The dragon proved mightier than the lion today at China’s magnificent Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, as Hong Kong China vanquished England to be crowned champions of the Snow Polo World Cup 2016.
In four fiery chukkas of polo action, the Hong Kong China trio of Henry Fisher, James Harper and Matias Vial were too hot for Alastair Paterson, George Meyrick and Jack Richardson of England to handle, winning by five goals to four.
Today’s final was a repeat of the 2014 Snow Polo World Cup final match-up, in which England narrowly triumphed 6 – 5, and Jack Richardson was awarded the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. This time, however, that honour belonged to Hong Kong China’s James Harper, who was inspirational in the home side’s victory.
Glorious winter sunshine made the snow-covered South Field gleam like the crystal chandeliers of the Metropolitan Polo Club Hotel, as umpire Nicolas Scortichini got the 2016 Snow Polo World Cup grand final underway.
Alastair Paterson of England was first to score, connecting sweetly with a nearside backhand some distance from goal, the ball bobbling all the way in unimpeded. It was 2 – 0 to the white jerseys a moment later, as Jack Richardson nudged in a technical penalty. Another penalty by Richardson, this one a 30-yard thunderbolt, made it three for the visitors halfway through the chukka, with Hong Kong China desperate to get a hold on the game. Home team frustrations bubbled over at the boards in a snarling clash that saw George Meyrick’s horse down but unhurt. Eventually, Hong Kong number three Matias Vial settled his team’s nerves, running in a smart goal with thirty seconds left to make it 3 – 1 in favour of England.
Spectators were witnessing two contests unfolding simultaneously on the South Field: England versus Hong Kong and Jack Richardson versus Matias Vial. Vial looked to be getting the better of his opposite number though, the Hong Kong China star setting up James Harper to close the gap to a single score. Another penalty opportunity for Hong Kong allowed Harper to thwack in another and level the game at 3 – 3 going into half time.
Hong Kong China looked sharpest again after the restart, the red jerseys winning a penalty but James Harper unable to steer it home. Then it was Vial’s turn to hit in from the spot, but he too couldn’t find the accuracy. England’s George Meyrick sought to capitalize on Hong Kong China’s profligacy, galloping in from the boards and showing nimble stick and ball, but his final shot was wayward. Matias Vial got the chance to make up for his earlier penalty miss at the three minute mark and this time the Chilean national made no mistake, thumping it home to make it 4 – 3. But clever play by England’s Jack Richardson got his side right back in it, as he put on the brakes in front of goal and invited a defensive infringement, tapping in the resultant penalty to make it 4 – 4 going into the final chukka.
Hong Kong China set up camp in front of the English goal for the first minute and a half of the chukka, but the decisive final shot eluded them. It took a wonderful run by James Harper, charging along the boards in front of the grandstand, keeping control of the ball and galloping on goal to win a penalty, which Vial slotted home, to make it advantage Hong Kong China. Time was running out for England, but each time they ventured forwards, Vial was there to tidy up. Try as they might, England couldn’t find the goal to send the game into extra time, and at the final bell, Hong Kong China players, staff and fans saluted a deserved home victory, five goals to four.
In the post-match press conference, Most Valuable Player James Harper admitted that Hong Kong China had peaked at just the right time. “We didn’t play well against Argentina, had a tough semi-final against Chile, and that got us ready for the game today.”
The Hong Kong China number two praised the “awesome horses and organization”, adding: “There really aren’t many places in the world that can host a tournament like this; it’s a massive effort, so well done to the Metropolitan Polo Club.”
Hong Kong China’s Henry Fisher revealed that Tianjin’s unusually cold winter had been a challenge for players and ponies, adding that in a pre-tournament exhibition game on the South Field last Saturday, the temperature had dropped to – 16, with a -25 wind-chill factor, which was reckoned to be a new record low temperature for a snow polo international.
In a dramatic Subsidiary Final, Chile fought back against Argentina to win the battle for third place. The game was poised at seven goals each in the final chukka, and with seconds left on the clock, Alejandro Vial galloped clear and won a penalty, which he patted in to claim a hard-fought victory, 8 – 7.
During the closing awards ceremony, as is the tradition in the sport of polo, the Best Pony award went to Horqetado, ridden by James Harper of Hong Kong China.