The Netherlands just pipped the home side for team jumping gold at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy on Thursday afternoon.
The margin between them was just 1.25 penalties, and the in-form French team earned deafening cheers from a vocal audience.
The USA clinched the bronze medal, finishing on 16.72, their anchorwoman Beezie Madden and Cortes C once again producing the goods when it mattered and notching up a deciding clear round.
Germany nearly made it onto the podium, just 0.10 of a penalty separating them from the quartet from the United States.
Things didn’t go all the Dutch team’s way, however. Three of their team had four-fault rounds, with only their third in the ring, Jan Vrieling and VDL Baubalu, banking a clear, even if the horse did rub his way round to the finish.
Their first man into the arena, Jeroen Dubbeldam with Zenith SFN, made his first mistake of the entire contest at the orange oxer in the middle of the influential treble (7b), as did anchorman Gerco Schroder and Glock’s London NOP.
Maikel van de Vleuten and VDL Groep Verdi TN NOP took out the front rail of the last oxer.
“After our first two riders had made mistakes my heart went a little up and down,” said Dutch chef d’equipe Rob Ehrens. “But the boys were all fighting together and when you have a good spirit you can achieve a lot.”
Both Kevin Staut (Reveur De Hurtebise) and Penelope Leprevost (Flora De Mariposa) jumped clear for France, the latter pair surviving an anxious moment when they became disunited going into the treble, but the scopey chestnut mare managed to jump herself out of trouble.
Simon Delestre and Qlassic Bois Margot and Patrice Delaveau (Orient Express HDC) both notched up four faults which left France with the silver.
“It’s wonderful to win at home,” said Leprevost. “[Going into the arena] felt like entering a hot cauldron and I’m not sure we’ll see anything like that any time soon again.”
McLain Ward and Rothchild got the bronze-winning US team off to an expensive start when they were victims of Land Rover oxer ‘bogey’ at 2.
Kent Farrington and Voyeur accrued another four with a mistake at the rail over the water tray (10). Stylish Lucy Davis and her big jumping chestnut Barron looked to be on for a clear until the top rail on the red, while and blue vertical at 12 thudded to the floor.
US chef d’equipe Robert Ridland said: “It’s unbelievable how hard the competition is now. It’s even harder than it was in Kentucky four years ago.”
There were 12 clear rounds in total, including one from Christian Ahlmann and his London Olympic ride Codex One which helped to cement Germany’s fourth place. Favourites for a medal here the rest of their quartet — Marcus Ehning (Cornado NRW), Daniel Deusser (Cornet d’Amour) and Ludger Beerbaum (Chiara 222) — all notched up four-fault rounds to keep them off the podium this time.
The Brazilians finished fifth, their leading lights turning out to be Rodrigo Pessoa and Status, who were clear, as was Marlon Modolo Zanotelli, whose expert steering of Ad Clouwni, earned the pair a great penalty-free round, their second on the bounce after a clean performance in yesterday’s qualifier.
Sweden was sixth, their best combination being anchorman Rolf-Goran Bengtsson with Casall Ask who recorded a lovely clear round which left this stylish rider with just 0.34 penalties to carry through to the individual contest.
Bengtsson is in second on the individual leaderboard, just behind Beezie Madden with Cortes C and just in front of Dane Soren Pedersen (Tailormade Esperanza De Rebel), whose team has not made it through to this stage of the competition. Seventeen individuals jumped in the d’Ornano Stadium before the team action commenced over the same course.
Ireland finished seventh and Canada eighth, while the Ukraine and Columbia, in ninth and 10th respectively, looked largely outclassed over Frederic Cottier’s 13-fence course.
Ireland’s quartet of Darragh Kenny, Bertram Allen, Denis Lynch and Cameron Hanley moved up one place from their overnight position, but because Olympic host nation Brazil were ahead in the table, Ireland needed at least a sixth place to ensure qualification.
Nevertheless the top ten finish at Normandy was one of Ireland’s strongest performances this year, with just a single fence denying them a qualification place.
Though missing out on team medals, Denis Lynch (19th), Bertram Allen (20th) and Darragh Kenny (24th) all now qualify for the first round of the Individual Finals on Saturday at Caen.
Irish team manager Robert Splaine said: “We were one of the better teams here today and to finish one place out of the Olympic qualification zone was very disappointing. I’m gutted for the lads, as their effort was tremendous. Our year was planned around the world championships and sacrifices were made so that the best possible effort could be made at these championships. We fielded the best possible team which, but for a little hard luck yesterday, could have been challenging for a medal.
“Some of the performances were world class, as evidenced by our having three riders in the top thirty. The competition is intense at this level but we have riders well capable of competing with the best. We appreciate the generosity of the owners and the efforts of the riders. This level of support augurs well for the future.”
Ireland’s next opportunity to book a ticket to Rio will come at the European Jumping Championships at Aachen, Germany in 2015.
There is now a rest day for the Jumpers, with the individual competition commencing on Saturday.
Top 5 teams
1 Netherlands – 12.83
2 France – 14.08
3 USA – 16.72
4 Germany – 16.82
5 Brazil – 16.95
Top 5 individual standings
1 Beezie Madden (USA)/ Cortes C – 0.16
2 Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (SWE)/ Casall Ask – 0.34
3 Soren Pedersen (DEN)/ Tailormade Esperanza De Rebel – 3.49
4 Patrice Delaveau (FRA)/ Orient Express HDC – 4.08
5 Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA)/ Status SFN – 4.10