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Meet the state school pupils making a habit of winning national croquet titles

PUBLISHED: 07:50 29 September 2017 | UPDATED: 07:50 29 September 2017

Ryan Gray and Albie Willet with their shield. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Ryan Gray and Albie Willet with their shield. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

A Suffolk secondary school’s croquet team is taking a mallet to the sport’s stuffy stereotypes.

Ryan Gray and Albie Willet have been successful at the National Croquet champtionships.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNRyan Gray and Albie Willet have been successful at the National Croquet champtionships. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Space has just been filled in Farlingaye High’s trophy cabinet by the National Schools Croquet Championship shield for the third year running.

The unlikely sport became a choice for pupils to pursue at the Woodbridge school after it was introduced by a visitor from the other side of the world, when supply teacher Jarrod Coutts revealed he was a member of the New Zealand international squad.

A fledgling team found immediate success, recording victories in the singles and doubles championships in 2015, retaining the doubles title in 2016 and, this September, bringing home the doubles crown again.

Outside school, members of the team, which includes Ryan Gray, Albie Willett and Eden Rogers, also play for Ipswich at Fynn Valley Golf Club, recently helping guide the team to top spot in the Essex and Suffolk League.

Ryan Gray and Albie Willet having a game.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNRyan Gray and Albie Willet having a game. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Year 10 pupils Ryan and Albie then secured the schools doubles championships in Watford last Sunday, with Albie finishing runner-up in the singles tournament.

The 14-year-old, who also plays cricket and volleyball, said: “There are two types of croquet; golf croquet, which is the basic format most people have played, and association croquet, which is a lot more advanced and 
strategic.

“It’s a bit like snooker – you have to think 10 moves ahead.

“It’s not as physical as it is mentally demanding.”

Ryan Gray and Albie Willet at their club evening.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNRyan Gray and Albie Willet at their club evening. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Ryan, 15, who also does judo and plays rugby, added: “Mr Coutts tried to show us that croquet could be exciting.

“He told us about association croquet and took us to Fynn Valley. Now we go quite regularly and the club provides our gear.”

Both agree anyone able to lift the mallet can take up the sport.

Games can last between 90 minutes and three hours, played on a pitch containing six hoops – four in a rectangle surrounding the ‘rover’, the ‘penultimate’, and the point-winning peg.

Ryan Gray on the course.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNRyan Gray on the course. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The school’s head of PE, Kate Alexander said: “Mr Coutts arrived full of enthusiasm for the game, having gone to the world championships.

“He got together a group of pupils and took them along to the local club.

“Despite returning to New Zealand, he left a team that’s won national championships three years in a row.”

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