Thundering hooves, flying divots, shaking ground … polocrosse is an adrenaline rush second to none
story david knowles pictures shannon giles
Shongweni Club conjures up images of polo and showjumping, but a look through the mists of time, courtesy of the folks who have been associated with the venue for countless years, will uncover the skills and thrills of polocrosse – a sport which is slowly catching on in the community.
It’s virtually flown under the radar, but in 2015 the club hosted the Polocrosse World Cup which ran for 10 days. “This ignited and re-ignited people’s interest in the sport and from crowds of 300 for the first few days, we had more than 6 000 on the final day,” says Ian Gourley, vice-chairman of the Shongweni Polocrosse Club.
While most folks are more akin to polo, Ian begs to differ, offering a quick insight into what makes the sport so attractive and daring. “It’s rugby, polo, endurance riding and lacrosse all rolled into one, played on a small field. Imagine having front row seats at the Colosseum, watching the gladiators battle for glory. That’s what it’s about,” he says.
That 2015 event saw the sport rejuvenate at Shongweni, soon growing into the biggest polocrosse club in the country – thanks to the incredible venue and facilities, and not forgetting the calibre of some of the members.
“We had Gavin Cocker, Springbok captain at the 2015 World Cup which South Africa won, defending their title from 2011, arriving with his whole clan, who all play,” says Ian. “This set the trend and soon more SA players arrived, but most encouraging was riders from other disciplines such as jumping and eventing joining in.”
Currently the youngest member at the club is a mere five years old, while some of the more senior players qualify for shopping discounts on certain days of the week. All levels are catered for and Sunday afternoon practise sees chukkas from slow and easy to flat out tough, depending on skill.
“We have recently completed the 2019 World Cup in Australia where we reached the final against the hosts. Unfortunately, we couldn’t bag a hat-trick of titles as we fell short. It’s not only in cricket and rugby » where Australia is our nemesis,” says Ian.
However the World Cup returns to Shongweni in 2023, South Africa winning the bid earlier this year. That’s still four years away, but all is not lost. Shongweni hosts the Land Rover High Goal tournament every year in June, an event many see as better than the World Cup.
“This annual event is second to the World Cup. The level of play and riders is incredible as the event is geared towards building teams not constrained by clubs, nationalities or location,” says Ian. “This means teams can be created from the best players in the world and it comes down to these ‘super teams’ battling for overall honours, where the winner takes all.”
An exciting element of the competition sees each team able to get a wildcard player. A gala dinner two days before sees the teams which have already been selected, all missing one player. On the night, a live auction is done with teams bidding for their final player. This allows teams to have an incredible player in the ranks and is the difference between winning and losing. Players from Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA, Zambia and Zimbabwe are attending.
Once that’s done, bidding for the teams – four men and four women teams – begins and should the purchaser’s team win, 50% of the bid is returned as prize money.
This is not a sport for the faint-hearted. It takes skill, bravery, split decision-making and a gamble on the gallop – all mixed in with the two most important ingredients of all: enjoyment and camaraderie. *
- A polocrosse team comprises six players.
- They are split into two sections of three.
- Three players from each team are on the field at one time.
- Three players rest and come on at the end of each chukka to carry on.
- A match is eight chukkas, meaning each section of three plays four chukkas.
- A chukka lasts for six minutes.