The friendly against Hexham House was played on a cloudy but bright day with more than the usual number of interested tourists and visitors sitting in the park. The House green was a bit erratic on some greens – the same could have been said of ours last Thursday, of course – but was running very well in the sense of being fast – indeed, at a certain point heading north the bowls tended to accelerate past the jack. It really was quite unusual to be needing such little effort to bowl a full length this early in the season.
Six full rinks made for a good spectacle but by the end the scoreboards were less of a good sight. Two of our rinks had good wins (22-10; 21-10) but two others went down badly (8-25 and 9-25), so although the other two rinks were really close we finished 14 down on the day (88-102). President Jean Allen played as if her life depended on it, earning the shot end after end and leaving her skip with nothing much to do. Keith Woods’ rink played with such great teamwork that they even shrugged off the temporary absence of a team member who had to rescue (his or) her car from a timed car park. The narrow loss by four shots on David Ashworth’s rink was almost a win, as Elvaston were lying five shots on the last end until the last bowl won it for the home team. Meanwhile, Brian Elstob’s rink found themselves level at 3-3, 10-10, 13-13 and then on 16-16 at the finish after winning the last two ends.
All in all, then, well enough matched over six rinks. That was the first leg of the Courant Vase competition, and although 14 shots is a lot to make up in September it’s not beyond the realms. In fact, perhaps we shouldn’t make too much of that Vase element, and simply agree with Jean as she thanked Hexham House for a splendid tea and commented that the score wasn’t important.
Where it was important was in the Nines match on Tuesday against Backworth. Over the years this match has been a foregone conclusion, but our performance against Gosforth in the opening match had been so encouraging that the sight of the famous blue and yellow shirts didn’t seem so worrying – especially as there were only eight of them! Having established that the ninth was still sitting at home, Backworth had to play with three men on the fours rink, losing a quarter of their final score.
This turned out to be vital. The score was close enough for most of the game, but we did make a few mistakes, notably trying to win a couple of ends when accepting a one-shot loss would have been safer (read, mark, learn…), and although we won nine of the first 17 ends we still trailed 12-18 going into the last. Backworth were then lying the shot, almost touching the jack, when the skips went to bowl. Since they would lose a quarter of 18 we knew that a two would win the match, and that’s exactly what happened when Trevor ditched the jack with his first bowl. A win by half a shot!.
The triples had been level or just ahead all the way, and with Matthew Sinclair back in the team and playing as if he had never been away they were always in a good position with bowls in the head. This time it was Backworth who needed a two on the last end just to draw, but Philip made sure we had several seconds and the single shot meant we had won that one too, by the relatively big margin of one shot. In fact, that word “one” is the key to the whole win: in a game where the two teams shared the 18 ends, six of our nine ends were won by one, while for Backworth it was seven out of nine – keeping the score down can be as important as scoring a lot yourself.
Compared to this the pairs had a total landslide, 17-12, but the game was notable for having no score above a two, except for the six which put Keith and Darren 7-2 ahead. This came from a situation where Backworth were lying shot but we had five seconds – it was one thing for Darren to see the possibility of removing the shot bowl by promoting another one of ours, and quite another to play it! From there on it was absolutely level (this game also finished nine-apiece in terms of ends), but with some excellent game management the pair were able to hold off any revival by the visitors.
Often enough in the past we’ve had cause to lament the way that the league points system produces a fruitless evening despite a good performance and a close game. Tonight it worked in our favour, for sure, as a margin of just 6.5 shots across three rinks gave us an 8-0 win. We may not be able to do a Leicester this year, but there was another football analogy this weekend as Swansea beat West Ham in London for the first time since 1956: yes, it did feel that good!
We said last week that the ladies were slow starters in the league. They proved the point by getting up to speed at Gosforth on a fast green: the changes that were made to the teams were largely in terms of position, but they certainly seemed to improve the teamwork. Two rinks won well, 16-8 and 18-8, and although Betty’s rink were pegged back to 12-12 with one end to play they then put the match to bed by winning a four on that last end. So overall it was 50-28 and a whitewash in terms of league points, 12-0, a complete reversal of last week’s defeat. Put that score alongside the men’s 8-0 the night before and it really did start to look like a good week.
This game does come back to bite you, though, as they say. The warning signs were there in the men’s friendly against Lyndhurst, where we won 66-64 overall, but thanks only to a big win on David Ashworth’s rink (the other three lost). It was a lovely sunny afternoon, with good company, and of course the result in these things is a bit of a footnote.
However, the next night, in the West Tyne league, we came up against a determined Prudhoe side with several new recruits in an all-male team. We have always regarded this league as a mixed league, and shall continue that policy. The green wasn’t the easiest to play on, and certainly favoured the front-end players as there was no predictable bend for those playing later, but we could hardly blame the green as we were ahead on aggregate for all the first seven ends. However, after that we found it hard to keep up. The overall match was even tighter than the referendum polls – three of the rinks split the ends nine-each, while the fourth lost only 8-10 on ends. But it’s shots that count, and while our own scores were remarkably similar (12,13,14,14) the Prudhoe rinks scored more on every occasion, even though none of them reached 20. Christina had a brilliant game and certainly didn’t deserve to be on the rink with the heaviest defeat. Shelagh’s rink came closest to a win, going into the last end two ahead but then losing a three, but overall no one could argue with the result. Defeat by 16 shots and a painful 0-7 in league points wasn’t the ideal end to the competitive week but we won’t be the only team to struggle at Prudhoe this year.