The French cemented their position at the top of the Samsung Super League leaderboard when repeating their opening-leg success in La Baule with another convincing victory in Rome yesterday, but the result was only decided in the later stages of the second round which saw a ferocious battle for the minor placings. Course-designer Giovanni Bussu’s challenging track took a heavy toll and the winners finished with 16 faults on the board while the only double-clear performance of the day secured runner-up spot for Ireland. This was a real surprise as the Irish were fielding a relatively untried squad and two of the horses were clearly struggling at this level of competition but Babington produced two super-cool rounds from the Irish-bred Carling King and when Cameron Hanley followed an opening four-fault effort with a clear from Jerome that proved good enough. The French did not have such a clear run this time and shared the lead with Ireland, Germany and Great Britain at the end of the first round with all four teams carrying 12 faults each. The Dutch and Italians were already in trouble at this stage. A good result for Wout Jan Van der Schans was required if Holland was to stay afloat but there were an unusually large number of falls, refusals and eliminations and the Dutchman paid the price for an inaccurate line to the second last, hitting the turf when Broere VDL Atlantic missed his stride here. It was even tougher for the Italians who really wanted to put on a good show in front of the home crowd and their President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who arrived to present the prizes on a beautifully sunny afternoon in the Piazza di Siena. Filippo Moyersoen and Loro Piana Flyinge Garibaldi crashed through the final fence first time out however and when Loro Piana Havinia refused at the water trays at the double of uprights at fence 9 in the opening round and then came back to do the same at the treble, fence 5, next time out things really fell apart for the home side who, once more, finished last. The Swedes also enjoyed plenty of drama to finish well down the line, but the four teams sharing 12 faults at the halfway stage battled like tigers to stay in the game. Elimination in both rounds for Marco Kutscher and Controe seriously hampered German chances and similar problems for Belgium’s Peter Postelman and Oleander saw these two sides eventually divide fourth, the Belgian’s promoted up the order thanks to improved performances from the other three team-members in the second round. The British meanwhile were saved from disaster by a second-round clear from Tim Stockdale and Fresh Direct Parcival which allowed Keith Shore’s 24 faults, incurred mostly due to an unfortunate fall when It’s Magic Max met the second-last on a bad distance, to be discounted. This leg of the Samsung Super League saw the welcome return of Nick Skelton to the British squad after a long absence following the severe neck injury which very nearly ended his career in 2000 and he looks set to return to the top of the sport with the promising 8 year old stallion Arko. And good-quality horsepower was the deciding factor in this leg of the Samsung Super League series. French Chef d’Equipe, Jean-Maurice Bonneau, put it into perspective when he said "this was a top-class competition with a large degree of technicality and you needed a top-class horse to cope with the course. The track was not too big but it was clever and hugely technical – it was a competition for a Super League horse, a special horse with a lot of ability, and the riders needed to be strong in their mind about how to approach it" he said. Bruno Broucqsault (Dileme de Cephe), Edouard Couperie (For de la Hardiere) and Michel Robert (Galet D’Auzay) each collected four faults first time out and when Brouqsault returned clear at his second attempt and Cristian Hermon, who had recorded an eight-fault result with Ephebe For Ever in round one, put in a stunning second-round then the five faults picked up by Couperie left the French with a 17-fault finishing score. The Irish finished with 24 faults on the board, narrowly beating the British who completed with 25 faults as Kevin Babington’s rock-solid riding did the trick gave the Irish the advantage. Babington, who lives most of the year in Pennsylvania, USA but who commutes to Europe for Nations Cup team duty has always been a gritty jockey, and he knew his team really needed him to be at his very best. "We are a strong team of riders but not all of the horses were strong and this was a remarkably technical days work" he said. "The course-builder did a fantastic job because everything was on a related distance and if you didn’t have a plan, and if you didn’t stick to it, then it turned into a disaster. Physically and mentally you have to be in good shape at this level of the sport – it’s a step above even normal Nations Cup jumping and you have to be prepared in every way. Carling King was very fresh but I did my homework before I went into the ring so it worked out very well for us" he said. It certainly did improve the Irish position as they now move into joint-second position on the Samsung Super League leaderboard along with Germany as the French pull way out in front. The British however are comfortably positioned just 0.5 points behind the Irish and Germans going into next week’s round in St Gallen. Can the French do it for the third time at the Swiss fixture? It is difficult to imagine any of the other nations seriously threatening them as they are riding the crest of a wave at the moment but today, at least, they faced a stiffer test and it’s a long road to the final in Barcelona in September. By then, perhaps, the tide will have turned. RESULTS: France – 17 faults : Bruno Broucqsault/Dileme de Cephe 4+0, Cristian Hermon/Ephebe For Ever 8+0, Edouard Couperie/For de la Hardiere 4+5, Michel Robert/Galet D’Auzay 4+DNS. Ireland – 24 faults : Cameron Hanley/Jerome 4+0, Shane Carey/Lismakin 8+12, Conor Swail/Windgates King Koal 12+12, Kevin Babington/Carling King 0+0. Great Britain – 25 faults : Di Lampard/Abbervail Dream 4+9, Nick Skelton/Arko 4+4, Keith Shore/It’s Magic Max 4+24, Tim Stockdale/Fresh Direct Parcival Ret+0. Belgium – 28 faults : Ludo Philippaerts/Verelst Raspoetin 8+4, Dirk Demeersman/Clinton 4+4, Peter Postelmans/Oleander Elim+Ret, Jos Lansink/AK Caridor Z 4+4. Germany – 28 faults : Helena Weinberg/Kasting Horses Gavi 0+4, Marco Kutscher/Controe Elim+Elim, Andreas Ripke/Holsatia 8+4, Franke Sloothaak/Joli Coeur 4+8. Sweden – 37 faults : Ralf-Goran Bengtsson/MacKinley 8+4, Henrik Ankarcrona/Audi’s Candle Light 13+23, Maria Sundberg/Carlot 4+13, Maria Gretzer/Cinderella 8+0. Holland – 50 faults : Gerco Schroder/Eurocommerce Geneve 4+12, Rob Eras/Coll Cesaro la Perla 17+12, Albert Zoer/Lowina 4+4, Wout Jan Van der Schans/Broere VDL Atlantic 18+9. Italy – 53 faults : Massimo Grossato/Loro Piana Elkintot 4+4, Vincenzo Chimirri/Askoll Rosa 8+16, Filippo Moyersoen/Loro Piana Flyinge Garibaldi 14+8, Gianni Govoni/Loro Piana Havinia 11+21. SAMSUNG SUPER LEAGUE TABLE – AFTER SECOND LEG IN ROME 1. France - 20 points 2. Ireland and Germany - 10.5 points 4. Great Britain - 10 points 5. Sweden - 5.5 points 6. Belgium - 4.5 points 7. Holland - 3.5 points 8. Italy - 1 point. Don’t forget that Biographies on all Riders competing in the series are available at http://bios.horsesport.org . The Press Officer in Rome is Caterina Vagnozzi and you can contact her at EQUI-EQUIPE – Ufficio Stampa, Via L. Luciani 1-00197 Roma. Tel: +39 06 3218857 - Fax: +39 06 36104. Mobile: +39 335 6107070 . Website: www.piazzadisiena.com. Want to know more? You can check the full rules for the Samsung Super League Series on the FEI website, section reference – rules http://www.horsesport.org/fei/reference_03/ref_03_02.html. For more information: FEI Communications Muriel Faienza email@example.com or consult FEI website www.horsesport.org .