Teams considering adopting a physical approach when they meet Hawke's Bay A in this week's Dewar Cup polo tournament in Hastings should think again.
That's the warning from English professional Ollie Jones in the countdown to the 16-team Hawke's Bay Open which begins at Elwood Park on Friday and ends on Sunday.
"Our Mongolian import [Palam Battumur] isn't just the second best polo player in his village of 3000 people. He's the second best wrestler as well," Jones said.
Eighteen-year-old Battumur has played polo for six years and is on his fourth visit to New Zealand. This is his first season playing for the Hawke's Bay club as he was hosted by Porangahau polo personality Harriet Kuru and the Wanstead club during previous visits.
"I've wrestled for 10 years and compete in a few open tournaments back home. But polo is still the No 1 sport," No 4 Battumur explained.
"I know everyone is saying this will be the toughest Dewar Cup tournament for a long time but I really want to help the Bay win it and we are gelling together well."
Battumur is no stranger to collecting silverware at the tournament. In 2015 he received the South Australia Salver for the Central Districts player displaying the most promise after helping the Wanstead A team capture the JJ Gatenby Cup in the senior handicap division.
His team, which also includes Jones at No 2, Jared Thompson at No 1 and Cody Jones at No 3, won the Poverty Bay Open last weekend, the plate at the annual Wanstead tournament earlier this month and reached the final of Hawke's Bay's annual Wine Country Cup tournament last month.
Ollie Jones, who had two months playing in Argentina before returning to the Bay at the start of the summer, pointed out Battumur plays without fear, thrives in physical confrontations, boasts a good backhand and scored some good goals during the Wine Country tournament. While he agreed the Hawke's Bay A team worked well together considering the short amount of time it has been together Battumur pointed out there are still plenty of work-ons for it to tick off this week.
"Our finishing off needs to improve, we need to reduce our fouls and we need to be a little more patient at times."
Battumur, who is a son of a former polo player, ranked Argentinian star Facundo Pieres as the best player he has seen on the international stage and Cody Jones as the best of the Bay contingent. Battumur is helping Hawke's Bay Polo Club stalwart Richard Hunt look after his horses while in the Bay and Hunt described the Mongolian as "The Smiling Assassin".
Needless to say that smile will receive a decent airing if Hawke's Bay A can get their hands on the Dewar Cup on Sunday. Ollie Jones said everyone knows how Battumur will celebrate it too ... with a feed of fish and chips and a bottle or two of Tui.
"We don't have fish and chips back home for obvious reasons," Battumur said referring to the fact his country, which is bordered by China and Russia, is a long way from the sea.
Thompson, who played in Battumur's village five years ago, said the three Hawke's Bay teams, Hawke's Bay A, Hawke's Bay B and Wanstead A, will be all out to stop Rangitikei from winning the Dewar Cup for a fourth consecutive year. However, two of last year's winning Rangitikei team, Angus and Cam McKelvie, will play for Auckland team Morningstar who Hawke's Bay A will take on in their first outing on Friday.
Six teams will play in the Dewar Cup section, six in the McKenzie Cup section and four in the Nelson Cup section.