Former champions and rivals Hong Kong China and England both recorded victories in the opening day of the Snow Polo World Cup 2016 today, as the world’s sexiest sport on snow returned to China’s Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club for the fifth year in a row.
The freshly laid snow was as smooth as as a wolf’s pelt at the sun-soaked South Field, but the polo was fast and fierce as the tournament snarled into life. In the opening contest, local favourites Hong Kong China clashed with cold-weather veterans Canada. Two-time Fortune Heights Snow Polo world champions, Hong Kong China were keen to make amends for last year’s early exit against eventual champions Brazil. The Canadians, meanwhile, were looking to improve on a strong run that took them to the quarterfinals in 2015.
A notable absentee for this tournament was their repressible John Fisher, Hong Kong China veteran, fan favourite and Director of Stable Operations at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Cub. He was forced to watch the action on crutches following a practice injury; his brother Henry filling in at number one position, alongside James Harper and Matias Vial. For Canada: Derek Sifton, Robert Stenzel and Scott Weir.
Canada were first to find their rhythm in a choppy opening chukka, Derek Sifton and Scott Weir both snapping off shots that pulled narrowly wide of the post. The momentum stayed with Canada however, and a barn-storming run from Rob Stenzel resulted n the tournament’s opening goal, the Canadian number two galloping two-thirds of the field to bundle the ball between the posts.
Hong Kong China woke from their snowy stupor in the second to stamp their authority on the match, Henry Fisher adding the finish to a sustained team attack. Fisher scored again a moment later, snapping on to a loose ball in acres of space, before trotting it cheekily over the line to put his side ahead. Hong Kong China’s Matias Vial then made it three from the penalty spot, but Rob Stenzel pulled back a penalty goal of his own, the score 3 – 2 at the halfway stage.
Matias Vial quickly made it 4-2 after the restart with a sweetly struck backhand, and all of a suddenit was five, Henry Fisher getting his third of the match. Canada looked to have no answer to Hong Kong China’s supremacy, Fisher striking again to make it 6 – 2. A beautiful tight-angled neck shot by James Harper followed soon after, and a clever snatch-and-grab by Matias Vial on Canada’s Stenzelmade it eight for the home side.
The final chukka remained all Hong Kong China. Matias Vial smashed one home after two minutes; then it was James Harper’s turn, with Henry Fisher adding two more before the closing bell to no reply. The final score, 12 goals to 2; Hong Kong China have set out their title-winning ambitions, while Canada will have to dust themselves off and take it one match at a time.
England took on Chile in the second match-up of opening day. For all her royal polo pedigree, England had a stinker of a tournament last year, going home in the early stages, with Chile faring a little better. Jack Richardson, star of the 2014 title-winning snow polo side and tournament MVP, was the only survivor from last year’s damp squib, joined by George Meyrick, one of the losing finalists for England here on grass at the 2014 Fortune Heights Super Nations Cup, and Alastair Paterson at number one. They faced a dangerous Chilean trio of Francisco Martinez, Ignacio Vial and Alejandro Vial.
England claimed first blood in the opening chukka, slotting in off the stick of Alastair Paterson after two minutes. Chile evened up the odds from the penalty spot soon after courtesy of Alejandro Vial, and it remained 1 – 1 at the bell.
The second chukka continued in kind, both teams pushing and probing but neither able to land a decisive blow. Then, an inspired passage of play by England led to Jack Richardson muscling through the Chilean defence to score. With that, the game finally opened up, Chile coming close with an excellent passage of attacking play. But at half time the score remained 2 – 1 to England, both sides perfectly matched.
Two minutes into the third chukka, Chilean pressure led to the red jerseys winning a penalty, Ignacio Vial rolling it in calmly to make it all square. It was end-to-end polo as the chukka wore on, both sides coming agonisingly close, but neither able to break the deadlock.
With everything at stake in the final chukka, England and Chile went hell for leather in a blizzard of snow and hooves. It was Chile that seized the advantage, Alejandro Vial finding space to sneak in a goal. But England answered emphatically, Alastair Paterson scoring off Jack Richardson’s powerful charge along the boards to make it three goals a-piece after three minutes. Then up trotted the experienced Richardson, dribbling the ball from the back and skilfully retaining possession to muscle in England’s fourth. Chile won themselves a last gasp penalty with 15 seconds left on the clock, but it wasn’t to be, Alejandro Vial wishing the snow would swallow him as he put his penalty wide to hand England the match, 4 – 3.
The Snow Polo World Cup 2016 continues tomorrow, with England hoping to carry their positive momentum over against France, and Argentina facing the free-scoring trio of Hong Kong China.