Britain retained the Prince of Wales Trophy after one of the most extraordinary Samsung Nations Cup competitions ever seen at Hickstead.
Things looked bleak even before the competition when it was announced that Nick Skelton would have to change on to Russel after his intended ride, Arko, was found to have lungs full of mucus. However, Arko, who will be carrying British hopes at Athens, is expected to be fit in time to travel to Dublin in two weeks’ time.
At the halfway stage, the Irish led on four faults after clear rounds from Billy Twomey (Luidam) and Kevin Babington (Carling King). Britain was equal third, three fences in arrears, after Robert Smith jumped a fantastic clear, Richard had the final two fences down, two fences fell for Robert Whitaker, and Nick shocked the crowd by flying off into the middle of the triple bar after a spooky Russel stopped suddenly.
In round two, fortunes fluctuated dramatically. Robert and Mr Springfield produced the sole double clear of the competition and Richard also jumped a great clear on Luc. But things went awry when Qualite went lame after landing over the planks and Robert Whitaker was forced to retire.
But the other teams were collecting a hatful of faults and when Nick Skelton returned on Russel, Britain needed a clear to be guaranteed second place at worse. The spectators were then treated to one of the all-time great riding performances. The ultra-careful Russel was again incredibly spooky, but an inspired Nick kept him going round clear, although they did collect one time-penalty.
This left the Netherlands needing a clear to beat the home side by one fault and gain her first every Hickstead Nations Cup win. It was not to be. Wout Jan Van Der Schans and the Broere VDL Atlantic were in the water to hand Britain a historic victory.
“Mr Springfield never felt like having a fence. He was absolutely on song,” said a delighted Robert Smith, who won the earlier Osborne Refrigerators speed on Marius Claudius.
“The riders all told me that a clear could win it for us, but the truth is that I was more concerned about getting round without falling off again!” said Nick. “Russel wasn’t easy today but he does try to clear the fences.”
Chef d’equipe summed up his team’s performance in three words. “They were magnificent,” he said.