Oxford University Polo Club to Play University of London Polo Club in the Grand Final of the Metropolitan Intervarsity Polo 2015 – The London Challenge
Tianjin, China, 25 July 2015 – After four days, nine matches and 36 chukkas of action-packed varsity polo at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, the Grand Final line-up has been decided. In today’s two contrasting but equally entertaining semi-finals, Oxford overcame Cambridge by 5 goals to 3.5, and London thrashed Harvard by a score of 12 to 1.5. Oxford and London progress to the Grand Final tomorrow; Cambridge and Harvard will battle it out for third place. In today’s consolation game for fifth place, Stanford defeated Yale by 7 goals to 1.5.
Like all the games at this tournament, the semi-finals unfolded on the splendid new South Field at Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, its pristine playing surface a credit to the hardworking ground crews who have tended the turf day and night.
In the day’s opening semi-final on a hot and humid afternoon, fans lining the balconies and terraces of the magnificent South Field grandstand were treated to a unique rerun of the famous Varsity Polo Match, an annual contest between Oxford and Cambridge in the UK that draws thousands of spectators. The Varsity Polo Match has been taking place since 1878; in June this year, Oxford thumped Cambridge by 14 goals to 2 so revenge was very much on the minds of the Cambridge foursome.
In the saddle for Cambridge: Meike Van Vlaanderen, Lucy Jacobson, Clifton Yeo, and Evie Hampson. Their opponents Oxford comprised the talents of Amy Nizolek, Kasey Morris, Lawrence Wang and Louis Maddison. Cambridge began the game with a 1.5 goal head start to reflect the difference in handicap total.
First blood went to the light blue shirts of Cambridge, Clifton Yeo poking it between the posts form close range after two minutes of tense polo. Cambridge just about edged the attacking play in the first chukka, and at the final bell, Meike Van Vlaanderen got the goal her side had been pushing for to make it Cambridge 3.5, Oxford 0.
The navy shirts of Oxford needed to stamp some authority on this semi-final, and they did so courtesy of number four Louis Maddison, who showed excellent composure to thread the ball between Cambridge defenders at speed and run it between the posts early in the chukka. Lawrence Wang came close for Oxford just past the halfway stage, and then the match really started to open up, the ponies flying over the turf and the crowd treated to some titanic charges, fierce ride-offs and last-ditch defending. It was Oxford who broke the deadlock just before the bell, however, Lawrence Wang finishing off a move started by Luis Maddison. At half time the game was poised at 3.5 – 2 in favour of Cambridge.
It remained too close to call in the third chukka, until Oxford substitute Chris de Koning was fastest on to Lawrence Wang’s loose ball to slip it over the line and put his side within half a score of Cambridge. This served to ignite the Oxford side, and Louis Maddison scored soon after to put his team in the lead for the first time in the match; the score going into the final chukka, 4 – 3.5 in Oxford’s favour.
William Hsu came agonisingly close to scoring the start of the fourth, but she was unable to stretch Oxford’s lead. Kasey Morris, was, however, galloping in the ball after two and a half minutes to give Oxford some breathing room at 5 goals to 3.5. Cambridge battled on but were unable to turn things around, and will have to be content with the battle for third place tomorrow.
The second semi-final saw University of London Polo Club take on Harvard Polo Club. London went into the game having posted two convincing wins against Cambridge and Yale in their preliminary matches. Harvard had come unstuck against Oxford in their opening match, but secured progress to the later stages in a convincing win over Yale.
Going into battle for Harvard were Aemilia Phillips, Thomas Waite, JPaul Meyer and Marion Dierickx. In the saddle for London: James Cooper, Arthur Cole-Fontayn, Kristina Karailieva and Harold Hodges. Harvard started the match with a 1.5 goal handicap.
First blood went to Harold Hodges of London with a simple penalty two, and he was fastest away again after the restart, galloping in a turbo-charged goal all the way from the throw-in completely unmolested. Hodges was the star of the tournament so far was and this semi-final was proving no different. A player of real versatility, his defensive acumen was just as sharp as his attacking player. Hodges was first on to every Harvard clearance, pinning back the U.S. university side time and again, before charging away to score his third before the bell to make it 3 – 1.5 to London.
It was Arthur Cole-Fontayn’s chance to shine for London at the start of the second chukka, stepping on the gas to power in an excellent goal within a minute, and then scoring again at the other end seconds later. Harvard were in desperate need of inspiration, so up stepped J. Paul Meyer, steaming away toward goal but getting hooked out of it at the last second by London. James Cooper was in fine running for London as the chukka wore on, and Harold Hodges provided the finishing touch just before the bell to make it 6 – 1.5 to London at the halfway stage.
Arthur Cole-Fontayn was again the player to score first in the third chukka, stealing the ball from his opposite number to make it 7 – 1.5 to London. London’s Hodges and Cooper linked up nonchalantly midway through the chukka to make it 8, before Cooper added a ninth, striking a bouncing ball that flew up almost vertically into the air and between the posts. At the end of the third chukka, Harvard were in desperate straits, trailing London by 1.5 – 9.
It was a perfect ten for London after just 20 seconds of polo in the final chukka, a fabulous backhand by Hodges sending Kristina Karailieva through to score. James Cooper added his third of the match with a minute and a half left on the clock, and then the London number two had the crowd on their feet with an absolute belter of a strike seconds before the final bell, setting off on a victory gallop and tossing his stick into the air in triumph. London were through; the final score 12 – 1.5. Harvard will need to regroup and talk tactics for the third place contest with Cambridge tomorrow.
Earlier in the day, Stanford had taken on Yale in the battle to avoid sixth place. It had been a challenging preliminary stage for Stanford, coming up against two form teams of the tournament, Cambridge and London, in their opening matches. Against Yale they really hit their stride, however, the foursome of Laura Kurt, Shivani Torres, Eric Birdsall and Elizabeth Lake scoring five goals in the opening two chukkas to no reply, the score at the halfway stage 5 – 0.5 in Stanford’s favour.
The match continued to go Stanford’s way after the treading-in of the divots, with two more goals in the third chukka. But by way of consolation and to the cheers of the crowd, Yale finally got themselves on the scoreboard in the last period, the final score Stanford 7, Yale 1.5. All credit to Stanford, who improved on their sixth place finish in last year’s varsity tournament and their first at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club. Yale, the most successful university polo team in the US, will be disappointed with their sixth place finish, but the fans will look forward to their renewed challenge next year.