On February 10, an international Test-Match will be played at New Zealand’s Kihikihi Polo Club, located 160km south of Auckland. “This event for NZ Polo is the biggest single day of the season, with about 3500 people coming to watch,” share the organisation behind the Kihikihi International Day. “It is hosted and organised by the Kihikihi Polo Club on behalf of the NZ Polo Association. There is a curtain raiser game for up-and-coming young players followed by the International Test. This event has been going since 2000, and in the past, teams from Brasil, England, Australia, South Africa and Argentina have participated.”
Argentina confirmed their team formation at the beginning of January, and last weekend, the New Zealand Polo Association (NZPA) shared their team formation. “NZ can usually field a team of 24-27 goals, and we try to get a matching nation,” states the organisation. “Of course Argentina can get a much higher team rating but we like to challenge ourselves by playing the best whenever possible. We have invited Argentina because, if you want to get better as a playing nation then you need to play the best!”
From New Zealand, the locals highlight how their main airline has been operating a direct flight between Auckland and Buenos Aires for a while now, which much facilitates the journey to and from both countries.
One of the players representing the Argentine team will be 24 year old Paco O’Dwyer, who is currently 6-goals. O’Dwyer’s family has established a long relationship with polo in New Zealand. “Mickey [O’Dwyer] has always helped us in terms of players,” they share from New Zealand. Paco himself says: “Our relationship with the New Zealand polo scene was born because my father, who did not play polo, went to university in New Zealand. His best friend, Chris Jones, is very involved in polo over there. I have been travelling to New Zealand for the past eight years, from the age of sixteen, and I work with Chris Jones.”
In terms of the Kihikihi International Day, the organisation share: “Most years, some of the visiting team stay on and play in the NZ Open tournament the following week.” The Open is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the country, held every year at Auckland Polo Club. In New Zealand, polo is played, among others, in Auckland, Kihikihi and Mistery Creek, all which are in the North Island. “In the South Island there is not much polo,” they tell.
Women’s polo has also been growing steadily in the land of the ‘All Blacks’. “Ladies polo here is starting to get much better, and the number participating has increased annually. There is an International for them played the weekend prior to the Men at Cambridge Polo Club, which is just a few kilometres away from us,” they say. This year’s Women’s International will see the locals take on England, with the participation of 10 goal player Nina Clarkin.
Lastly, and perhaps most notably, New Zealand boast world class genetics in terms of horses, one which is top three or four in the world in terms of polo. “The horses here are as good as anywhere, including Argentina, and many have been exported to play all around the world,” state the NZPA. “Many of the Ellerston pony family lines have a strong NZ influence.” It is worth remembering that Pelon Stirling’s mare Zippy, a New Zealand thoroughbred, received the Lady Susan Townley Cup in the 2016 Argentine Open final.
Lastly, they add: “But it’s not just Zippy that has reached that level. There are several New Zealand mares playing the Open, and many have gone on to win prizes. Pelon has bought a lot, as has Lucas Monteverde. They get them from the races, and they are chosen by type. The horses that don’t work for the races are used for polo. Few are bred exclusively for polo.”
NEW ZEALAND: Kit Brooks 5, Craig Wilson 6, Tom Hunt 6, John Paul Clarkin 7. Total: 24. Reserve: Glenn Sherriff. Manager/coach: Simon Keyte.
ARGENTINA: Juan Martín Zubía 7, Santiago Loza 6, Genaro Ringa 6, Paco O’Dwyer 6. Total: 25. Coach: Diego Braun.