19 MATCHES, 19 WINS, 0 GOALS CONCEDED
A Jorrocks Polo team (under 12s) made up of members from four branches secured a season clean sweep at the Pony Club Polo Championships at Hurtwood on Wednesday, having won every one of their nineteen matches – without conceding a single goal.
Twelve months ago none of them knew each other, while two of the “team” had never even played polo before.
Short of enough Jorrocks players in each of their respective branches to make a team, these four boys – desperate to take part in the Pony Club Polo Qualifiers and Championships – were clumped together.
They were Leo Conway on Zelda playing #1, Toby Bradshaw on Disney playing #2, Sammy Vintcent on Blaize playing #3 and Lucas Stern on Jerry playing Back. PC branch-wise, they were from – in order – the Meynell, the Warwickshire, the Grafton and the South Oxfordshire Hunt South. Administratively, the team played in the name of the Grafton.
During the course of this season, they played the Jorrocks teams from the Cowdray, Beaufort, Old Surrey & Burstow, and Old Berks. The Grafton won every one of their nineteen matches.
How did this ragbag team become so unstoppable?
For the Pony Club polo season twelve months before, three of these four had been put together as a team from the South Oxfordshire Hunt South. Last year, playing against the Cowdray A team, they had their clock well-and-truly cleaned for them, being beaten 6:0 at Longdole. Such a drubbing convinced these pre-teenagers that they could actually use some help.
One of the parents, a former low-level player during his days in the army, offered them a physical example. Lining up the four boys with a ball each, he challenged them to hit the ball as many times down the field as they could – as individuals. The maximum number of consecutive hits was three, maybe covering fifty yards.
Then, to demonstrate the idea of the “train”, he tried the hitting-it-down-the-field exercise again; this time, though, he had them back each other up, peeling away as anyone missed, encouraging them to rejoin the back. In no time they had hit the ball to the perimeter of the field and physically couldn’t go any further. The penny dropped. They realised that – working together – they could keep the ball going, far further than any of them could achieve on their own.
The second simple technique was to encourage boys to be boys: they were shown the concept of riding off, and not just of the player with possession. Two of them got the fun of this, let alone its tactical value in matches; they immediately started holding the other teams – including a rematch with the dreaded Cowdray – to very tight scores during the rest of the season. Sadly, they did concede some subsequent goals, but not in play: their biggest shortcoming, then, becoming their lack of familiarity with the line and the ROW: all the goals they subsequently conceded were given away in penalties.
In 2015, ten months on and having not seen each other in between times, three of the four came back together; one of the four was replaced by his brother, and another of the team was on a new mount, one that had never played polo before – a mounted games pony.
Caroline Grayson, Polo Manager for the Grafton, hosted and ran an excellent three-day “camp” in the first week of the summer holidays. The new ragbag four were generously invited and came. Crucially, the syllabus included a concentrated session on understanding the line and the ROW.
Twelve months had passed, and not much polo had been played. But they were each a little stronger, a little more confident in their horsemanship and control, perhaps a little more determined.
Coached at matches by the same ex-army parent, the pre-match warm-ups always included a series of exercises as a train, and several sessions of blood-warming riding off. The team’s clean sweep started during a friendly hosted at Frampton in Gloucestershire, where the newly-named Grafton showed very early on what they might be capable of. Each break from the melee was pretty much converted into a goal: the players religiously backing each other up. Over the next four weeks, there were further friendlies at Hare Park in Suffolk, and then qualifiers at Cirencester, Longdole and Tidworth.
Crunch time, though, came at Cirencester. This was the big one. The team were to meet their nemesis: the Cowdray. A score needed to be settled … to cleanse their slaughter of the year before. The Grafton’s blood was up. They were focused. They were prepped. They were ready. The ragbag team won by two goals to nil and were unlucky with two other shots that went wide. Euphoria didn’t begin cover their sense of restitution. The now-named Grafton had managed to lay a ghost.
The team went on to win every other match in the round of friendlies and qualifiers, not conceding a single goal throughout. They were then heading for the magnificent ground at Hurtwood in Surrey for the 2015 Pony Club Championships.
The pressure on the team was huge, and to most people would have induced little more than a “oh boo-hoo” of sympathy. Messrs Conway, Bradshaw, Vintcent and Stern had an unbroken record to defend: after what they had achieved, they did not want to let themselves down by throwing it all away at the last minute.
The matches at Hurtwood were tighter; much tougher. The Cowdray, in particular, played a much more defensive game. But not enough. The Grafton Jorrocks team prevailed winning all four of their matches, and managed to secure the title. Sammy Vintcent, playing as the Grafton #3, was named as the most improved Jorrocks boy, being presented with the magnificent cup by Veronica Thorneloe, given in memory of her son Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe MBE of the Welsh Guards, the most senior member of the British Army lost in Afghanistan.
The Grafton Jorrocks Pony Club polo team rounded of 2015 having converted themselves from being a ragbag of strangers to an unstoppable force. Inspiring stuff!