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Our Cup Runneth Over

After the men’s success last weekend in reaching the final of the Challenge Cup, attention turned to the ladies’ open triples at Amble. The team of Susan, Sylvia and Blanche won all three of their qualifying round games and progressed to the knock-out stage.  An easy win in the quarter-final meant yet another game in a long day which alternated between sunshine and heavy clouds with steady rain.  The semi-final, which took place in such rain, was the tightest match of the whole day on any rink – it was 3-0 to Elvaston after two ends, 3-3 after four, 5-3 after six and then 5-5 after the full eight ends.  To illustrate how close our team were to winning this: on the seventh end Gosforth Empire chose not to bowl their final wood as the situation was so tight, and then on the last end Blanche’s last bowl finished less than an inch from being the shot, which of course would have won the game.

The draw meant an extra end, but sadly at that point tiredness seemed to take over, with sudden-death defeat coming in the loosest end of the day. However, after 40 ends of bowls that was very excusable!

The league game against Forest Hall on Wednesday saw the ladies’ impressive run of results continue. Blanche’s rink were five or six shots ahead throughout, while Betty’s rink also won by a few shots after a match that for the most part was quite close. Our third rink came back well from 1-9 to level the score at 9-9, but eventually lost by a single shot. The result was another 10-2 win for the club, which keeps us in a strong second position in the table – the score neatly maintained the average of just over nine points per game. While we are talking stats, it’s worth pointing out that last week’s result against Seaton Sluice was only the second time this year that any team had scored more than 70 shots in a Division 2 match (both examples were 78, as it happens), and it was also the biggest winning margin this season.

There were two games against Hexham House this week, just two nights apart but in vastly different conditions. The Nines game on Tuesday took place on a balmy evening with birdsong in the background and shirtsleeves on the green; the West Tyne Cup tie on Thursday at the Abbey was played in the aftermath of Storm Hector, with leaves and twigs having to be removed from the green in conditions more like early September than mid-June. .

In the Nines match the fours ran away with the game after losing the first two ends, conceding only three more ends to finish with a score of 25-7.  That match was pretty well in the bag from the halfway point, but the other two were very much closer.  The pairs were 6-9 down just after halfway, but came back slowly to edge in front before a good score on the penultimate end took them to 14-9; from there it was easy enough to pack the head, and not even Clive Knott’s final thunderbolt could disturb things sufficiently to get the big score that Hexham House needed.

The pairs thus won by three shots, just as the triples were going down by the same margin (15-18).  Here Geoff Lamb was the match-winner for the visitors, playing second and keeping his team in contention all the way through.  Whether we were lying two, three, or even five, Geoff consistently cut it down to no more than one; and on the last end, with the score 15-16 and Mark’s bowl some three inches from the jack for a likely draw, he somehow managed to get two bowls between our shot wood and the jack. So that made it 2-1 to us on rinks, and a satisfying 6-2 win on points.

The Cup match against Hexham House B proved to be similar in almost every way except the weather. It was remarkably close for the first half, with two rinks both tied at 8-8 after nine ends (at which point the other rink was 7-6 in our favour after eight). At the ten-end stage we were leading by one, two and three shots respectively, but thereafter Trevor’s rink took complete control, moving from 8-8 to 25-8 in the course of seven ends, and keeping that 17-shot lead to the end.

So that was one rink safe in a match determined on rinks won, with shots counting only in the event of a draw. This detail became important at the end of Keith’s match. Bowling the last wood of the match, at 13-12 and believing that we were one down, Keith very reasonably played his shot on the basis that a draw was good enough for us, since we were by now sure to win the overall match on shots. After his bowl had come to rest, however, it turned out that we had been two down, not one, and the result was therefore a 13-14 defeat which gave the whole match a different complexion, especially as Steve Bennett’s rink had just been hauled back to 12-12 after 17 ends. It truly was all to play for on the last end.

Thankfully at this point John McArdle played his best three bowls of the night to make the jack hard to reach, Sylvia – unusually for the West Tyne, the only female player on the green – put in some back bowls as insurance, and Steve didn’t need to play his last bowl as Keith Sanders failed three times to dislodge our shot bowls. The three shots difference was the biggest margin all night on either that rink or Keith’s, and rounded off an excellent contest, played in a really competitive but very friendly spirit. Next week will seem really strange with no game against Hexham House…

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All is not lost

Several years ago we went to Gosforth to play the last Nines match of the season, in a game that would determine whether or not they won the league.  We won the match; they lost out on the league.

The only reason for mentioning that is to cheer us up a bit after another ritual disembowelling by the top club in the area.  They could probably beat most clubs with a second-string team out, but there were enough first-rank names in the squad on Tuesday to make it an uphill struggle all night for ourselves.

The pairs did at least come close, with Steve Bennett and Darren actually in the lead after five, ten and fifteen ends. However, those leads were either two or three shots, and from 11-9 with three ends to go we lost it 13-19, with Gosforth clearly scoring ten shots on two of those ends.   Of course, when you pull off that sort of recovery you think you are brilliant, don’t you, with the victory totally deserved!  But it was hard on our lads, you have to say.

The triples also fought hard all through, even though the deficit was growing slightly worse all the time.  To be 1-5 down after five ends wasn’t silly, and the eventual 6-17 showed there was no major upset, just a steady accumulation of low scores by Gosforth.  The fours were a more distant second all the way through, basically shipping eight shots every five ends and finishing some 20 shots behind.  Our overall total of 24 shots on the night was our lowest for some considerable time, but in view of the calibre of the opposition we just have to take it on the chin and see it as a learning experience – albeit a chastening one!

By coincidence our game in the West Tyne league was also against last year’s champions.  It was an away game at Haltwhistle, with the green like a carpet and getting a lot of admiration from our players.   It obviously did our game good, too, especially Steve Bennett’s rink with a 30-7 win which included a sort of power-play, going from 5-1 after five ends to 17-2 after ten.

The other rinks won by six, five and three shots in games that were close throughout – two of them were level at the half-way point, and the other was 12-11 after fifteen ends – but the important thing was that we won all rinks, and therefore picked up seven points on the night.  With Hexham House B losing, we established a clear lead at the top of the table with half the fixtures now played.

Hat-trick!

The week started well with a win for the Nines team – our first this year.  The pairs had a good tussle in the early stages, 3-3 after five ends and then 7-8 after twelve, but then scoring a 3 and a 6 gave them breathing space and the final result was 21-11.  That left Darren undefeated in the pairs games this year.

The triples were also in a close game early on, 4-4 after six ends and 9-9 after twelve, but they came on well after that to win 16-12.  Some little credit is due to the team selectors, who adjusted the team formations on the night to give just the right balance: those two wins were enough to seal the overall win, but even had one of them lost the fours chalked up a 23-11 win that was actually even easier than the score suggests.

So that was an 8-0 points win, and the ladies improved on it next day (numerically, at least) with a 12-0 win against Ponteland.  We have no details of this win, which was clearly also three rinks to none, other than the fact that one of our teams was a player short – so that particular win must have been big enough to allow for losing a quarter of the score.

The next night (Thursday) we travelled to Allen Valley, who were no doubt buoyed by their win at Haltwhistle the previous week.  Our star-studded line-up is captured on the new cover photo for our Facebook page, and the FB photo montage shows it as being a nice, sunny evening albeit with several fleeces on view.  In the end it was the home team that was fleeced:  after 15 of the 18 ends we were actually 44-46 down, but a really strong performance in the last three ends meant that we won 65-50 overall, with three of the four rinks winning.  The game was obviously much closer than that 6-1 result suggests, but whatever, it meant three league wins out of three in the week. It’s a while since that happened!

With those wins out of the way, a friendly at Gosforth on Friday was, well, just a friendly. Despite having some strong sets of triples our teams might seem to have had one eye on the mouth-watering tea provided by our hosts, and two rinks went down by exactly 20 shots each.   Perhaps we had better just stress that it finished three rinks apiece and that we won the tie=break by securing all three raffle prizes.  Another hat-trick…

We’re Back!

After the cold winds of April had made us wonder whether the green would be ready in time for the new season the sun came out at the end of the month for our first club sessions at Elvaston.  Unfortunately for those who had put themselves down to play in the Nines, the first match of the season was over at Blyth, against New Delaval, and it was a cold, wet evening by the sea, with the rain relenting only in the last fifteen minutes or so.

New Delaval had won Division 2 of the Nines at a canter last year, and we therefore expected a tough game.  It did indeed turn out to be very close.  The pairs started well, and even after losing a six, and then a four, managed to be just 15-17 down with two ends to play.  On the penultimate end there was a strong shout for it to be our shot, but the measure showed it was New Delaval’s by a quarter of an inch, so that we needed three on the last to make a draw, but got only one.

New Delaval fielded a very young team on all rinks, but really rubbed it in with a 13-year old playing lead in the fours. We were 1-8 down at one stage but then came back strongly to lead 12-10 with just three ends to go.  However, one unfortunate end let the opponents back in, and we actually lost the last three ends to finish 12-14 down.  So two rinks had lost by two shots each.

That meant that the overall match was lost, irrespective of a narrow shots margin which became even narrower when our triples won by one shot.  We led all through until end 14, but then pulled back a small deficit to make it even after 16 ends.  A three on the next end gave us breathing space, and although the opposition skip moved the jack with a bold shot on the last end it produced just two shots, so at least one rink had earned a win.

High Heaton had postponed the match due for the Friday, so our next opponents were even more difficult than the first, in the form of Backworth.  Again the pairs match was close, level after five ends and again (14-14) after 16 ends.  We then scored a one and a three to win 18-14.

The triples found it hard to get going, the more so in light of being on the wrong end of a couple of absurd flukes for which the opponents (to their credit) apologised.   An early 0-7 score was reduced to 5-7 before another bad spell (and two more flukes) meant it was 5-17, before finishing at 11-20.

The fours had the classic game of two halves, playing well early on to lead 9-8 after 10 ends.  But somehow, when no one was looking, Backworth took over, and we scored only one more shot to lose 10-23.

That meant another 2-6 defeat on league points, but the fact that New Delaval beat our local rivals at Hexham House 8-0 shows that they are going to make a big impact this year, while on the evidence of recent years it is an achievement to get any points at all off Backworth.  So let’s see how things go in May as the teams start to gel.

In the Collins and Shipley the ladies went to Morpeth with only 11 players.  One rink therefore played one short and lost a quarter of their score as a penalty.  Despite that handicap the other two rinks did very well to ensure that the final aggregate score was in our favour, and we came away with an 8-4 win on points.

To finish this first, elongated week of the league season we had a home game against Alston in the West Tyne league. This time it was our turn to be playing with a full team against a depleted visiting side.  The advantage for the short-handed rink is quite great in playing terms, as the two Alston players each had four bowls while one of our team (Keith, as skip) had only two.   On this rink we led for almost every end until the sixteenth of the full 18, at which point, leading 12-11, the Alston skip fired for the umpteenth time in the match and managed to turn a likely deficit on the end into a four-shot score.  Alston then won the other ends to “win” 18-12 – which is where the penalty of one third of the score came into play, reducing their total to 12 and making it a draw.

That was the only (half) point that Alston scored on the night, but in fact the match was much closer than the points score would suggest.  Darren and Malcolm Cooper’s rinks each won by three shots, but they were both trailing with (respectively) two and three ends to play.  Steve Bennett’s rink had the most comfortable win, 24-11, although this was also the result of a late surge after being just 8-6 up after ten ends.

Other results meant that after one whole game we are top of the embryonic league table.  But then, West Brom were unbeaten after two games this season and that didn’t finish well, did it?…

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…