Last week’s showdown between La Dolfina Polo Ranch and La Ensenada produced what we’ve all been waiting for: some serious suspense. Unlike the flurry of blowout wins (some with double-digit point spreads) in Palermo, there was no way either of these teams was going to massacre the other.
“It was a tough game, very even. We knew it was going to be even. They have a great team,” said Diego Cavanagh after La Dolfina PR won 12-10. “The first two chukkers they were faster and quicker, and we couldn’t get the rhythm. From the third onwards we played better and faster, and that made the difference.”
As usual the post-game conversation revolved around him and Guille Terrera, the hammer-and-chisel of La Dolfina PR. But quietly underlying their achievement was Ignatius (“Nachi”) Du Plessis of South Africa, the team’s stealth weapon. Du Plessis played with La Dolfina PR last season as well, but has pretty much stayed under the radar because Cavanagh, Terrera and Julian de Lusarreta are better-known commodities.
He’s not a showboat kind of guy, so few may recall that Du Plessis replaced an injured Mariano Aguerre on Ellerstina in the 2014 Argentine Open, making it to the final. He had never watched the final—“not even from the grandstands,” he says—but he wasn’t nervous. Only 25 years old, Du Plessis was no stranger to pressure, having won the 2013 Jockey Club Open and the 2011 British Gold Cup. He made his high-goal debut in 2010 playing for Indios Chapaleufú II and had been on a 30-goal team against 40-goal Ellerstina. Four years ago in Palermo, however, there was far more at stake. Ellerstina was up against La Dolfina in the final, losing by just two goals.
Wearing the La Dolfina PR jersey, Du Plessis ranks ninth in the 2018 Argentine Open in shooting (60%), the best on his team. Playing the #4 position, he is a two-ton anchor on defense, using keenly adept anticipation and positioning to frequently intercept passes. Sitting back in the game at times, he seems to get slightly forgotten, but when he chooses to come forward he is extremely effective.
Du Plessis has also had a big impact from the throw-in line. For the Tortugas, Hurlingham and Argentine Opens combined, he ranks ninth among all players with 4.5 throw-in wins per game. That allows him to start attacks for La Dolfina PR and set up Cavanagh and Terrera downfield.
In the La Ensenada game, Cavanagh was more active at coming back, allowing Du Plessis find his moments to attack forward (knowing that Cavanagh and de Lusarreta were covering him defensively). That led to Du Plessis topping all players with four field goals—and catching La Ensenada off guard while they focused on the shiny object (Cavanagh/Terrera).
Du Plessis was clearly the standout player, his frequent interceptions a major factor in La Dolfina PR’s defensive pressure. He also had one of his best offensive games, coming forward at the right times to score. La Ensenada led 3-0 early, and two goals from Du Plessis promptly brought the game to a 3-3 tie. He was central on a three-way play that retied the game at 6 on the last goal before halftime. Cavanagh passed the ball to Du Plessis, who sent it on toward Terrera. Juan Martin Zubia of La Ensenada blocked it in the air, but before he could do anything with the ball Terrera reached up, plucked it away like a cat swatting a bird out of the sky, and scored. From there La Dolfina PR pressed ahead, never falling behind, and took the day.
GAME SNAPSHOT: TEAM DYNAMICS
LA DOLFINA POLO RANCH
Photography: Helen Cruden