Team Astra takes Inspired final

We enjoyed an excellent start to 2022 with the Inspired Arena Polo Masters 

09 01 22 384 (Large)

After a nervous wait for an update on covid protocols from Boris Johnson, the fifth Inspired Arena Polo Masters (8-9 January) finally got the green light to go ahead.

Having missed last year's fixture due to the pandemic, it was wonderful to welcome back the players and supporters for this popular annual tournament held at the All England Polo Club, Hickstead.

Four well-matched teams took to the arena to battle it out for this year's trophy. Simon Arber returned with his son Joe and professional player Tom Morley for Team Astra; Ana Escobedo was back with her usual Mexican spice playing with arena specialist Jonny Good and Guards Polo Academy’s Ebe Sievwright for Team Inspired; and organiser John Bunn’s 2020 winning team Team Playnation returned with Hickstead polo manager Niall Donnelly and Charlie Wooldridge of 12 Oaks fame – all three teams have played every year since the tournament’s inception. This year saw a new team join the fold with Welsh team captain Ricky Cooper, professional player Jack Hyde and Royston Prisk for Team Bell Fruits Games.

Saturday’s games were slightly dampened by what can only be described as biblical rain, but Hickstead’s arena held up well and all games were completed on schedule. The first game ended with a convincing victory for the Arbers and Team Astra against Ricky Cooper’s Team Bell Fruits Games.

The second game was a much tighter affair, with the lead changing hands regularly throughout the four chukkas. Despite a late comeback, an early missed penalty and goal scoring opportunities from John Bunn’s Playnation Team, coupled with some stunning long-range goals from Jonny Good, led to Ana’s team Inspired sneaking into the final by the narrowest of margins, winning 14 goals to 13.

Saturday night’s celebrations – and drowning of sorrows – continued late into the night, but thankfully Sunday saw the Sussex sun return and the beautiful weather was gratefully appreciated after the previous day’s monsoon. The first game was the subsidiary final between Playnation and Bell Fruit Games, with John’s team running out the winners after a fast-flowing game with both teams scoring freely. John even had the chance to give his other team mates a quick penalty lesson, almost decapitating Jack Hyde with a 25-yard 2 pointer.   

The hotly-anticipated final started a little cautiously, with teams testing each other, but it soon went up a gear in the third minute, just before the first pony change with Johnny Good clearing the ball out of defence with a strong header after which he then charged up the arena forcing a penalty goal in favour of Team Inspired. After the pony change, it was Morley’s turn to showcase some outstanding play as he ran the ball end to end with the first goal for Simon Arber’s team. Just before the chukka bell, Jonny Good scored a great back hander leaving the scores even going into the second chukka. 

The match then exploded into life with outstanding play by both teams. Jonny Good scored early in the second to put Ana’s team back in the lead, but with some great team play from Joe and Morley the scores were quickly back level after a fantastic back hand. A couple of quick goals on the rebound led to the first half finishing with a great back hand by Good and a lead of 5-4.  

Chukka three saw Good missing a 2 pointer by mere millimetres, and the father and son Arber combo produced 5 goals in 2min, both nailing 2 pointers. Ana produced a great 2 pointer of her own to drag back the scores to 14-11, but with Joe Arber playing a fantastic game it was too much of a mountain to climb and Morley putting the final nail in the coffin with a 60-yard goal resulting in Team Astra running out deserved winners 19-12.

The Inspired Arena Polo Masters is the brainchild of AEPC chairman John Bunn and Peter Davies, MD of Inspired Essential Entertainment, and at the completion of the tournament John expressed his sincere thanks to the sponsors for making the weekend such a success. As well as two superb days of polo, it was a hugely social occasion and a highlight of the winter polo season, with a champagne reception and dinner in Hickstead’s Beethoven Suite on the Friday night, a weekend stay in the Exclusive Hotel Group’s five-star South Lodge Luxury Spa including a delicious dinner for sponsors, players and their families on the Saturday night, plus a Sunday roast at the polo clubhouse to round off the weekend.

“It is a wonderfully unique tournament weekend, where the aim is to have 12 like-minded payers spending a full weekend together as a truly social occasion,” explains John. “We wanted to reintroduce much needed camaraderie that is quite often missing in polo these days, as everyone’s lives have just got so busy. If only all polo tournaments could be like this!” 

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