French produce perfect result at last leg in Rotterdam

With exquisite timing, just five weeks ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Team France soared to victory when producing an impeccable performance at the fourth and last leg of the Longines League of Nations™ 2024 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Copybook clears from Simon Delestre (I Amelusina R 51), Kevin Staut (Scuderia 1918 Viking d’La Rousserie), Julien Epaillard (Donatello d’Auge) and Olivier Perreau (GL Events Dorai d’Aiguilly) saw them stand alone on a zero scoreline at the end of a thrilling day of sport that had their own supporters, and the electric Dutch crowd, on the edges of their seats.

In an epic contest Henrik Ankarcrona’s all-powerful Swedish side had to settle for second this time out when fractionally faster than the third-placed British who also finished on a four-fault tally. Belgium lined up in fourth, Brazil slotted into fifth, the Dutch finished sixth, Switzerland seventh and Ireland lined up in eighth place. 

It was a tense and close-fought affair from start to finish - so close that two giants of the sport, Team Germany and Team USA, missed out on the second round when slowest of four teams sharing a four-fault result at the end of round one. 

For French team manager Henk Nooren and his side however it was a glorious win after a period of inconsistency. And the timing couldn’t be better.

 "To have seven out of seven clears - that was for me was something to be really proud of!" Henk Nooren, Chef d'Equipe Team France declared.


The quality of the field was such that 25 of the 40 starters jumped clear in the first round, not because the 12-fence track set by Dutch course designer Quintin Maertens was easy, but because the teams were filled with Olympic-level combinations all striving to either confirm their selection potential or to prove that they have what it takes.

Qualification for the inaugural Longines League of Nations™ Final was also on everyone’s minds, especially the athletes from Belgium, France and Great Britain who were languishing at the bottom of the League table from which only the best eight of the ten competing nations would make the cut to the much-anticipated finale at the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona (ESP) in October.

Despite putting up a mighty fight today the British and Belgians won’t be making that trip to Spain. The French however rose like a phoenix from the ashes and lifted themselves out of the danger-zone to finish joint-fifth in the final standings.

Sharing the lead

At the halfway stage they were sharing the lead on a zero score with Sweden, Britain and Brazil while the Dutch and Belgians were close behind carrying just a single time fault. 

But when Maertens raised and widened a number of fences his course began to take a greater toll in round two. Swedish stars Henrik von Eckermann with the great King Edward and Peder Fredricson with the evergreen Catch Me Not S each secured double-clears, but Malin Baryard-Johnsson and H&M Indiana faulted once, and with just three athletes in each team in the second round that proved costly. 

Ben Maher and Point Break and Harry Charles and Romeo 88 also kept a double clean sheet, but Joseph Stockdale and Equine America Cacharel fell victim to the middle element of the triple combination at fence seven which loosened Great Britain’s grip. And when both Stephan de Freitas Barcha with Chevaux Primavera Imperio Egipcio and Luciana Diniz with Vertigo du Desert left a pole on the floor then Brazil also slipped off top spot. Because the French were just too good.

All four jumped in the first round despite the fact that they had their zero score in the bag after great runs from Epaillard, Perreau and Delestre. Staut, according to team manager Henk Nooren, had something to prove when going last. And when Perreau was left on the bench second time out, Staut did just that when executing a brilliant second clear after Delestre led the way with another fault-free performance. 

The result was left in the hands of Epaillard, the world number 4 athlete who was runner-up at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final 2024 in Riyadh (KSA) in April and individual bronze medallist at last year’s FEI Jumping European Championship in Milan (ITA). Sweden’s Baryard-Johnsoon had faulted before he went into the arena as the second-last rider to go, and the man who thrives on riding at speed knew what he had to do, wrapping it up with another classic run from Donatello to ensure his was the only country to finish on that coveted clean sheet.


Team manager Henk Nooren reflected on how French fortunes have played out during this first season of the Longines League of Nations™. It certainly wasn’t a smooth run. 

As he explained his team was short of combinations suitable to compete in the LLN or any 5* Nations Cup competition “so we gave all the possibilities to new and upcoming combinations to see if we could create some. Leg one in Abu Dhabi was not a good start because we ended up last of last, but Ocala was already better and then St Gallen was cancelled. So everybody was really, really sharp to prove themselves here!”, he pointed out. They didn’t disappoint today.

“Our biggest goal is the Olympics, especially because it is a home Olympics, but we also wanted to qualify for Barcelona Final at the same time”, Nooren explained. 

His Olympic selections seem to be clarified this evening, Simon Delestre already in the running with Cayman Jolly Jumper “but Amelusina now especially after this performance today is definitely one that could replace in a couple of weeks”, he said.

He was clearly impressed by the performance of Kevin Staut who had a smile as wide as an ocean after he left the ring for the second time.

  "The last time Kevin jumped in a Nations Cup was 2022, he got injured in April 2023 and only got back in the ring in the beginning of this year…so for Kevin today there was not only the pressure from the Nations Cup and the LLN and but it was also an enormous pressure to prove himself again that he has a horse to go perhaps to Paris within a couple of weeks”  the French Chef d’Equipe pointed out. 

He didn’t need to see so much of Olivier Perreau’s GL Events Dorai d’Aiguilly because “we saw the horse a couple of times last year coming up to the level and jumping clear…especially at the European Championships where he had three really great days and ended up eighth individual and we've seen him quite a bit ever since. That's why we took him out of the second round today because we wanted this half to get more information about the other horse/rider combinations. With him we have basically enough information for ourselves”, he said.

“And then Donatello - no matter how much success he already had he never jumped in any Nations Cup in his life. The first choice for Julien is Dubai that’s for sure. But now it's also clear that over two rounds and let's say the second round today was a really championships round. So yes, he also has a replacement if necessary. 

Long way back

Staut was understandably delighted this evening. As he said “it’s been a really long way to come back to this level so it's really emotional. Some clears don’t have the same value as others for this reason. We have had tough days, tough weeks, tough shows and a few weeks ago I was not really sure that we could come here and be ready - but here we are! I’m proud of my horse and all the team around us!”

The brand new Longines League of Nations™ series has produced some unforgettable sport this season and today was another fantastic contest.

Despite their disappointing result today Team Ireland still finished at the top of the League table and they will fight for the inaugural series title in October along with Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, France, USA and The Netherlands. 


FEI Press Release by L.Parkes
Image: Julien Epaillard from France rides Donatello d'Auge during Longines League of Nations in Rotterdam NED on 21 June 2024. Copyright © FEI/Leanjo de Koster