By Alex Webbe
The United States used speed, quickness and power in overpowering a visiting English arena polo team 15-9 in the prestigious John R. Townsend International Challenge Cup recently played at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California Saturday night, March 26th.
On a chilly night in the desert with winds blowing, over 1,000 brave souls watched as the United States team methodically took apart their English counterparts in the 2011 John R. Townsend International Challenge Cup and sent them packing after four action-packed chukkers of play. “I’m from California,” said Poway native Shane Rice (7). “I want to make a good showing of myself in front of neighbors and friends.”
The US team wasted little time in reminding the English that the game of arena polo was created in the United States back in 1876 with John Gobin (6) bookending a scoring effort by team captain Tommy Biddle (9) for an early 3-0 lead.
“We really didn’t know what to expect,” said Biddle. “We had a practice with them two days earlier, but we were really just getting familiar with the horses while they were getting used to our rules.”
England salvaged some pride by picking up goals from Ryan Pemble (6) and Sebastian Dawnay (7) to close out the chukker with the United States holding a 3-2 lead.
England gave up a goal on a Penalty 1, and Biddle scored his second goal f the game to put the US on the winning side of a 5-2 score. Pemble scored to make it 5-3, and then Gobin and Dawnay exchanged goals.
England trailed 6-4 when Gobin added two more goals to the US total. Chris Hyde (9) scored the final goal of the chukker, but at the end of the first half the US team held an 8-5 advantage over England.
“We thought John (Gobin) was a little slow,” offered US alternate and coach, Billy Sheldon, “but he was scoring so many goals we thought we’d just leave him alone.”
The US strategy didn’t change for the second half.
“We were just going to hit and run,” said Biddle. “We were going to drive the ball right down their throats.”
Rice scored the first two goals of the second half, and Gobin added his sixth goal of the contest to make it 11-5 before England could respond. For the second consecutive chukker, Hyde scored the final goal of the period with the United States leading by five goals, 11-6.
“The English play by different rules in their country,” said Joe Henderson, only the third player in the history of arena polo to be rated at the maximum 10-goals. They (English) tried to slow the game down, I think,” he said. “They (English) were technically correct in their play, but it wasn’t as much fun to watch as the wide open style that the US team played.”
Biddle opened the fourth and final chukker with a pair of goals before Hyde and Dawney could respond with single goals. Rice scored his third goal of the game to make it 14-8, USA. Dawnay scored for the fourth time in the game to cut the lead to 14-9 before capped for a 15-9 final score and US victory.
“This was very important to us,” said Biddle. “We really wanted this win,” he smiled. “It was a great win, and a great team.”
Note: More photos and in-depth story to follow soon.