Summer had finally arrived for the Audi International held on immaculate-looking Smiths Lawn at the Guards Polo Club, Windsor on Sunday 22 July. Once again the sun shone in favour of the England team who this year met a youthful and talented South African side. England captain Luke Tomlinson, also crowned most valuable player, lifted the Coronation Cup in celebration of a victory that culminated in a nail biting final chukka.

A much smaller, some might say more civilised, affair marked Audi’s first year as the event’s sponsor (formally the Cartier International). Instead the game was watched with genuine interest by a more traditional polo crowd: spectators thrilled to see a close contest, and even more delighted to be attending an outdoor event that wasn’t marred by driving rain and accompanying strong winds, something that has become all too familiar this summer.

Captain Luke Tomlinson (foreground) and Malcolm Borwick (background)

South Africa put together the youngest team ever to play for the Coronation Cup. The visiting side, captained by Nachi du Plessis (23), all under the age of 25, proved a good match for the more experienced (and proven) English combination of four ’30-something’ year olds.

Starting with a one goal advantage (England had a total handicap of 26 goals, the South Africans only 25), it was instantly apparent the two sides were closely matched, but it was England who came out stronger in the first half of the game. Quick work by England’s James Beim and solid penalty conversions by Luke Tomlinson meant England had soon overturned the South African head start.

England’s Malcolm Borwick wowed the crowd with a goal struck from 80 yards out that sailed straight between the posts, only to be met moments later by Nachi du Plessis’ determined goal: a bullet-like shot that whistled past his team mates bringing the scores to a close 5-3 (in England’s favour) at half time.

The fourth chukka was when South Africa started to really showcase their young talent. Perhaps the wise words of their coach Buster McKenzie spurred on the team that included the game’s youngest player, his son 19-year-old Chris McKenzie. And with a confident penalty at the start of the second half, South Africa climbed back into the game.

In the 5th chukka South Africa’s Tom de Bruin was unstoppable on a long legged and speedy pony scoring an excellent field goal to make the score even at 7 goals a piece

A penalty for England was followed by arguably the best worked goal of the game when Nachi du Plessi calmly brought the ball forward from his back line before accelerating past both Tomlinson brothers, firing the ball towards the England goal mouth and allowing two of his team mates the opportunity to score the equalizer. Tom de Bruin’s first attempt hit the goal post but Nachi’s brother Jean was on hand to knock the ball over the goal line and make the score 8 all heading into the last two minutes of the game. Cheers erupted along with hoots from a vuvuzela from the South African supporters as the tension mounted.

 A South African groom

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The game finished with a battle close to the South African goal mouth that ensued after Beim missed a golden opportunity with a clear run to goal. After a second failed attempt at goal by Beim, South Africa earned a hit in that was unfortunately squandered when Tom de Bruin’s pass went straight to the England Captain. After a tussle on the boards, a long hit from Malcolm Borwick that travelled parallel to the back line, allowed Beim to make amends by tapping the ball through the posts to make it a 9-8 victory to the England seconds before the final whistle.
 
A third consecutive win for the home side saw them lift the magnificent Coronation Cup making this a definite winning streak for England at this event having beaten Brazil in 2011 and New Zealand in 2010.

The England team with the Coronation Cup

Best playing pony went to James Beim’s ‘Yacht’. James said he was thrilled at the prize for his favorite pony, but perhaps even more so for the recognition of his groom’s hard work: much effort goes into keeping the ponies at the top of their game.

The match that was played earlier in the day saw a How To Spend It.Com Hurlingham (Young England) team face an Audi Prince of Wales (Young Commonwealth) side. This year they battled it out for a newly commissioned bronze leopard trophy to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. As with the afternoon match it was the English team who walked away the winners with a convincing win: 6-3 ½.

Teams

Audi England: James Beim (7); Mark Tomlinson (6); Luke Tomlinson (7); Malcolm Borwick (6). Equus & Co South Africa: Chris Mackenzie (5); Jean du Plessis (6); Tom de Bruin (6); Ignus du Plessis (8).

How To Spend It.Com Hurlingham (Young England): Jack Richardson (4); Max Charlton (5); George Meyrick (5); Richard Le Poer (5).

Audi Prince of Wales (Young Commonwealth): Oliver Cudmore (4); Tom Hunt (5); Dirk Gould (5); Jack Archibald (4).

Images: David Miller / Horse & Hound Magazine