The enthusiasm of our youngest members has resulted this year in entry to the Top Club competition, and if any of us had doubts about the wisdom of extending our commitments on the green, they have been dispelled by the excitement and interest of the matches so far. This week we played host to Morpeth St George’s, who had beaten Gosforth in the previous round, so we knew we would be in for a very tough game.
The first result, of course, was Keith in the two-wood singles. This game summed up in several ways the whole encounter. After 14 of the 21 ends the scores were level at 9-9, with each player having won seven ends and each having scored two twos. It simply couldn’t have been closer. At this point the St George’s player actually went ahead by one, but suddenly momentum swung our way as Keith scored three twos and a single to go to 16-10 with only two ends left, and a quick handshake put us one-up on the board.
As Keith left the green, to be replaced by Craig for the four-wood, the triples were struggling on the next rink. They had led 5-2 after seven ends, playing really well but unable to shake off excellent opponents who comprised two current and one former County players. One loose end was all it took to change the dynamics, and St George’s rattled off six ends on the trot to produce a 5-13 scoreline with only five ends to go. Still the triples hung on, scoring singles and then a well-worked five to be just one shot behind with two ends to play. They then found themselves with two bowls actually touching the jack, and well hidden from a direct approach. Chickens had been not only counted but plucked, trussed and put in the oven before the St George’s skip got a lucky wick from a short wing bowl, getting a deflection right on to the cluster and sending the jack back to their worst bowl of the end, near the ditch. So that made it two down going into the last end, and despite an heroic effort by Phil we managed only a single, to lose 13-14.
All this while Craig had been battling away, several times finding himself a few shots behind, most ominously at 9-13. But once he had levelled to 13-13 it didn’t matter that he lost a couple of singles as the tide was flowing in his direction, and from 13-15 he went on to win five of the last six ends, to clinch it 21-16. One spectacular shot drove the jack into the ditch, with the wood following it to rebound on to the green as a still-live toucher. This was yet another close singles game, with each player winning 11 of the 22 ends, but the crucial difference was that Craig scored four threes as opposed to one.
The fours were fighting hard at this point, having been rather undone by a six on the second end, when they were already leading 3-0 and lying one shot, only for the St George’s skip to play a beautiful bowl to take out the shot and claim a count. Although the opposition lead crept up to eight at one point the team didn’t give up, and had reduced the deficit to five with two ends remaining, after winning nine of the 19 ends.
This would have been a tough ask, albeit not impossible, but fortunately the pairs had now recovered from a mid-match wobble that saw them go from 12-3 (9 ends) to 12-14 five ends later. Once they had got the scoreboard moving again it proved largely one-way, and here too our late form was impressive, with six of the last seven ends going our way for a 24-16 win. That was of course our third win of the night, sealing a memorable win for the club – the fours just agreed to stop at that point, conceding their match to give a 3-2 scoreline. The ends tally for the whole match showed the closeness (we won 52 out of 99 completed ends), but thanks to the pairs the overall shots count – irrelevant in scoring terms, but good for morale – was 89-76. Considering that St George’s are such a formidable team we could be excused for showing some excitement after the game; we are the last Northumberland team in the competition, and for the next round travel to Whitehaven (7 July).
Since St George’s are third in Division 1 of the Clegg League, and able to go top by winning their game in hand, it is no disrespect to the Throckley club to say that our Division 5 meeting the next night was a less exciting affair. But what is really encouraging is the way that several of our new bowlers are ready to play in this league, with experience growing all the time. There was notable consistency in the range of scores, as our four rinks scored 21, 22 and two 23’s, while the Throckley scores across the board were lower, with 9, two 13’s and a 14. It’s fair to say we were fully deserving the 14-0 points score that puts us now well clear at the top of the division, though we have to remember that the previous next-best team had a bye this week.
In the Collins and Shipley league the ladies faced the imposing heft of Burradon, top of the table and going well with four wins out of five. So with no disrespect at all, it was a little surprise to see our ladies ahead – well ahead – on all three rinks just after the half-way point. It was clearly no fluke, as after 12 ends the points tally was 35-26, and after another two ends the margin had risen to 45-28, with just four ends to go. At this point, and for a variety of reasons, Burradon came back. Whether it was lengthening the jack on one rink, changing the mat position on another, or just playing very well with bowl in hand on all three, they fought back strongly to win 10 of the last 12 ends over the three rinks. Thus it was that we went into the last end leading by two shots on one rink, one shot on another and down by one shot in the third. On this last rink things looked to have got even worse as Burradon built a wall of front woods, but somehow Susan fiddled one in for second shot before the Burradon third player then hit it in for shot: a draw!
Next door it still looked as if we would get a well-earned win after going into the last 16-14 ahead. Before Jean bowled her last wood she was advised that it was a measure for shot. The only trouble was that when it came to measuring it transpired that there was another Burradon bowl in the frame, and it duly turned out to be second shot, so that this match also ended in a draw. On both these rinks the ends were shared 9-9, which shows just how well we had played against such opponents – Jean’s rink had actually scored three threes during the match, while in the last game to finish Betty’s rink had picked up two fours: some achievement.
However, in view of other events it was almost inevitable that on this rink too we should see an 18-9 lead disappear over the last four ends, to finish 18-each, thus producing draws on all three rinks – a unique event in the league this year and one that no one could remember in previous seasons. Six points apiece, which given the nature of the opposition was highly creditable – Burradon have dropped an average of only three points per match this season – and for our ladies yet another good performance that so nearly was excellent.
If that match was unexpectedly close we had always assumed that the West Tyne Cup game against Haltwhistle was going to be a tight one, although as a knock-out game there had to be a winner even if it meant going to extra ends. On a sunny evening the three rinks were neck and neck, and after 14 ends we had reached the point where one of our rinks was two shots ahead, one was level, and the other was two shots down. On this third rink Blanche, Ken and Mark just failed to level the tie on the last end – the Haltwhistle skip sealed it with his last bowl – and as the match was determined by the number of rinks won we needed the others to hang on.
Christina, Brian Norman and Trevor were drawing 12-12 after fifteen ends, but then managed an unlikely three on the last bowl of the next end to lead 15-12, with a further single giving them a four-shot lead going into the last. A cluster of bowls made it look difficult for Haltwhistle to winkle out any real advantage, but their skip still produced a brilliant effort with his last bowl, nudging the jack so that our first reaction was that it was four shots and a draw. However, a measure saved us, and it was just three for a 16-15 win.
With two rinks now off the green enjoying a cup of tea everyone’s attention turned to the third rink, where Sylvia, Steve Benson and Keith were up against a very strong Haltwhistle rink. Our rink had led 6-1, only to see the lead disappear as the visitors made it 6-9. We then levelled at 9-9 and after some close exchanges the score was 13-13 after 16 ends; this became a one-shot lead on the next end after good approaches by the front end and a couple of bold attacking shots. So it was down to the last end, where one shot for the visitors would have earned a draw and an overall win, as our other two rinks had a net deficit of one shot. For a while it looked like being too close to call, but once again Keith drew the shot, and when the last bowl of the night rolled through by a couple of inches we had won it for a 2-1 win on rinks. The shots margin was 42-41, and although the aggregate counted for nothing as real numbers, it’s worth noting simply to show what a fabulous game of bowls it was. It was a really exciting night – what you might call mega-exciting!
Further success came for Malcolm in the county Pairs (18-17) and also for Keith, Matthew and Philip in the Triples (a good win at Collingwood, so now in the quarter-finals). And thanks to Matthew’s initiative in setting up a Twitter account (@HexhamElvaston) there may be almost live reporting in future, to add to any other tweets. This weekly web report is starting to feel rather old hat…