Polo: Polo on guard against England's demise: Alyson Rudd rides the euphoria of a resounding victory

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HISTORIC, poignant even, but South Africa's return from the sporting wilderness has stung many an Englishman. But not those present at Guards' Polo Club, Windsor, yesterday where England trampled South Africa into the turf in the Coronation Cup - the highlight of the Cartier International Polo day.

Polo is not likely to become a compulsory sport in schools and few debate whether our players would be more skilful if coached more sympathetically. But at least England can excel at the sport, and it does have its followers. During the third chukka a horse stumbled and fell awkwardly. There were gasps, genuine gasps, of concern and the second loudest cheer of the day when the animal finally stood up. A reminder that yesterday's international was being watched by real pony, riding and polo enthusiasts. The reminder was necessary. The event is dominated by 'glamour'. Most of the seats were reserved for Cartier guests. Outsiders leaned on the railings - some strained to catch sight of Rod Stewart, Mandy Smith or even Will Carling. Yesterday, England's rugby captain ceased to be a sportsman and became one of the celebrities listed on a liberally distributed handout.

Polo attracts the rich and famous because it is exclusive. Talent for the national side does not spring from the back streets of Macclesfield. The England team comprised third-generation polo player James Lucas, Millfield School old boy Julian Daniels, Singapore-educated Adrian Wade and Lord Charles Beresford, son of the Marquis of Waterford.

Polo is, incidentally, also biased in favour of right-handers. It is forbidden to hold your mallet in your left hand. One young polo player and enthusiast laughed when asked about left- handers' problems: 'I've never seen any left-handers play.'

Yesterday an England team chosen for its youth and relative inexperience in order to compensate for South Africa's 22- goal handicap, overwhelmed the men in green and gold. At half- time, with England leading 6-0, bets were being taken on whether the unconvincing South Africans would score at all.

The commentator, relayed around the field by loudspeaker, was forced to feign excitement when South Africa managed to reach the middle of the field. But lest the England team felt superior, they had to suffer the indignity of commentary such as: 'It's Wade for England, it's Wade for England, he's through, he's got an open goal. . . and he's missed it.' Not even Geoff Thomas had to endure that.

South Africa had their moments and Clive Hill, from Gingindlovu, playing back, pulled off some daring defensive strokes. The loudest cheer of the day came when South Africa broke their duck in the last chukka. The final score was 11-1.

In ancient times the polo ball represented the sun. Superstitious farmers and gardeners would have preferred an England defeat. Superstitious cricket fans might prefer Smith's Lawn, Windsor, to Lord's.

(Photograph omitted)