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Hexham House, Hexham House, Hexham House…

At the start of the week it looked like games were piling up in a bit of a logjam.  We had two games in the Nines on consecutive nights, against the same opponents, and had it not been for Hirst Park’s withdrawal from the league there would have been a third night on the trot.  That was without the prospect of a couple of friendlies and some West Tyne Cup matches.

The Tuesday game against Hexham House was a scheduled match.  They had their usual strong team, but the game could hardly have been more even.  Our pairs lost, having been behind all the way to a very strong pair in Mike McConnell and Clive Knott – however, the margin was always quite close (four after 15 ends) until Mike and Clive won the last three ends to make it 10-18 viewed from our angle.

The triples had a real game of two halves.  It was close for the first half, with the score reaching 9-8 in our favour after 10 ends.  Each side had by this point scored a four, which meant only nine shots on the other eight ends – and there was one burnt as well.  Somehow at this point we started picking up shots, and indeed won six of the next seven ends for a 22-9 win, rather uniquely for the Nines agreeing to finish after 17 ends as shots don’t matter in any practical sense.

Perhaps we should say “didn’t matter”, as the hosts had just won the Fours by one shot. This one, if anything, was a game of three halves: Hexham House won the first six ends to lead 7-0, then we won the next nine to go 11-7 ahead (no, me neither!), at which point it seemed that simply to win one of the last three would take our rink over the line. Instead of which they lost all three, including two shots on the last end to go down 11-12.

The result in league terms was a dispiriting 2-6 in points, which was all the more disappointing in that we won 43-39 on shots.  Even one more shot for the fours and we would have won the match on points – but “ifs” never did anyone any good in bowls.

They certainly did no good the next night either.  We played Hexham House again, this time a re-arranged fixture from early June, on our own green.  With the Coopers père et fils away we decided to change the format completely and see if we could tip the balance in the fours.  The theory looked good, but in the event the opposition played rather better than the previous night and the fours lost 13-19 after trailing by a few shots for most of the game.

David Robertson and Brian Elstob formed our new pairs partnership and turned in the star performance of the night against the pairing who had done for Darren and Keith the night before.  After five ends they were 1-13 down, and things looked bleak, but with a terrific fight-back they brought the score back to 9-14 after ten ends, then from 13-20 came back again and scored a four and a single to make it 18-20 going into the last.  The rink suddenly became very quiet!  Sadly they lost a single on the last end, but 18-21 was a great result in context.

The triples once again had a good run in the second half of the match, but this time it followed a poor start, and the revival began only with the opposition in the “graveyard” of 13 shots.  From 3-13 after nine ends we came back to 13-13 after fifteen, then exchanged singles for another level scoreline (14-14) going into the last.  Really good bowls, plus nerves from the opposition had us lying four until, with the last bowl, Shaun Blaylock played his worst and wildest shot of the night; on its way towards Scotland this misdirected drive caught an outside bowl and chipped it across into the head.  Out came the calipers, to confirm what we suspected – after all that effort an eighth of an inch had determined the result.  But who ever said bowls was fair?

The ladies’ match with Bedlington Dr Pit had been called off as a result heavy rain in the morning of this Nines match.  The cancellation came on the same day as news that the men’s friendly with Portland (on Friday) was to be cancelled because of poor numbers on both sides, and just a day after we’d learned that Wooler were pulling out of our friendly due for Sunday.  Suddenly a crowded week was looking rather sparse.

Thanks to Hexham House, though, our recent schedule has been busy enough.  Last Saturday one of our West Tyne Triples teams (Jean, Malcolm, Darren) played a Hexham House team in the semi-final.  They opted to play down at the Abbey instead of going for the neutral green allowed – indeed stipulated – in the rules, and their confidence in choosing an away green was justified as they won by eight shots.  They also did well to start early in the evening, as by the time they finished it was almost dark and the first drops of what was to be a downpour were falling.

Then on Friday Mark, Keith and Trevor finally managed to coincide on dates with yet another Hexham House trio for the other semi-final , in this case choosing to play at Haltwhistle.


Varying Degrees of Success

After getting little reward for their efforts in previous matches, the ladies kept things tight and made the most of a small shots advantage against Ponteland in the Collins & Shipley league.

The one losing rink limited the defeat to five shots, while the others picked up wins by margins of ten (21-11) and two (20-18), so the overall margin of shots was 55-48, easily enough to secure the bonus points, and a 10-2 win.

There was only one other league game for the club this week, as Benfield pulled out of the scheduled Nines fixture, unable to field a team.  As this was just the second game of the season it does put their future participation in doubt, and we shall just have to wait for news.

The news from the West Tyne game wasn’t good, for sure.  In an away match against Hexham House B we slumped to a 1-6 defeat.  David Ashworth’s winning rink was comfortably ahead throughout, finishing nine shots ahead and basically cancelling out two House wins by eight and one shots: in these defeats, Steve Benson’s rink almost pulled back after being 11-15 down with three ends to go, while Darren Cooper’s rink ended up being stuck with the 1-9 deficit that was showing after five ends.  Malcolm Cooper’s rink was just 4-9 down after ten ends, but the gap widened from that point, to end as 8-26.   This was nothing like as one-sided as it might sound, as the Hexham House tally included two fours and a five, all of these scores coming after the jack had been moved significantly.

No doubt we shall soon get an official update on league placings, but at least it looks as if some odd results elsewhere mean we are still in (an increasingly distant) second position.  Meanwhile, in the Collins & Shipley the ladies are third from bottom, but with the comfort that they have played the top two teams.

It was good to resume friendly action too, with a game against Gosforth West Avenue which illustrated that odd way in which friendly matches, with team selection for both clubs based on availability, inclination and other random factors, can sometimes result in the tightest of contests.  In this case, Gosforth won one rink by ten shots, but the margins (one way or the other) on other rinks were six, five, four and two ones.  As it happened, we lost the two rinks that were decided by a single shot, and lost the whole match 87-92 after leading overall until at least the fifteenth end, but when it’s as well matched as that no one is caring.  Or at least, shouldn’t be caring!



Taking it Seriously

IMAG3874The picture was taken on Opening Day at the Dunbar Club in Vancouver, a really friendly and welcoming club where despite the rule for whites on Sundays the atmosphere is very relaxed – so much so that the club doesn’t play in any leagues, and has just one friendly each year.  (As you will see, in common with most other clubs in Vancouver they use fabric mats to protect the green, whatever the weather.)

Quite how our own members would manage without the extra edge from league and cup fixtures, and with such a high degree of internal competition, is a matter for some conjecture.  However, at the start of the week we were maybe not so keen on league activity ourselves, as early results were disappointing.  In fact, the Nines came very close to a win in their opening fixture, against Ponteland.  The pairs had an excellent win (27-4 shots), while the fours went down by 6-24. However, in the Nines league shots don’t count, so although the triples came within two shots of a win (19-21), thus ensuring a 52-49 lead on overall shots, the fact that we had lost two rinks meant that we took only two points from the night.  This was still a very good performance with a couple of regulars missing.

Despite having a second consecutive home game, against Whitley & Monkseaton, the ladies ended up with a rather similar scores profile, losing two rinks to one.  The trouble was that in the Collins & Shipley league six of the 12 points are decided by aggregate shots, and whereas our one winning rink led by seven (19-12) one of the others went down by 11-28;  although the third rink came very, very close (14-15) even a narrow win wouldn’t have been enough to earn the bonus points.

After those two setbacks it was important not to slip up in the West Tyne league against Allen Valley, especially as league leaders Haltwhistle are making such a strong start to the season.  In the event, the match was close enough: none of our three winning rinks was hugely ahead and we lost one rink by three shots, finishing with an aggregate win by 76-56.  At the same time Haltwhistle were racking up another 40+ margin, with maximum points, so we need to do all we can to stay within touching distance at the top of the table.   After all, we want to be a competitive club…


Results can Mislead

With hardly a cloud in the sky the ladies’ Collins and Shipley team welcomed serial title-winners Burradon on Wednesday.   There couldn’t have been many tougher games to open the season (apart from an away fixture to the same opponents), and in the circumstances the 0-12 points defeat was not as much of a trouncing as might appear.

The bulk of the 26 shots margin (33-59) came on one rink, with the other three rinks losing by an aggregate total of just seven.  Clearly, even a narrow defeat for that fourth rink would have made no difference to the outcome, so there is no issue there.  It really is a question of taking the positives from a match in which any points at all would have been a bonus; and the close nature of three rinks should be a genuine source of encouragement.

Your correspondent is currently in Canada, where a recent football report on the local team referred to “a resounding 2-1 victory”.  Maybe that is the first time such a phrase has ever been used in football terms, but the word “resounding” was justified in this week’s 7-0 West Tyne win over Alston.  Perhaps Alston thought it was a football match, as they turned up with just eleven players, which of course meant that one of their rinks had an advantage on the green, playing three bowls each to our two – but once the one-third shots deduction had been applied at the end this rink produced a double-digit (17-6) win for Elvaston.  Since the other rinks won by 10, 16 and 19 shots, it was a massive 87-31 win on shots.  However, with the opposition struggling to field a team, and with Alston always being slow starters in the league season, this outing should be regarded as good practice rather than a reliable guide to our chances this year.

Two results, then, that in their different ways should be treated with caution – or at least cautious optimism…

Little Action

This has been a stop-go season.  When we plotted the schedule, based on league fixtures and friendlies, it all looked quite full.  But for various reasons large gaps have appeared, some of them due to weather, some because another team has dropped out of the league, and on one occasion because we were propelled into hosting an external event.

This week was a case in point.  Even our internal Shield game suffered on Monday as a probable result of the England football match being on TV, though anyone who stayed at home to watch the match might have ended up throwing bowls at the telly rather than towards a jack.  It’s when you see highly-paid professionals having a brain-freeze or becoming totally inept that you realise just how skilled so many of us are as amateurs.

Anyway, there was no game on Tuesday because so many of our Nines team were away on the Gosforth tour.  The Gosforth Tourists, that is – a club which exists solely for the purposes of touring, for a week each year. By coincidence our match would have been against Gosforth, who have no members in the touring club (keep up!) but who agreed to postpone – albeit with some dark noises that technically only county tours should be valid reasons for postponement.  That does seem a bit precious, even in a sport as obsessed with rules as bowls.  Since both clubs have a bye on 26 July we are playing the game then.

So that left the ladies to be first up for a real game on Wednesday – or would have done, had it not been for a downpour overnight, and then more on Wednesday morning so that postponement was inevitable.

Try again, shall we?  Thursday night saw us at Hexham House, playing their B team in the West Tyne league.  Rain was forecast for mid- to late evening, but in fact it arrived ahead of schedule.  It wasn’t very heavy, but anyone who has spent the thick end of two hours playing in the rain knows that you still get pretty wet, with all the attendant extra things like cloths and waterproofs to consider.  For a while it looked debatable as to whether we would reach the 12 ends needed to constitute a match, but once that checkpoint was passed we carried on in much the same conditions to the end.

Three rinks were very close.  Brian Elstob steered his team calmly as ever, and needed to be calm as – despite never being behind – they dropped two fours and a three so that nice leads kept on being reduced to a single shot (6-5, 12-11 and 16-15).  It was perhaps just as well they stopped when they did on 17-16.
Steve Benson’s rink got an early 4-1 lead but that was the biggest lead of the match, as there were never more than two shots in it; they were level at 10-10 and 11-11 before going into the last end 11-12 down but then scoring  three.  It will be no surprise if we note that this match finished nine ends apiece.
The third close rink was Trevor’s.  Although the result seemed secure for most of the game, a late fightback, helped by an unlikely fluke, put the home side four behind with one end to go.    The way the game had gone, this was easy to defend, and losing just a single on the last end ensured a three-shot win.
So that meant a shots lead of just six from three ends.  We could easily have lost the overall match if the fourth rink had gone down badly.  However, Darren was in no mood to mess about, and was – as someone said – on fire.  Drawing to the jack or taking out opposition bowls to increase our shots tally he was winning ends for fun.  It was fun for us on the next rink, anyway, though certainly not for the opposing team, and a final score of 32-8 was built on having three fives and a four in the total.   It was also the case that with one massive lead on the scoreboard the other rinks could judge their own tactics with less anxiety. Overall, then, an 80-50 win, and all seven league points.
Our green was used today for a ladies’ County match (vs Yorkshire), so at least there was one bit of enjoyable activity on the green this week.  But otherwise we have to wait for Tuesday (Cramlington in the Nines) for our stop-go season to proceed.

In the Balance…

Depending on how closely you read the sports pages you may or may not have noticed that earlier this week the cricket match between Yorkshire and Northamptonshire was abandoned because of rain, not long after the captains had tossed for the start of play.  No result.  Or technically no result – in practice, Yorkshire were able to qualify for the final stages of the competition in question, with Durham, who had no game, joining them simply because Northamptonshire had been deprived of a match.  Not only that, but Northants themselves failed to make the final stages, despite being on a roll after winning their previous five games.

What has all this to do with bowls?  The weather link, and the way that in some sports (generally ones that started in Britain!) the result can be totally determined by the weather..  After our loss to North Shields last week, caused in all likelihood by the arbitrary shortening of the match, we were told on Tuesday afternoon that the Wallsend Park green was unplayable so that that match would now have to be re-arranged, almost certainly at a time when our complete triples team is unavailable.  The frustration is increased by the fact that it is precisely Wallsend Park “B” who presented our Hexham House rivals with a walkover and eight easy points when they failed to have enough drivers to get here for a game earlier in the season.

In contrast, when we were offered the points by Wallsend Park “A” as they struggled to raise a team we said we would re-schedule – and when that match was played on Monday we duly lost 0-8.  Although the triples came close, just failing to get the count they needed on the last end, the other two rinks all suffered, so that not everyone was heart-broken at not having to go back the next night.

By Wednesday we were perhaps a little fresher for the home game against Throckley.  The pairs started slowly, and near the half-way point were just 7-6 ahead.  In only a few ends this had gone to 17-7, however, and the result was no longer in doubt.  This was just as well, as at one point the rain began to be so heavy that another early finish was in prospect; for a short while there was as much focus on the clouds as there was on the green.

The triples were even more intent on insurance against a Duckworth-Lewis decision, reaching 24-0 after 11 ends en route to a 36-4 win; for some reason the ladies don’t like playing on rink three, but the triples could do it with their eyes closed.  The fours did their usual balancing act, going 16-10 ahead, and then contriving to lose a one and a three so that there was just a two-shot lead going into the last end.  Fortunately Alan Thompson then bowled his best two woods of the night, and the resulting four shots made the win look easier than it was.  The final score on shots was 78-28, which our statistician Brain Norman pointed out was exactly the same score we had in the reverse fixture at Throckley.

Earlier in the day the ladies had struggled against a powerful Burradon team with several County players.  Not all the Elvaston players were intimidated, however, and there were some good scraps – Betty Boaden’s rink lost by only six shots despite losing a five and a seven.  The overall loss of three rinks meant another “nul points” return, so that everything now hinges on next week’s game against Amble.  A good win could mean continued Division 1 status next year, but it’s very much in the balance.

Finally, and back with the Nines, the re-arranged game with Hexham House took place on Thursday night.  (Although it was a home game the visiting supporters outnumbered us eight to one.  We had the one.)  Despite our moans about the end-result of other postponements, we would have to say that Hexham House were very good in agreeing to bring this one forward as we have several players away next week.  This one definitely worked in our favour.

The fours had a good start but faded a little in the middle to go down to a 10-15 loss.  Here as on all the rinks there were a lot of really good heads and close calls.  The triples went the other way, down 1-5 after a few ends but playing well enough to limit the early damage, and once they scored a four to go into the lead they accelerated through the evening gloom to win 20-10.  This game marked a fine début in the Nines for John McArdle.  The light faded really quickly, and the Pairs, who hadn’t dawdled, were last to finish in almost total darkness – but we could all see enough to realise that losing a one on the last end mattered not, as the final score was 14-10.   You may not have been able to see the detail of this game, but with a pumped-up Darren playing against Clive Knott you could follow the progress just by listening to the shouting.  “Cleeeean!”.   “Drop!!”.  “Oh man, I don’t believe it!”.

But at the end of the night we really could believe it – a 6-2 win had put us in guaranteed second place, with a chance of overtaking Hexham House at the top if we win the fixture against Wallsend Park B.  That’s as long as the weather doesn’t intervene…

Up and Down

After last week’s successes there was almost bound to be a return to mixed results, and so it proved.

The closest league match of the week was certainly the  West Tyne game against Hexham House. Both teams were missing a few players, but the overall standard was still very good, and it made quite a difference playing on a calm, sunny evening.  One rink finished one shot up to Hexham House, one finished one up to us, and a third was drawn, so things there could hardly be closer; unfortunately one of our rinks lost by nine shots and of course that was the overall margin, with Hexham House getting the shots bonus.  On our winning rink Darren saved a point on the final end, drawing second shot to ensure the one-shot win, and not even risking his final bowl.

In the Collins and Shipley league the ladies had a difficult day on a very heavy green at Whitley & Monkseaton.  It was apparently quite an effort to get bowls up to full length, and a real struggle, with only one rink winning and a long trip home after a 2-10 defeat.

There was no such problem with heavy greens at Gosforth when Trevor and Jean played their Mixed Pairs game against a Gosforth team.  The bowls were, as they say, flyin’, especially in the direction where they were wind-assisted on one of the windiest June days on record. This didn’t make for very accurate bowling, but both sides were equally disadvantaged, and it was a close match throughout – for example, just 8-7 to the home team after 12 ends.  We then moved ahead 13-8, but back they came to within a single shot, and it was only on the twentieth end that a four put us in a comfortable position, seven up with one end to play.

Even by the end of the week the wind was still blowing strong, causing mild havoc at the Challenge Cup competition at Cowpen and Crofton.   This time it was a cross-wind, which made things difficult in both directions – in fact, this was the biggest challenge of the day. Hats and bits of foliage were blown across the green from time to time, and the scoreboard cards had to be tied with thick elastic bands, or otherwise they were flicking over like the old-fashioned departure boards at airports.  Anyway, there were just four clubs in the pool, so it turned into a round robin of three matches of 15 ends, with each club having two rinks.  So each club played two games against the other three, with results based on the aggregate scores over the two “legs”.  Against the home team our “B” rink lost by three, but the “A” rink won by four; and against Tynemouth the “B” rink’s four-shot defeat was matched by a five-shot win for the “A” group – so both matches were the narrowest of wins.  Against Haltwhistle, however, our luck (or rather, our skill) ran out, and both rinks lost, quite deservedly and with no room for debate.  Good luck to Haltwhistle in the final.

Finally, the Nines team had a big win (8-0) against Forth on the Tuesday night.  The wind that day had calmed down a bit and somehow the heavy black clouds produced nothing more than scattered showers so that the game went the distance – fortunately for us, as the pairs were behind for quite a long time.  The triples had an easy 24-9 win that came out even bigger when Forth lost a quarter of their score for having only three players, while the triples clocked up 30 shots.  With Hexham House winning big over at North Shields we therefore went to the top of the table, still with a game in hand over North Shields.  Next week it’s Heaton Victoria, who in recent seasons have always given us a really good game, so we can expect something much tougher, even if the weather is bound to be better.  Isn’t it?…