The day started badly for New Zealand with Clarke Johnstone and Oakley Vision being eliminated after three stops on course. After the elimination of Heelan Tompkins and Sugoi during yesterday's dressage, this reduced the New Zealand team to two and made the task of posting a competitive score virtually impossible.
It was an unfortunate set of circumstances that saw the demise of Johnston and Oakley Vision who were first to tackle the course.
Their first stop occurred at what proved to be an unjumpable bank and log complex at 12 a, b, c.
The distance on top of the bank was very short and saw Johnstone's horse land very close to the roll top log on the top of the bank, making a second jump effort impossible. Johnstone was quick to take the alternative black flag option but his round, which looked very smooth and confident until that point started to unravel. The next rider was Australia's first team rider Wendy Schaeffer on Koyuna Sun Dancer. Like Johnstone, Schaeffer looked very comfortable until a long spot jumping onto bank at the same fence saw her horse leave its hind legs behind, dislodging Schaeffer and resulting in automatic elimination.
The third combination to go, Tallara Barwick and Chief Justice also came to grief at the fence, stopping at the log on top of the bank. Although not injured, the combination was held up for several minutes while officials cleared the log away from Chief Justice's legs.
At this point the decision was taken to remove the log from this fence, changing the degree of difficulty but making it safe and jumpable for the combinations that followed.
Next out for New Zealand was Jenna Mahoney on Santos and she played a blinder for her team, negotiating the course with class and determination to finish without jump faults, one of only six to do so today. At the end of the day Jenna sits in a very creditable sixth position.
The experience combination of Stuart Tinney and Vettori followed Mahoney and clear jumping saw them post the first counting score for Australia and individually move up from their 14th position overnight to take the lead going into tomorrow's showjumping.
Next out for the Australian team were Hong Kong Silver medalists Sonja Johnson and the great little stockhorse gelding Ringwould Jaguar. Normally ultra reliable cross country Jaguar had an uncharacteristic stop at a double of sharply angled brushes coming out of the water complex, a fence that was to see several leading riders have problems. Johnson completed the course with 40 jump penalties and 20.4 time to finish the day in 12th place.
Anchorman for New Zealand Blair Richardson followed and he rode with confidence and determination, guiding the inexperienced Spend Up around his biggest test to date. Richardson took the direct route through the influential angle brushes at fence 10a, b making the combination look easy and saving valuable seconds.
Richardson was deemed to have crossed his tracks while taking an alternative route late in the course and incurred 20 penalties, however as we go to print the NZ team officials have lodged a protest with the ground jury. If this protest is upheld Richardson and Spend Up will move into fifth position.
Perhaps the biggest upset of the day came next when overnight leaders Megan Jones on her beautiful silver medal horse Kirby Park Irish Jester found the angles too great at the brushes at fence 10 and ran off, collected 20 penalties. Despite this they completed the round in great shape to finish in fifth place.
Last Kiwi to go on cross-country day was Clarke Johnstone on his team reserve horse Orient Express. Johnstone, obviously keen to put the disappointment of his earlier round behind him, showed that there is plenty to look forward to for NZ eventing by recording a lovely clear jumping round, moving up from 16th after dressage to finish 9th.
On a day when the vastly more experienced Australians were expected to dominate, they showed that they can be vulnerable when the going gets tough.
NZ officials will take plenty of positives out of today's performance.
The young Kiwis rode as a real team today. Always under pressure going into cross-country with only three team horses, they showed courage and determination, coping with an extremely testing course, an electric atmosphere and of course the intense Adelaide heat.
Well done Clarke, Jenna and Blair - you did all Kiwis proud today.