The first round of the Jubilee Cup was played at Cramlington on Sunday, pretty well on the flight path for a procession of planes landing at Newcastle that afternoon. It’s fair to say that the majority of the passengers didn’t want to be looking down at us on the green – it later transpired that the heavy schedule of arrivals was the result of flights being diverted from Manchester after the airport there had to be closed!
It was the usual format of three games of nine ends each, with added spice in the shape of our friends from Hexham House in the same group. We each got off to flying starts in our first games, anyway, with the scores after three ends being 11-0 to ourselves against Astley Park and 9-0 to Hexham House against Morpeth. From that point we increased our lead even more, winning 19-2, while the Hexham House game was fairly level, and the real battle started when we played one another in the second match of the group. This time it was the team in green who got a flier, with a five on the first end, and despite our apparent calm things were a bit nervy when we found ourselves two down on the second end with only the skips to play. Craig wrested one of the shots out, but it still left one opposition bowl a foot or so in front of the jack; and at this point Craig surpassed himself with a remarkable shot that caught the edge of the shot bowl to remove it and leave us lying four.
This not only gave the scoreboard a more balanced look, but – even more important – it deflated the opposition completely. We went on to score four on the third end and another two on the fourth to lead 10-5, and from then on it was simply a question of game management as we went on to win 16-6. The net difference in shots was now of the order of 27, and we had only to avoid heavy defeat in the last game to be sure of progressing. In the event, on a really difficult rink, we won by two, thanks again to a super final shot from our skip; the planes might still have been coming in, but Craig was certainly in no mood to be diverted. The Bowls Northumberland website records that we “edged out” our rivals from Hexham House – an interpretation which rather undercooks our achievement. But anyway, we are now in the final on 7 July, against Ponteland, Newbiggin and Health & Safety. No leaping over the sides of the green!
One Sunday later we were at the Rockcliffe club in Whitley Bay for a Bowls England Top Club match. In addition to pairs, triples and fours contests there are games for 4-wood and 2-wood singles, with the winners determined by who wins a majority of the five disciplines. On a sunny but very windy morning we soon had a two-rubber lead after Craig and Keith each won their singles games and after moving from 3-4 to 21-4 in the space of four ends (2,4,6,6) the triples were never going to lose after the half-way point. They duly won 26-11, which meant that the results of the pairs and fours were for added gloss only. However, both won (with the fours surviving a scare as they went from 2-12 to 12-12) and it was a 5-0 win. Our next opponents are New Delaval, away.
There was another win in the Nines against Throckley, though Malcolm and Darren went down to a surprise defeat in the pairs. After being well behind for most of the match they did get back to within one shot going into the last, but then lost a three. For the other two rinks it was “plane” sailing. The triples had a brief hiccup halfway through but then recovered to win 23-13, while the fours also reached 23, at the cost of only seven shots against. So another 6-2 win pushes up further up the table, well into the upper half now.
The Clegg team had every expectation of adding another win on Wednesday, but found the pace of the green as hard to find as it had been finding the actual green itself. The opposition at Innisfree had to send out search parties to direct us in off the main road. Things started well, which is about all you can say. With three of the four rinks leading after one end, then just two in the lead after two ends; at which point things went awry, and no rink of ours had the lead again until one rink, which we shall call A, got in front after 17 ends. Even then they almost contrived to lose the lead, going into the last of the 21 ends four ahead and losing a three (it was a measure for four) for a 23-22 win.
Clearly, from this description, the other rinks didn’t do as well. Rink B managed to get level with two ends to go, and were only one down going into the last before losing another single for 14-16; while C and D were behind the whole way. The rink was a bit spongy, but not outlandishly so. The real reason, if truth be told, was that we were not accurate and disciplined enough to be limiting the damage when the opposition put bowls in the head. There were too many wasted bowls, with not enough thought about ensuring second or, at worst, third shot. If this appears harsh, a closer look at the scorecards will show the essential problem. We actually won 43 of the 84 ends, But we finished overall 63-80 down on shots. Rinks A and B each won 12 out of 21, but Rink B managed to get only 14 shots from their 12. Meanwhile Rink D lost 12-21 but those 12 shots were amassed over 10 ends. While we were scoring mostly singles, Innisfree were picking up some big scores. Over the whole match, each club scored a five; the hosts scored two fours as opposed to one (trivial); they scored 12 threes as opposed to three (vital); the twos were evenly split, but the singles were loaded 31-21 on our side. So it is entirely in that imbalance between the singles and the threes that the game was won and lost. This really is something we have to work on if we are to make anything of this league.
The same problem was seen in the West Tyne league match against Hexham House B – all the more unfortunate as last week I noted how careful we had been in conceding shots in that competition. Two rinks lost quite heavily (8-21 and 10-22) so that there was no real hope of an overall shots win, but things could have been worse than that, with the other two rinks behind for the majority of the game and a whitewash looming. On the first of these to finish, with the score at 13-13 on the last end, we elected not to bowl the final wood and took a measure, which was close but clearly in our favour for a one-shot win; while in the other, we went into the last end 11-14 down but then scored an unlikely six to win the game by three shots. It was therefore a 2-5 defeat on points on the night.
We can at least bookend our summary of an up-and-down week for the club with a report of another notable win, as the ladies recorded their first victory in the Collins and Shipley. And a very notable win it was, 10-2 against last year’s champions Ponteland A. This was a good illustration of how to keep things tight, as the two winning rinks were not ahead by huge margins, and on other occasions we have seen a large loss on one rink more than cancel out such a lead. But by keeping the shots difference respectable we did ensure the bonus points and a very welcome win. Although at the time of writing the league table has not been updated, we are guaranteed to be off the bottom of the table (neatly, at the expense of Ponteland, but possibly Gosforth too); and while those clubs do have a game in hand the result is surely an indication of what we can do with so many County players and competition winners in our ranks. Could this be the point at which the ladies’ season takes off?