Team USA were the dominant force in the annual International Arena Polo Test Match at Hickstead on Saturday (1 March), beating England by 21 goals to 17.
England had not lost in the International Test Match since 2008, but their unbeaten run was ended when faced with the might of 10-goaler Tommy Biddle and team mates Patrick Uretz (5) and Will Tankard (4).
Within the first few minutes of the game, the USA had scored three two-pointer goals, taking the score to 6-0 – and the visiting team made sure they maintained the lead throughout. It was Tommy Biddle, who holds arena polo’s highest handicap rating, who got the scoreboard off the mark – and the goals just get coming for the American player.
By half time, the score was 13-6 to the Americans, but any hope England had of catching up in the third chukka was quickly curtailed by another impressive goal by Biddle, and the Americans went on to finish the penultimate chukka on a score of 18-9.
But England was able to close the gap in the final chukka, with England captain and Britain’s highest rated arena polo player Chris Hyde (9) and his team repeatedly scoring to close the game at 21-17.
American team captain Tommy Biddle paid tribute to his team mates after the match. “Our team played phenomenal,” he said. “I was a bit worried going in as I was playing with two younger guys who hadn't played a lot at this level before but they were great. The other team was tough – Chris Hyde is an amazing player but my boys were after him the whole time. We knew Chris was a great stickman so we wanted to open the game up and make him have to chase us down. My team mates did a lot of work – I just happened to score a lot of goals.”
It was the first time that the USA has been victorious in the Test Match at the All England Polo Club. “It’s fantastic to be able to captain the US team and represent our country, and we’re the first US team to win the Bryan Morrison trophy,” added Biddle. “This is the best surface I have ever played on. Hickstead has the best arena in the world!”
As the visiting team, the USA players rode polo ponies supplied by various players, included AEPC Chairman John Bunn.
“We knew we were going to be up against it as we mounted the Americans very well,” said England captain Chris Hyde. “For them to score three two-pointers within the first few minutes turned the game on its head and meant we were playing catch up.”
The game was particularly special for Hickstead Test Match regular Hyde, as it saw the England debut of his teenage son Jack. “Jack is only 16 years old and it was a pleasure and privilege for me to play alongside my son, which I don’t think has happened before,” added Chris.
Alongside Jack and Chris Hyde, the England squad was completed by Pete Webb, who plays off a handicap of 7-goals.
AEPC Chairman John Bunn commented after the match: “The Americans came out all guns blazing, and they played fantastically. We’re really pleased with the turnout and were blessed with great weather.”
The opening match, the Hickstead 10 Goal Challenge, saw the Clogau Wales Polo Team (Ricky Cooper, Roddy Matthews and Richard Blake-Thomas) beat Team Hedonism Wines (Evgeny Chichvarkin, Royston Prisk and Eden Ormerod) by 12 goals to 9, making it a win for Wales on St David’s Day.
Photo © Tony Ramirez/www.imagesofpolo.com