The ponies are champing at the bit, the players and umpires are saddled, the snow is deep and crisp and even. Which can mean only one thing: The Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup has returned to Tianjin for another thrilling journey of men, horses, sticks and balls.
Now in its sixth year, the Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup remains a resolutely global affair, starring six elite polo nations from six continents: Argentina, Australia, England, Hong Kong China, South Africa, and the USA. Playing host is China’s premier polo facility, the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, the centrepiece of the magnificent Fortune Heights real estate development in Tianjin, one of China’s most dynamic cities.
And it wouldn’t be Snow Polo in Tianjin without gourmet epicurean delights and the soaring arias of the Buenos Aires Opera Troupe, a regular feature here at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, and all set to soundtrack five days of fierce competition on the snow.
The opening game had all the hallmarks of a humdinger, old rivals Argentina and England in a grudge match of sheer attrition. In the saddle for Argentina were Dylan Rossiter, Francisco Menéndez and Santiago Cernadas. For England: Ali Paterson, James Harper and Jack Richardson.
The tournament’s first goal came after just a minute of play, Argentina’s Santiago Cernadas making no mistake with a straightforward penalty. England soon answered with a penalty goal of their own following muscular attacking play by James Harper, and then Argentina came close with a long-range effort twanged off the stick of Rossiter. England were next to score, Harper charging in, almost at right angles to the goal and popping one in off the post. The final word of the first chukka went to England’s Ali Paterson, who made it 3 – 1.
England picked up where they left off as the second chukka got underway, Jack Richardson making it four from the spot. Contests between these two longstanding rivals are always fractious, and this proved no different, with plenty of bone-crunching challenges. Argentina’s ferocious tenacity eventually paid off with just over a minute left in the chukka, Francisco Menendez lofting a penalty high over the head of the defender to make it 4 – 2 in favour of England.
Play opened up after the half time break, and it was England who just had the edge, Jack Richardson starting the chukka with a penalty goal, and very nearly adding to his tally at the close, only to be hooked out of it yards short of the line.
The ever reliable Richardson slotted in another from the spot at the start of the fourth and final chukka, leaving Argentina with everything to do. But the South Americans weren’t daunted, and proceeded to embark on a thrilling comeback spearheaded by the irrepressible Santiago Cernadas.
The Argentinian number three pulled back three goals in as many minutes, but he couldn’t beat the clock, and England held on at the final bell to claim the narrowest of victories, 6 – 5.
In the day’s second contest, reigning champions Hong Kong China took on South Africa. Gaston Moore, Matias Vial and John Fisher were sporting the red shirts of Hong Kong China, versus the green of Jannie Steenkamp, Chris MacKenzie and Tom de Bruin.
While it’s true Hong Kong China have the best record in the tournament, South Africa were clearly here to prove they were contenders for the crown, too, working hard to hold the champions to a humbling 0 – 0 in the first chukka.
But the South Field is Hong Kong China’s home turf and they weren’t about to accept a polo lesson from the visitors. In a flurry of attacks that stunned the men from South Africa, Hong Kong China put three goals on the board, Gaston Moore scoring the first and John Fisher adding the second and third to give his side a clear lead at the halfway mark.
But then, inexplicably, the pendulum swung back to South Africa, the green shirts utterly dominant in the third chukka, scoring three times with no reply, Chris MacKenzie and Tom de Bruin sharing the spoils to set up a thrilling finale.
The final chukka could produce no clear victor, neither side getting the run of play in front of goal. So a round of penalties ensued as the frail winter sun dipped behind the stone towers of Fortune Heights, and it was South Africa who kept their nerve, proving the most composed from the spot and scoring three goals to Hong Kong China’s two to claim a rare victory.
The Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup 2017 continues tomorrow with South Africa back in action against the USA, and England taking on Australia.