Polo stars battle the elements in beach spectacular
An estimated 2,500 spectators braved strong winds to watch some of England’s leading players put on a blistering display of beach polo at Cornwall’s Watergate Bay on Tuesday, 6th September.
The fifth edition of Veuve Clicquot Polo on the Beach saw the First Great Western team – led by an inspirational performance from England squad star James Harper – clinch victory over their rivals Joules in a closely-contested match.
Starting with a half goal handicap advantage, First Great Western trailed the Joules players for the first half of the match, before fighting back in the third and fourth chukkas to earn a deserved victory by 8 1/2 goals to 7.
First Great Western team captain Andy Burgess said: “It was a really tough, open flowing match, no holds barred stuff. We always say to each other, ‘Play it nicely, it’s a demonstration match’. But as soon as the ball goes in that’s it, all hell breaks loose.
“We were really pleased, every single player played to their handicap and above. It wasn’t easy, but in the end we were lucky with the weather – it was so bad this morning we thought we would never be able to play at all, and we ended up with an amazing sunset for the trophy presentation. And the fact that we won was a bonus.”
The Joules team – Tim Vaux, England squad player Jamie Le Hardy and Richard Blake Thomas – dominated in the first two chukkas, despite their opponents opening the scoring through a goal from James Harper. Tim Vaux and Richard Blake Thomas both scored a brace of goals as Joules took firm control of the match to lead by 4 goals to 1 1/2 at the end of the first period of play.
James Harper and Andrew Blake Thomas reduced the defecit for First Great Western, each scoring in the second chukka, with Blake Thomas cutting in a fine goal from a tight angle. Joules edged further ahead through a solo effort from Jamie Le Hardy, who brought the ball up the left hand side of the pitch towards the Hotel, guiding it calmly between the posts to keep his team ahead at half time by 5 goals to 3 1/2.
In one of polo’s traditions, spectators poured on to the beach during the interval to tread in the playing surface, while the players changed ponies and caught their breath.
The third chukka was end to end stuff from the outset. Some valiant defending by Jamie Le Hardy couldn’t prevent an overpowering performance from First Great Western, as first James Harper and then Andy Burgess took their team into the lead for the first time since the first chukka. And as the hooter sounded to indicate the final 30 seconds of play, Burgess scored again from long range to make it Joules 5, First Great Western 6 1/2 going into the final chukka.
With both teams sensing victory, it was First Great Western who took the initiative, scoring from the first move of the chukka. Joules then scored twice with both goals from Richard Blake Thomas to bring the scores to Joules 7, First Great Western 7 1/2.
Richard Blake Thomas then lost his mallet, and while he dismounted to retrieve it James Harper was given space to take the ball all the way up the field and score an uncontested goal moments before the hooter sounded for the end of the match.
Commentator Caspar West said: “It was an end to end battle in that final chukka, great work from both teams. Poor Richard Blake Thomas losing his stick at one point didn’t help Joules, but it was an absolutely fantastic effort from both teams, a real gladiatorial battle. I think the combination by First Great Western and their team play was the thing that managed to pull them through so all credit to them. An absolutely brilliant spectacle from everybody, great polo all round.”
As the players moved up on to The Hotel’s balcony for the trophy presentation, Rebecca Coode from Smith & Williamson presented a horse blanket for the Best Playing Pony to “Panina”, ridden by Andrew Blake Thomas. Chris Jones from sponsors HSBC presented the trophy for the Most Valuable Player to James Harper, who also received a kit bag from Images of Polo in recognition of his outstanding performance.
All that remained was for the First Great Western team to receive the Watergate Bay Trophy presented by Cloudy Bay from Romain Herbelot of Moet Hennessey, with James Harper lifting the cup to show the gathered spectators on the beach.
Speaking of his team-mate’s performance, Andy Burgess was full of praise for Harper: “James played an absolutely amazing game of polo. He’s been on fire all season, one of his best seasons ever and he really showed his handicap off on the beach today. He played some amazing shots in the wind, keeping the ball low. Just his control of the ball was amazing, really good.”