Solid team performance helps Ireland to stunning Aachen win

IRELAND won the Aachen Nations Cup in Germany yesterday afternoon — though they had to wait until the competition’s last rider knocked the last fence to claim victory.

In one of the closest fought contests ever, the team of Robert Splaine (Coolcorron Cool Diamond), Billy Twomey

(Luidam), Peter Charles (Pershing) and Kevin Babington (Carling King) held their nerve to win by two faults after Belgium’s Ludo Philippaerts (Parco) failed at the final obstacle.

Splaine, whose second round clear set the team on the road to victory, said no one could be singled out.

“It was a good team performance. Nobody had a bad day. Everybody contributed.

"There was some strong and often heated discussion as to what should be done, but the advice was right. Everybody was helping everyone else, and the competition was well-analysed, well thought out and well executed,” Splaine said.

The result leaves Ireland on 30.5 points in the Samsung Super League, half a point behind leaders France. They could do no better than fifth yesterday and will be looking over their shoulders anxiously going into the next round at Hickstead (July 25) as Ireland bid to continue their domination of Europe.

The tension ahead of yesterday’s leg of the series was already at a high pitch following the decision of the Aachen organisers to restrict the number of teams through to the second round to eight.

With the USA using a wildcard, and battling for points towards the normal nations cup series, it was possible one of the Super League teams could lose out and this was what happened when the Swedes ended round one in ninth position, netting just 0.5 Super League points.

The real surprise, however, were the Belgians, who were in the lead after round one on a zero score, with France second on five faults.

None of the Irish riders managed to come home without penalties as, instead, they played the percentage game with the clock, Charles and Babington picking up just one time fault each, while Twomey’s five faults with Luidam left them in third on a total of seven.

Splaine, who provided the discard of eight in round one with his stallion, led the way in round two with a superb clear, which was matched in turn by fellow Corkman Twomey.

When Charles four-faulted at the final element of the combination, the last fence on the course, it left Ireland on 11.

This could not be improved upon by Babington, who concluded with five faults, hitting the oxer at fence six and adding a time fault.

At this stage, the French challenge had dissipated and only Belgium, on a total of eight, could deny Ireland a repeat of their recent Swiss Super League win, as Germany and the US settled for a share of third place.

It was down to Philippaerts. Everything was going to plan, but the bogey last fence was not finished playing its part and, when his mount Parco did the damage, adding four to a single time fault, Irish eyes were smiling.

Chef d’Equipe Tommy Wade confirmed this: “I knew it would be hard and we didn’t really expect to win, so I’m very happy.”

Ireland have won at Aachen on only three previous occasions, the last time in 1995.

“We’ve got a lot of good riders and horses out there now, enough to field two top teams at any competition in the world,” he said, which was borne out by the fact that neither Trevor Coyle nor world champion Dermott Lennon were included in his squad.

Elsewhere in Germany, Irish pony riders Mark McAuley (Shalom Outlaw) and Anthony Condon (Mr Polar Bear) placed first and second respectively in the qualifier for today’s grand prix at Freudenberg.

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