Poetry in Motion - Cartier Queen's Cup 2017

As the heat haze fluttered above the Queen’s ground at Guards Polo Club on Sunday, crowds of polo devotees gathered, Pimm’s in hand and in the blazing sun, to watch La Indiana battle it out with RH Polo for the prestigious Cartier Queen’s Cup. Those of us who had watched the subsidiary final between King Power Foxes and Sommelier earlier in the day knew we would be in for a treat, as the quality of the 3rd and 4th placed teams (King Power Foxes and Sommelier respectively) gave us a display of world-class polo that could only have been beaten by some of the greatest players the sport has ever seen.

At 3.00pm sharp, both teams took to the Queen’s Ground and paraded in front of the stands, before being individually introduced to cheers from the crowd. Much was made in the opening commentary of the different playing styles of La Indiana and RH Polo, with the former preferring an open, running game and RH Polo favouring a more aggressive fight for possession of the ball. Both sides gave us an exhibition of their tactics and it was fascinating to watch the play switch from one style to the other as the chukkas progressed. It might have been the British sense of fair play, or the renowned players on both teams, but it was encouraging to see both teams supported about equally. An appreciative crowd, cheering every piece of super play, really heightened the atmosphere, as every spectator who had braved the heat knew they were watching some of the world’s very best in action.

The line-up for the final was as follows:

La Indiana

1. Michael Bickford (1)

2. Nic Roldan (7)

3. Agustin (‘Tincho’) Merlos (8)

4. Luke Tomlinson (6)

RH Polo

1. Ben Soleimani (0)

2. Tomas Beresford (4)

3. Rodrigo de Andrade (8)

4. Adolfo Cambiaso (10)

Umpires: Peter Wright, Jason Dixon

The first chukka got underway with a game of cat and mouse between the two teams, each side probing the strengths and weaknesses of the other. Despite the fact that both teams must have analysed every available second of footage from this season, investigative play continued for some time, to the point where the umpire had to step in to get the game moving. Both teams fought for possession, gaining the ball about equally at this early point in the match. Somewhat predictably, Adolfo Cambiaso was the first to score, sending the ball soaring through the posts to take RH Polo into the lead.

With a big cheer going up from the crowd each time Cambiaso got the ball for RH Polo, La Indiana might have felt the pressure but as the minutes passed, they increasingly found the ball and the confidence to actively make the plays happen. Nic Roldan, on a super grey pony with rocket propelled legs was the standout combination here, gathering the crowd behind him as he hurtled towards the goal. Sadly he couldn't find the angle into the goal from his position but he laid down a challenge to RH Polo that La Indiana were not in the mood for taking prisoners, having been narrowly defeated last year and with a point to prove.

Heading on into the second chukka, Tommy Beresford built on an impressive start for RH Polo to come into his own. Cambiaso clearly thinks a lot of the young 21 year old, offering him the opportunity to shine by setting up a couple of lovely shots for him. Not that Beresford needed any encouragement to get into the thick of it, taking several lovely shots and stealing the ball away from an impossibly crowded scrum of La Indiana players. Before they had quite realised what was happening Beresford was away, with a fantastic goal to show for his hard work. On this form, it would be no surprise if the Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA) reconsidered his handicap. As the chukka went on it became clear that this was not a match where the ‘star’ player could afford to leave his team behind to go it alone. With so much quality on both sides, be it human or pony power, teamwork was key to

getting the results. RH Polo had really found their feet with their early successes and in desperation La Indiana were causing foul after foul as they struggled to wrest the ball from RH Polo’s clutches. That RH Polo were not further ahead at the end of the chukka was down to their errors rather than La Indiana’s tactics.

La Indiana remained on the back foot throughout the third chukka, appearing increasingly demoralised and desperate as RH Polo trapped them into playing a defensive game – the polar opposite of the tactic that has brought them so much success. Cambiaso gave the stands a masterful display of technique, scoring a penalty from the 60 yard marker by simply walking up to the ball and giving it a flick, yet sending it flying between the goalposts to delighted cheers. The fouls kept coming and RH Polo, invariably nominating Cambiaso to take the penalties, increased their lead 6 goals to 3 by the end of the chukka.

Once the crowds had resumed their seats after returning the field to pristine turf, and with Her Majesty in attendance, we got under way with the fourth chukka. The commentators could only speculate on what La Indiana’a team manager Ruki Bailleu had said in his team talk, but whatever magic words he uttered, La Indiana took to the pitch with a renewed zeal and dominated the play during the early part of the chukka. Scoring an incredible 4 goals in 5 minutes La Indiana were running rings around a shellshocked RH Polo, who were left reeling by the fast, running play of La Indiana. Tomlinson and Roldan worked beautifully together to set up the shots in front of an appreciative crowd, which culminated in a controversial goal being awarded to them despite Cambiaso’s vociferous protests.

By the fifth chukka the fire had been relit under RH Polo and both teams fought for possession, leading to frustratingly static play as, in attempts to snatch the ball away, all 8 players bunched together in scenes reminiscent of a throw in. Intervention from the umpires got things going again with goals coming from both teams, and RH Polo’s faith in Beresford was amply repaid with the young player successfully whipping the ball away from La Indiana on a number of occasions to set up more open plays, although by the end of the chukka La Indiana retained a one goal lead over RH Polo with the score standing 9-8.

The sixth chukka was a mixture of sublime moments tempered by minutes of frustration, for players and spectators alike. As the clock ran down, a number of near misses at goal by both teams heightened the tension and both sides seemed to have gone off the boil, although Beresford converted a lovely 30 yard penalty to even the score to nine goals apiece, at three minutes remaining. With a sudden-death seventh chukka in the offing, La Indiana’s last-ditch attempt to snatch the ball from RH Polo created a foul that will surely haunt the team for some time to come. Everyone at the Queen’s Ground excitedly held their breath as, in the final 30 seconds of the tournament, Cambiaso stepped forward to take the resulting penalty for RH Polo. Used as he is to extreme pressure, the moment must surely have weighed on Cambiaso’s mind as he looked to secure his 10th Queen’s Cup win, and yet he calmly slotted the winning goal through the posts like the superstar he is, to deafening cheers from the stands.

This was polo at its very best.

Most Valuable Player: Tomas Beresford

Best Playing Pony: Caraquenia (12year old chestnut mare, Adolfo Cambiaso’s ‘fourth favourite’)

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