France win Aga Khan Trophy, Ireland third

 

France have won the Aga Khan Trophy at the RDS in Dublin this afternoon, with Ireland taking joint third place with the Netherlands.

The French team emerged winners for the second year in a row, incurring eight faults over the course of the competition. The British side came in second, with nine faults.

Irish hopes of a victory failed to brighten when the first three riders posted four faults apiece, Billy Twomey adding a time fault to his penalties, and anchorman Kevin Babington incurred an uncharacteristic eight faults.

Ireland entered the sixth leg of the Samsung Super League series as firm favourites, running just half a point behind leaders France, but as each Irish rider clipped a single fence in the first round, the sense of disappointment from the capacity crowd became almost palpable.

At the halfway mark Ireland were lying joint Fifth with Sweden, while France and the Netherlands shared pole position on zero faults apiece.

Ireland's second round opener Robert Splaine with was unlucky to have a foot on the tape at the water jump, while second man in, Cian O'Connor, had a plank down at the third fence in what was an otherwise perfect jumping round on .

Cork's Billy Twomey redeemed himself with a clear round on in the second half, while Kevin Babington on also returned to form with a clear.

Though ostensibly competing for a prize fund of Eur134,000, there was much more at stake at Dublin today, as Ireland, lying second behind France in the Samsung Super League, badly needed to add more points. This will now be the target at Rotterdam at the end of August, and again in the final Super League fixture at Barcelona in September, when double points will be awarded, and where the league table could undergo a substantial transformation.

The result at Dublin does not affect Ireland's Second place in the Super League, but does open up the gap with leaders France to 6 points.

The Irish selectors will now also have some hard decisions to take when selecting the defending European Championship team to compete at Donaueshingen in Germany, just four days before Rotterdam, as team qualification for the 2004 Olympics will depend entirely upon a top class performance at the championships.