Ireland clinched the opening leg of the FEI Nations Cup in La Baule in a nail-biting competition that went right to the wire.

The Irish quartet of Billy Twomey (Romanov), Cian O’Connor (Larkhill Cruiser), Cameron Handley (VDL Southwind) and Shane Sweetman (Amaretto Darco) all delivered to their best ability to finish with a two-fault advantage over second-placed Belgium.

Germany had to settle for third spot in the eight-nation clash.

Britain was lying in equal second with Ireland at the halfway stage, just behind Belgium, but slipped to fourth in the final reckoning.

David McPherson’s grey, Chamberlain Z, was eliminated in the treble combination after frightening himself by taking off too far away from the second element, while Nick Skelton (Carlo), Robert Smith (Talan) and Peter Charles (Murka’s Nevada VI) all had a rail down apiece.

Ireland’s Billy Twomey, who lowered one rail in each round, said: “This was my horse’s first Nations Cup, so I’m really pleased.

“Cameron’s clear in the first round kept us in the shake-up and Cian’s second-round clear helped us to clinch it.”

Irish chef d’equipe Robert Splaine added: “This is a very proud day for Ireland.”

France, the host side and defending series champions, failed to impress, finishing second-last.