Lying third at the halfway point of the Nations Cup contest in Lisbon, Portugal today, Ireland struggled to stay in a podium position during the second round, finally yielding the top three places to a marvellously in-form Belgian team, followed by Spain in second and France in third.

Fielding a young and relatively inexperienced team at Nations’ Cup level, Chef d’Equipe  Michael Blake nevertheless anchored his quartet with the former World Champion, Dermott Lennon.

Ireland had a bad start with a discard 12 faults from Alexander Butler and the Cruising stallion Hallowberry Cruz, but it was the youngest competitor at the competition, 18 year-old Michael Pender, who raised hopes with just one fence down aboard the bay stallion Can Ya Makan.

A remarkably cool David Simpson on the eight year-old Keoki produced Ireland’s first clear in what seemed an effortless round, while Lennon had just one rail down for faults, leaving Ireland in third place of nine teams at the halfway mark, on a total of eight faults.

However, a zero-scoring Belgian team laid down a formidable challenge for the second round, with Spain holding second place on just four faults. Britain was also close behind Ireland in fourth place with 12 faults on the board.

Butler and Hallowberry Cruz improved slightly second time out, coming home with eight faults, while Pender duplicated his first round effort with one fence down.

Simpson again seemed destined for a clear round, but clipped a pole and incurred a time fault to add five faults to the team score.

Ireland was still holding onto third place when Lennon and Fleur IV re-appeared, but despite his best efforts the Co. Down rider produced an eight-fault round, dropping the team to equal fourth with home team Portugal on 25 penalties.

Britain was also a second round casualty, falling to sixth place on 28 faults, while the talented Belgian team, who are fighting to regain Division One status, held onto first place on a two-round total of four penalties. Spain took second place on 21 faults while France nudged ahead of Ireland with 24 faults, claiming third overall.

Ireland was not chasing points at the European Division 2 competition.

Jack Burns