. The full list of changes will be circulated to players with changes being effective after the Plett December season. This will give younger players the opportunity to compete alongside international and local high goal players.

All lady players will now carry a “Ladies Handicap” in addition to their official handicap on the website. This will come into effect when playing in local “all ladies” tournaments. It will mean the handicap differential between the lady players can be widened to allow more flexibility between them and is in keeping with our objectives to adhere to HPA regulations. The list will be finalised by the Handicap Committee in consultation with SAPA’s lady representative.

A South African ladies team toured Canada during July taking part in the Calgary tournament and playing a once off international against the Canadian ladies team. This they convincingly won six goals to one – our congratulations to  Amy Gace, Alida Vermaak, Kate Holmes and Catherine Hartley. Our thanks and gratitude to Joe Henderson who made his whole string available to the SA team. Our ladies were extremely well mounted by their Canadian colleagues.

The Canadian hospitality was “top drawer” with the touring party attending the Calgary Stampede and being afforded five star treatment wherever they went. It is envisaged that SAPA will host a reciprocal tour to South Africa in 2013.

Entries for this year’s SA Champs were disappointing with 6 sides in the 14 goal, 6 in the zero goal and 2 in the 4 goal. Whether this was due to the recessionary influences of our economy or players having too much polo is not entirely clear. Despite this, there was some quality polo played on the newly revamped “Benson” field – all were unanimous in their praise of the Cynodin grass which could mean the end of Paspalum fields in the future. Concerns that it wouldn’t stand up to winter conditions and heavy traffic were soon dispelled.

The Beresford Cup was won by the Beestespan team consisting of Cody Ellis, James Kane Berman, Duncan Ellis and Bryan Hein. Leroux Hendriks who represented Epol was adjudicated the most valuable player of the tournament. Congratulations to the winners and our thanks to the Karkloof Club and Benson family for their input and hard work. 

Congratulations to the Inanda Club and polo club Captain JP Rey for hosting a very successful Africa Cup. This tournament has grown in stature each year attracting large crowds and corporate sponsorship. Participating teams were all at six-goal level including the Poloafrica team which acquitted themselves very well at this level. Their progress has improved in leaps and bounds under the management and supervision of Catherine Cairns. The tournament was won by the Cintron team consisting of Leroux Hendriks, Christo Spies, Dirk Uys and Lerey Young. Tournament Director and organiser, Craig James ensured the smooth running of a busy tournament which promises to grow each year.

This initiative has been talked about for many years but has never successfully got off the ground. HPA will be launching a polo league in 2013. Initially the league will involve eight of the leading clubs and played over four months between May and August, with a final play-off between the top two clubs to decide the overall winner.

Their League will be played between teams of 12-14 goal handicap, with the UK’s highest handicapped players each being allocated to a club. The league will include “Development Players” who will be selected from the HPA Grass Roots Development Program.

David Woodd, Chief Executive of the HPA said, “The Polo League is a great step forward for the sport in the UK and by including a HPA Development Player in each team, we will be giving the next generation of English players the opportunity to take part in some highly competitive games throughout the season.”

There have been discussions in some of our provinces regarding a league and the planning of such needs careful consideration. The possibility of an inter-provincial league at six-goal level whereby the finalists from each province compete for an overall winner could become a reality. Any suggestions would be welcomed or better still a meeting of interested parties to thrash out ideas in finding a way forward should be convened.

In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity in wishing the national team every success in the forth coming BMW Series. India are a proud polo nation and will be tough opposition for the South African team so let’s get behind our boys and give them all the support they deserve.

Executive Director – South African Polo Association

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