This week’s reports are an unusual mixture, as there was not a single league match – we had byes both in the Nines and in the West Tyne league, while the ladies kindly postponed their Collins & Shipley game in order to help with the catering at the Bell Cup knock-out event on Wednesday. The competition is held each year among the eleven private clubs in Northumberland; there are two pools, one of six clubs and the other of five, playing in a round-robin format with two rinks from each club; the two winners on the day go forward to the final. The trouble is, it doesn’t seem to matter how strong our team is, we never do very well!
This year we had the slight advantage of being at home because of the late decision by the original host club to decline the offer, but having the event on our green didn’t mean a change in fortune. Once again we finished in a lowly position, but despite our early Hexit an analysis of results shows that we were not that far behind the eventual winners, Gosforth. We did draw one of the games against Gosforth – half a feather in the cap – and had it not been for a couple of wayward bowls at crucial moments we might have given the winners a much closer run. However, we didn’t, and that was that.
To see that our draw in the Challenge Cup three days later pitted us yet again against Gosforth, on the Ponteland green with Ponteland also in the group of five clubs, didn’t bode well. The green looked absolutely superb, though that didn’t mean it was easy to play on – if anything, the lush grass made the bowls less likely to take a consistent bend. One of our teams played a Gosforth rink in the opening match, and the format meant that our other team would play the second Gosforth rink at the end of the day. With Ryder Cup tactics we decided to let our more experienced rink play Gosforth in the final game, since they would know what (if anything) they needed to do, while the opening game on a neutral green was more open to chance.
The first bit of the tactic worked very well, as our B team pulled off a neat 5-3 win in the seven ends (a two on the last end was the only score that wasn’t a single). Meanwhile the A team demolished a Throckley team 16-1 (the highest win of the whole day, for anyone). The second game for the B team was also tough, against Ponteland A, and after losing the last end to an amazing final bowl that was the equivalent of a golfing hole in one the match was lost 4-9. After lunch came the reverse fixture with Ponteland, and our A team really took the game to the hosts. By the sixth end they were three in front and actually lying six until the home skip cut it right down to a no-shot decision that was reached only after three attempts to measure a winner. Needing now to win the last end by two to get an aggregate draw, our team were lying five with only one bowl left for Ponteland – and again the skip did for us, resting our shot bowl to get second shot and leaving us down by one shot over the two games.
Meanwhile Gosforth had beaten Ponteland over their two games, so the equation in the last game was quite simple – the A team had to beat Gosforth (starting with a 5-3 advantage, of course), and hope for other scores to go our way. And – surprise, surprise – that’s exactly what happened. Despite a minor scare near the end, Darren turned a Gosforth bowl out on the last end to score one shot and draw the game, so that we won the overall match.
When the maths were finally worked out the verdict was that we had won the day’s competition, by six shots after tying with Gosforth on match points. Of course, the overall points margin of plus 25 was largely down to the A team – especially that 15-shot win in the first session – but although the B team finished just 24-22 up on the day those two shots were the crucial ones against Gosforth. So all in all it was a great team performance, and so good to end the day on a high after various disappointments. We now go on to the Final (at Alnwick, on 16 July)..
Speaking of finals, last year’s West Tyne triples runners-up (Brian Norman, Keith and Trevor) started this year’s challenge at Hexham House, where they played a team who (in all fairness) they should beat most days of the week. It didn’t look as if that would happen on this day of the week, with the home team going from 6-6 to 13-6 with only six ends left. At this point we were glad – very glad – to pick up a seven, thus levelling the score, but immediately dropped a four to some inspired bowling by the home skip. Some brilliant bowling from Keith, plus some anxiety among our opponents, gave us another five on one end and we looked to have sealed it, leading 19-18 and lying one shot on the last end, with one bowl to go. Cue an outrageous wick and a Hexham House bowl coming to rest right behind the jack. So the scores were now level, and we needed an extra end. This time there were nerves on both sides, but we did enough to get the one shot needed. To win a game after winning only seven of the 18 regular ends was quite remarkable – as we carried our bowls bags away it felt as if they should have “Swag” written on the side.