After the second action-packed day of snow polo in Tianjin, China, England and South Africa have proved themselves the teams to watch. With both nations winning their first two matches, they are safely through to Saturday’s Semi-Finals, and can enjoy an extra day of rest on their opponents at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club.
After a hard fought win against local side Hong Kong China yesterday, South Africa were drawn against the USA in the day’s first match, a team that enjoyed their best showing here in 2015, when they finished the tournament in second place.
Back in the saddle for South Africa were Jannie Steenkamp, Chris MacKenzie, and Tom de Bruin. For the USA: Shane Rice, Pelon Escapite and Tommy Biddle. South Africa benefited from a single goal advantage in net player handicap, 16 to 15.
It was South Africa who came closest to scoring in the opening salvos, but the bright orange ball wasn’t doing what it was told – it rarely does in snow polo. The team in green looked the more purposeful in attack, but like a trio of California redwoods USA stood tall, stout and unmovable, managing to hold off the South African onslaught until the bell.
South Africa finally broke the deadlock in the second chukka with a well-earned penalty score after another spell of pressure. USA then snapped into life, Tommy Biddle storming along the boards and cutting in to level the scores. South Africa looked to have had the last word of the first half, an excellent passing move making the scores 2 – 1, but USA came back level with two seconds on the clock, Shane Rice providing the finishing touch.
South Africa bounced back again after the restart, Chris MacKenzie charging half the length of the field and doing well to keep the ball under control, thumping it home to make it 3 -2.
In the fourth and final chukka, South Africa wriggled through the USA defence to put daylight between the scores, and then it was USA who turned on the gas, as South Africa turned defenders. The action was frantic, even uprooting a goal post, but USA couldn’t quite match the fire and intensity of the South Africans, and Jannie Steenkamp crowned off an excellent team performance with his first goal of the match, the final score 5– 2 to South Africa.
In the day’s other contest, England, narrow winners over Argentina on the opening day, took on old sporting rivals Australia. It was business as usual for the talented England trio of Ali Paterson, James Harper and Jack Richardson, who out-rode Australia to see them safely through to the semi-finals of Asia’s premier Snow Polo tournament.
It was Australia who started the strongest, however, just edging a tense first chukka, Dirk Gould scoring with a neat backhand after a well-worked attack to put his side ahead. England’s Ali Paterson evened the odds halfway through the second chukka, but there was little to choose between the teams at the halfway mark.
England turned on the style in the third chukka with a fine goal courtesy of James Harper, and then the England number two scored again soon after, capitalizing on a stroke of good fortune when a clearance deflected off his pony in front of goal.
That left Australia with a bit to do in the fourth chukka, and it wasn’t to be, England holding on to win the match 3 – 1 and see themselves safely through to the Semi-Finals on Saturday.
Tomorrow, the group stages of the Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup 2017 conclude with Australia playing Argentina and the USA taking on Hong Kong China.
The Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup 2017
Day 1, 17 January 2017
England vs Argentina 6-5
South Africa vs Hong Kong China 3-3 （3-2）
Day 2, 18 January 2017
South Africa vs USA 5-2
England vs Australia 3-1