No pressure as Ireland head for Rome showpiece

Ireland’s show jumping team manager Rodrigo Pessoa brings a five-member squad to Rome for this week’s Italian Nations Cup, but will not face the same pressure he experienced last week in France.

Unlike the French fixture, this week’s contest is not part of the nations cup league, the Italians having absented their home fixture from the series since last year, when Longines took over as leagues sponsors and the hosts had their own ideas on what was best for their annual showpiece.

There are, therefore, no league points at stake this weekend, but there is the prestige and the prize money and Pessoa is not using the occasion for experimentation, as is evident from the squad he named on Monday, which includes three of those he brought to France. The only debutant (under Pessoa) is Waterford rider Peter Moloney, who had a good spring campaign on the Sunshine Tour in Spain, twice claiming grand prix victories with Ornellaia, a mount he brings to this week’s affair.

Italy are going for a three-timer, having won their home event in the previous two years, and it promises to be a highly competitive contest, with Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland also involved. The French Nations Cup didn’t go as well as Pessoa would have liked, but it was still a reasonable afternoon’s work, with the team finishing on just nine faults, but having to settle for fourth.

Pessoa said:

We didn’t make many mistakes, but were just not good enough to win in the end

Certainly, winners Switzerland were outstanding, and the Belgian team that were in it up to the last rider showed just how formidable they have become over the past few seasons. A brilliant second round by the French hosts saw them topple Ireland out of third place and finish one fault better, which made that unfortunate time fault picked up by Shane Sweetnam seem very costly.

The Cork rider had been first into the arena and piloted Indra van de Oude Heihoef through a brilliant round of jumping, but missed the time allowed by 0.14 of a second.

“We can’t blame them for the time fault,” said Pessoa. “It’s always tough as first to go.” Sure enough, in the second round Sweetnam and his mount jumped clear again and were almost two seconds on the right side of the clock.

Paul O’Shea and Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu had one down in both rounds, while Darragh Kenny jumped clear with Balou du Reventon first time out, but had two down at the second attempt. Cian O’Connor’s first team outing with Irenice Horta saw the pair have one down in the first round and, by the time O’Connor’s second effort came, Ireland’s chance of winning had gone, but the clear round he produced was crucial in keeping the team in the top half of the standings at the finish.

Both O’Connor and Kenny bring the above mounts to the Rome contest, with O’Connor also including PSG Final and Kenny bringing Important de Muze, his star from Sunday’s third-place finish in the grand prix.

Mark McAuley, the reserve rider at the weekend, is included in the squad again.

Not having seen team action at the French venue, the Louth rider made the most of the individual classes, taking third-placings on Saturday with both Miebello in the Derby and Valentino Tuiliere in the Prix Atlantia, and adding to his haul with second spot in Sunday’s two-phase class, again with Miebello.

Anthony Condon and SFS Aristio complete Pessoa’s squad for Friday’s contest. The pairing were part of the team which finished third in the 2018 Nations Cup final in Barcelona and also secured an Irish victory at Hickstead last year, when nominated for the jump-off after Ireland and Britain had finished level, with the Waterford rider getting home faster than Holly Smith on Hearts Destiny.

Irish squad development was exercised in fine style at the Nations Cup of Norway on Friday, when former Army rider Shane Carey, now Scandinavian-based, took charge of an experimental line-up, which outgunned 13 other nations. The team of Jenny Rankin (Bennys Legacy), Aidan Kileen (Fair Play), Susan Fitzpatrick (Fellow Castlefield) and Ger O’Neill (Castlefield Vegas) finished on a team total of 10 faults, three better than runners-up Poland and four ahead of home nation Norway.

“I have no doubt that some of this team will make the breakthrough to the first team in the near future,” said Carey.

All four are in the squad for the Nations Cup of Denmark at Uggerhaine this weekend, along with Sofie Slattery (Valentine du Bois Pinchet). Taylor Vard takes charge for the Danish contest.

On the subject of future stars, while the British had a poor day at the French Nations Cup, placing seventh on 28 faults, manager Di Lampard still had something to be pleased about: A fantastic debut at five-star level for young rider Amy Inglis, who added only a single time fault to the British total on Wishes. Proving it wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan, the pair went double-clear in Sunday’s Grand Prix to claim fourth place.

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