Equestrianism: Skelton overcomes back pain to inspire vital British victory

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The Independent Online

Great britain gained their most significant team victory since winning at Aachen in 2000 when they triumphed over Ireland and France in yesterday's Samsung Super League Nations Cup at the Royal International Horse Show. Derek Ricketts, the team manager, could not have asked for a more heartening result as he prepares to select the British quartet for next month's European Show Jumping Championships at Donaueschingen, in Germany, where they have a final chance to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Games.

Britain had made a good start with splendid clear rounds from Nick Skelton on Arko III, Richard Davenport on Luc and Robert Smith on Mr Springfield, which left them in the lead at half-time. The only first-round error came from Scott Smith, whose four faults on Cabri d'Elle was discarded.

Though few people in the stands would have been aware of it, Skelton was in serious pain after cricking his back in a competition yesterday morning. He was nevertheless determined to prove that his faith in Arko's talent was not misplaced so, having dosed himself with painkillers, he jumped the first of two wonderful clear rounds. It was mainly because of this stallion that Skelton, who had given up the sport after breaking his neck, came out of retirement last year.

The only other double clear rounds were achieved by Cian O'Connor for Ireland, on Waterford Crystal, and Thursday's British Grand Prix winner, the Frenchman Reynald Angot, on Tlaloc. A clear second round from either Scott Smith or Richard Davenport could have ensured Britain's victory, but both had a single error. It was therefore not until Peter Charles and Michel Robert (the last riders to go for Ireland and France, respectively) made single errors at the end of the course that the issue was settled in Britain's favour.

Robert Smith, who was warming up for what could have been the key round of the contest on Mr Springfield, did not need to jump again.

This was the Britain's first victory here since completing a hat-trick in 1997. It was also their first win in the Super League series which began this year. Though France and Ireland remain ahead on Super League points, Britain moved ahead of Germany - and closer to the two leaders - to hold third place on the standings

Belgium, whose team included three of the four riders who had finished a close second to Ireland in Aachen, will hope to forget this contest having withdrawn after their first two team members were eliminated for refusals.

Royal International Horse Show: (Hickstead, Sussex): Samsung Super League Nations Cup: 1 Great Britain 8 faults; 2= Ireland and France 12; 4 Netherlands 16; 5= Sweden and Germany 32; 7 Italy 36. GB scores: Arko III (N Skelton) 0,0; Cabri d'Elle (S Smith) 4,4; Luc (R Davenport) 0,4; Mr Springfield (R Smith) 0,-. Standings in Super League: 1 France 37pts; 2 Ireland 36.5; 3 Great Britain 26. Osborne Refrigerators International Stakes: 1 Gelvin Clover (C McMahon, Irl) clear, 67.33sec; 2 Cushty (J Renwick, GB) clear, 69.39; 3 Peace Train (N Dello Joio, US) clear, 70.33.