The English National Team captain talks about the opportunities for younger players participating in the XPL.
What’s polo for you?
It’s a massive part of my life. It’s almost the only skill I have. I wanted to be a polo player, so I didn’t go to university. I took a gamble, and luckily it paid off. So, I’m proud of that. The main attraction for me were always the horses. I like working with young ones, trying to improve them. It’s a big aspect of the sport. On top of that, it’s a very team-oriented sport, it’s fast, it’s dangerous, it’s got adrenaline. All of these factors made it a great fit for me. I live and breathe the sport all day. I’m sure the rest of the guys will tell you the same. It’s a way of life.
You’re England’s National Team Captain, and you’ll be playing against Argentina in the Coronation Cup. What’s your role as Captain?
Well, I’ve been in the team for 12 or 13 years, and this is the 5th time I’ll be Captain. Since I was young I’ve always wanted to play for England, it was always my goal when I started. It’s been a long time, I’m probably getting to the end of it, with my age, but I’m very proud of the work I’ve done. This year we play against Argentina, it could be a rough year. They got Facundo, two guys that will probably be 10 goalers in the future, Alfonsito Pieres who’s great at his handicap. We need to be very prepared and have a good day to get close to them. It’s a great challenge for us.
Who’d be the best player you played alongside, and who was the toughest opponent?
Facundo and Adolfo have been the 1 and 2 for a long time, everyone will tell you that. I played with Facundo when he was only 2 goals, maybe 14 years old, and you already knew he was going to be something different. Both of them have been a step above everyone. Playing against them is always very, very tough. You need to be at your very best to even have a chance to compete with them.
How would you explain what the horse means to a player?
For me, the horse is 90% of the game. If you don’t know your horse well, you’re not going to compete with top guys. I have 12 here, and I like to believe it’s like managing a football team. You have to check on their exercise, on their diet, if they are sore or have any injuries. You have to ride them, have a good connection so you know where they are at. Every one of them is different, so you have to adjust when you’re on the field. Some turn better, others ride faster. Each horse has its own attributes, and you need to know what you can do with each of them. As you get more experience, these things come more naturally and you don’t have to think much about them.
What do you think about the XPL’s proposal?
I’m very excited about it. Obviously, it’s an idea that’s been around polo for 10-15 years. A few guys have tried to get it off the ground, but it’s got some good momentum right now. I think we all agree this is the way that polo needs to go to get into an era of more professionalism. To have a platform to showcase the sport, and have franchises, like other sports have. I’m going to try to support it as best I can, playing in the events. Us english players have to make some sacrifices to play in Argentina, but we are more than happy to get behind it.
I played the first exhibition game for the League about a month ago, which was about 35 goals. It was a very high level of polo, and the few rule changes took us a bit to adapt but it was very interesting. If I can be a part of it and help in any way, it’s something that I’d love to do.
What do you think about the new rules?
I think that we need to make them easier to follow for the general public. Less technical and less downtime between plays will make for a better spectacle. Even adopting rules like the 3-point line from basketball will change the way we play the sport, they are very interesting ideas.
What do you think about the schedule?
I think that having an international circuit that’s moving through different spots makes it much more attractive to international sponsors. It’s actually something that can have a lot of legs and you can get people behind it. It needs to be diverse too. Having a professional world-wide league is a huge step for polo.
What do you think about the changes to the handicap rules?
WIthout the 28-34 handicap limit enforced by the XPL, guys with 5-6 goals wouldn’t have access to this level of polo. It’s probably going to help a lot in their development and their growth in the sport, being exposed to that level. It’s going to need a lot of support from the 10-goalers too, to help in their development.
How do you think the new ways of broadcasting of the XPL will affect the sport?
To have a coverage of our sport tailored for people that have never seen it before is vital for polo. With more viewers, we can attract more sponsors.
Do you think that younger audiences can be interested in a game like polo?
Definitely. I think it’s an incredible sport. Once you start watching it, you realize how interesting it can be. For many years, especially in England, it’s been perceived as elitist. But actually, when you come and you get involved, you realize it’s not like that at all. When you meet the guys that work in this sport, you see how cool it really is.
Who do you look up to in sports?
Definitely Federer. His calmness, his class. He’s never flustered, he’s the ice-man. I watch him and admire him a lot.
What would be your dream team?
I’d love to play the 1; I’d have Facundo* and Adolfo, and probably Nero at the back. I’d make them block for me so that I can have the ball (laughs).
Facundo Pieres will be playing for Ellerstina in the XPL.