It was a clear crisp morning, there was a cool breeze in the air, and the distant mountains were silhouetted against the winter Terai skies. The sun was out early and the polo field was set for a day of close finals tussles – and it really was anyone’s game!
The Pukka Chukkas and Rusty Kukris began play on the fringe of Bardia National Park, contesting 3rd and 4th position in the WEPA Quaiche. Michael Eaton set the attacking pace of the Pukka Chukka’s beginning the scoring early in the piece. Simon Race was back in the game after sitting out the opening matches due to injury. His staunch midfield attack paved the way for Tom Fontaine to score the Chukka’s second. There were impressive displays of ball control by both teams, Tristan Forster in particular putting up great defence for the Kukris. The match remained tight in the second half, the Chukkas tactic to play a slow game in their attacking end to prevent the Kukris from scoring. Tom Fontaine cleared the ball down the sideline, capitalizing on his own break through to score the last goal of the game and secure the Pukka Chukkas 3rd place in the WEPA Quaiche.
The big hitters of elephant polo took to the field for the 3rd/4th place play off in the WEPA Cup. An exciting game was immediately underway between the Tiger Tops Tuskers and defending champions, EFG Switzerland. It was messy in the middle early on as both teams scrambled for possession. Sangjay Choegyal met Kristjan Edward’s breaks with well-timed defence. but Peter Prentice found a gap, smashing it down the field for Edward’s first goal, closely followed by his second. Sangjay managed late possession for EFG Switzerland’s first real attempt at goal, to bring the score to 7-4 at half time.
It was a slow start to the second half, Robert Mehm working hard with Nigel Lea to keep the ball in EFG Switzerland’s attacking half. But they couldn’t get passed veteran goalie, Peter Prentice. Unrelenting defence by the Tuskers frustrated the team in red who struggled to get the ball into the D. Lea found a gap late in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to catch the Tuskers. The home team secured 3rd place in the WEPA Cup, dethroning the two time World Champions, EFG Switzerland.
As the Gengis Khan’s and Tigresses’ Polo prepared for the WEPA Championship game, the bicycle polo final was contested between the EFG/Tuskers and Pukka Chukkas. Each of the eight bicycle polo teams competing over the last three days raised funds for the prevention of elephant tuberculosis. Following the Pukka Chukkas victory in extra time, the bikes were donated to the local community.
Then it was time, the World Elephant Polo Championship game ushered in by a piper who marched the teams to the centre of the filed. The handicap system placed the Tigresses’ ahead four goals to two as the first whistle sounded. Chuka, the dynamic attacking number three for the Mongolians, soon had possession but the Tigresses’ response of solid and dogged defence unnerved the visiting team, Chuka making three early failed attempts at goal. However he soon recovered to score two successive goals, leveling the game at four a piece.
Sam Prentice worked hard in defence, the elephants kicking up dust as the ball remained in the midfield. A strong hit from the back line by the Tigresses’ captain, Stine Edwards, sent the ball flying to the top of their D. Lucy Monro tussled it out with the Mongolians number one, who was penalized for hooking. Sam Prentice, the Tigresses’ number one goal scorer, easily made the shot, taking the ladies to a 5-4 lead. Again, despite tenacious defence, a slight moment of confusion at the top of the D left Chuka with an open goal. He scored again in the final seconds of the opening half to give the Mongolians a one-goal lead heading into the second.
The thrilling next ten minutes of WEPA final began with swift attacking play by the Gengis Khan. The Tigresees’ could not convert another penalty shot, leaving the field open for Chuka to score. It was not long after the restart that Chuka was again on the attack, tapping the ball across the line taking the score to 8-5. While Dochchen toyed with the ball in the middle of the field, Lucy and Stine continued defending till the final whistle. In this low scoring final, it was a great display of elephant polo sportsmanship by the Tigrsses’, limiting the strong Chinggis Khaan to a three goal victory.
The last match of the World Elephant Polo Championships was the final of the WEPA Quaiche. Both teams, the Afghanifants and Mel’s Angels, were relatively new to the sport of elephant polo, but they came to the game with infectious enthusiasm and skill that made it an exciting match to watch. Rebekha Bell, captain of the Afghanifants was in control for most of the match scoring the first two goals, dodging spirited defence from Gwenni Barrett. It remained that way for much of the game, although Marko Nicols-Marcy put the Angel’s on the board in second half, bring the score within one. A late goal from Amy Woodrow secured a 5-3 victory to the Afghanifants.