Getting Better…

When the British and Irish Lions played the All Blacks at the weekend the result was depressingly familiar.  Despite playing out of their skins, and scoring one of the most thrilling tries you’ll ever see, the Lions finished on the wrong end of a 15-30 scoreline thanks to the crucial bit of extra skill and speed the All Blacks showed all through.  It was, in its way, a parallel for our Nines match with Gosforth on Tuesday.

Gosforth, with a startlingly young team, settled in very quickly on our green, even though the pace must have been totally different from their own, but our own teams all played really well, and much better than in recent weeks, so that the overall match was closer than the scorecards might suggest.

The pairs, for example, stayed within three shots all the way through the match until the fifteenth end, after which the score was 13-16.  On the next end they were lying shot until “former pupil” Craig Cooper, playing opposite brother Darren, drove the jack through to the back of the rink with his last bowl, picking up five shots and essentially winning the game.

The triples also fought hard, winning eight of the first 16 ends, and leading 7-5 after nine ends.  At that point a few loose ends, including a six against, allowed Gosforth to regroup, though a good four meant the score was 12-15 with four ends to go: sadly, Gosforth won all four of them.  The visitors just deserved to win, but perhaps not by the margin of 24-12.

The fours meanwhile stayed in contention early on, and when Malcolm Cooper trailed the jack to earn a six they had a good cushion.  With four ends to go they were leading 17-9, but here too Gosforth won the last four, fortunately with low scores on each so that the final count was 17-15 in our favour.

To go back to the rugby analogy, and to quote Stuart Barnes in today’s paper, “like so many teams who have faced New Zealand, the Lions wilted in the final quarter.”  To lose 1-2 on rinks, after playing well, shouldn’t be too bad, but the 2-6 defeat in league points leaves us in a precarious position at the halfway point of the season (albeit with a postponed game still to play).  The good news is that we are playing much better, with a lot of good teamwork – good signs for the second half of the programme.

There were more good signs in the West Tyne match, away to Hexham House A.  Two rinks won easily.  The “S” team (Susan, Sylvia and Steve) increased their lead consistently as the match went on: their lead at five, ten, fifteen and eighteen ends stood at 3, 5, 7 and 9 shots – they would probably have liked to carry on all night!   At the other end of the green, on a rink that both skips described as unplayable, Brian, Ken and David Ashworth won 23-8: after leading 6-0 after five ends they then basically scored two shots to every one marked up by the home team.  It is a compliment, not a criticism, to say that the rink took away a lot of the normal skill factor.

Those results were never really in doubt, but the same couldn’t be said of the other two. Blanche, David Boaden and Darren seemed to have the game sewn up at 13-6, but Hexham House had a great comeback to square it at 13-13 with four ends to play.  But that’s where the resistance ended, as we won those last four ends, all singles, for a 17-13 win.

For Christina, Jean and Trevor things were even tighter, indeed miserly.  After the fifth end there was never more than two shots between the teams, while after ten, 12, 14 and 16 ends the number of ends won had been exactly shared.  At fifteen ends our team were 9-11 down, before winning the last three ends to come through 13-11.

That last result, secured when the last Hexham House bowl missed its target by an inch, gave us a 7-0 league win – rare against those opponents – with a satisfying 73-43 shots margin.   In league terms it is still, or already, a case of who will finish second to Haltwhistle, who racked up the amazing total of 101 shots at Alston, but in view of recent disappointments the win was a big boost.

On Wednesday the ladies’ game in the Collins & Shipley league, at Burradon, was called off mid-morning because of heavy rain showers and what was described as a big black cloud.  Clearly the storms were worse over towards the coast, and as is the nature of such thunderstorms the rainfall would have been very localised.   These decisions are always very hard to judge, especially when you are having to let a travelling team know.  Here in Hexham it poured for an hour, but within twenty minutes you were out on slightly damp grass which was totally dry by midday, with various singles competitions going on through an increasingly warm afternoon.  There were some very good contests, which – together with a number of new visitors of all ages, trying out the sport – has given us a bit more optimism than we could manage a couple of weeks ago!

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Up for the Cup

With temperatures in the high 20s and bone-dry playing surfaces,this has been a brilliant spell of weather for bowls.  Unfortunately our performances haven’t been red-hot.

As it happens, several scheduled games were postponed or cancelled, so there hasn’t been too much action to report.  That explains the lack of match reports lately.  But in fact, it was just as well that the games were delayed, as several of us were suffering from bowls fatigue, with matches coming not just one per day but sometimes even more!

One such event came about after we received a request to supply some of our players to make up numbers in a special match on our green between the Friends of Bowls England and Bowls Northumberland.   Of course we had been delighted to host the event, and honoured to be asked, but the result of providing about five men in addition to several ladies who had already been due to play was that three of the nine men who played in the league on Tuesday night had already played 21 ends in the afternoon – not to mention rushing home without the après-match meal and then going in to Newcastle.  It was striking that Brian and Darren fell behind in the latter stages of the league game against Heaton, looking worn out in the heat, while the triples team (none of whom had played earlier) won handsomely.

The match against Heaton was as close (overall) as usual.  At about the half-way stage we led 9-3 on two rinks (pairs and triples) and were down 3-9 in the fours.  From that point the fours continued to fall behind to lose 9-21 while the triples exploited jack length very well to push home their advantage, winning 30-6.  The pairs saw their early lead pegged back, and despite all their efforts towards the end lost 11-17.

Only two league points from that match, and it was the same story – though for different reasons – next day for the ladies, who lost 2-10 at home to  Chirton, with just one of the three rinks winning.  And while that was happening, the two men’s rinks in the Bell Cup were proving to be the whipping boys once again, losing all five of their round-robin ties.  The day can be really punishing, especially when it is clear by lunchtime that you have no chance of winning the event: with a 10.30 start and the last match finishing around 18.00 it wasn’t good for morale.

We were quite relieved to hear that the West Tyne Cup game against Hexham House B, due on Thursday, was to be postponed until the following week.  The friendly against Alnwick was then cancelled as the visitors couldn’t field a team.

Perhaps if that event hadn’t been on the calendar fewer people would have ruled themselves out of a trip to Sunderland on Sunday for a friendly against Roker Marine: it certainly felt like a case of being “never knowingly underbowled”.  However, the match took place thanks to having the help of six good friends from other West Tyne clubs, plus half a dozen players from Roker Marine, who play only two friendlies each year and therefore have quite a lot of people eager to play whenever possible.  It was another glorious day in a beautiful park setting, and although Elvaston finished ahead on the scoreboard (just) we could hardly count it as a win in view of the number of guest players.  The other notable feature was the very generous prize of a half-bottle of whisky for each member of our top rink – the only one to have as many as three Elvaston members, so well done to Sheila, Jean and Sylvia.  And do you really want that whisky?

On, then, to the delayed Cup match with Hexham House B, played tonight on their green. Malcolm and Darren Cooper each skipped a rink, and both found themselves level for at least half the match, before both of them drew ahead, with wins by 18-10 and 18-11 respectively.  This Cup competition is decided on rinks won, so the actual shots weren’t too important – and after those results, totally irrelevant.  However, if either had slipped up we would have been in trouble, as Trevor’s rink lost an early 12-3 advantage when the opposition lead shortened the length by taking the mat up, whereupon Hexham House won seven ends on the bounce, moving to 14-12.  Trevor then nicked the shot on each of the next two ends to make it all square going into the last end of an excellent match, but Hexham House got the winning shot for a 15-14 win.  However, we are now through to the semi-final, against Haltwhistle, and at last there was something to cheer about.  Just as well, as the next league game is a Nines match against Gosforth…

 

A win, at last

Fifty years ago this week Britain switched its old Whitsun holiday for a late Spring Bank Holiday.  And of course, that year it turned out to be not only a dreadful May but also a particularly wet and windy Monday on 29 May – prompting “I told you so” complaints and a bad reputation for the new holiday.  It so happens that the weather in that back end of May has been rather poor over all the years since, so it really shouldn’t have surprised us that a long spell of hot, dry weather turned damp and chilly for our Queens Cup event, quite recently moved to the Bank Holiday Monday, and falling this year on the fateful 29th.

The grey weather was at least improved by the traditional red, white and blue outfits worn by participants.  For a while even that colour was covered up by rainproofs, but thankfully it eased after an hour or so, and seven teams of three enjoyed a round-robin event which was decided only in the final round.  All teams won at least two and lost at least two of the six rounds, so the combination of chosen skips and teams drawn at random worked out well.  The winners were Norman Lees, David Boaden and (skip) Mark Terry.

20170529_180039Other winners were the MacMillan cancer care charity, as we started the day with a special spider, with proceeds going to MacMillan. Thanks are due to Keith Woods for donating a bottle of whisky as the prize – this was won by Betty Boaden, who also won the prize for the best outfit.  And of course, everyone won with the splendid catering, with everyone providing their own favourite – how about this massive gateau?

It isn’t usual, I know, to spend time writing about internal club competitions, but somehow it seemed essential this week as we could at least record a victory!  Most of our other matches ended in defeat, and if we were a football club the manager might be getting a bit nervous.

In fairness, our Nines game with Hirst Park had been postponed at their request, while the ladies had a scheduled bye in the Collins and Shipley league, so we had just the one league match.  This was against Haltwhistle.  Unbeaten this season, they still have a plaque on the clubhouse wall recording their eleven consecutive West Tyne titles from 2001 to 2011, and there have been more since.  Put in that context, our 2-5 defeat, (59-67 on shots) was not at all bad.

Our first rink got off to a flyer, going 7-1 up in four ends, but from then on it was a very tight game (16 shots on the next 13 ends) as Haltwhistle fought back to make it 12-12 with one end to go.  At this point our lead John McArdle put a bowl right on the jack at the start, and the rest of the end was spent defending or shielding that precious shot: with some relief we got a 13-12 win without needing the last bowl of the match.  David Ashworth’s rink had an excellent win, by some 13 shots, and put us in with a good chance of a surprise result.  Blanche skipped an all-female team – Haltwhistle have no ladies in their team – which did very well to limit defeat to just six shots, including a five on one end.  Unfortunately, however, our fourth rink lost by 16 shots, so that the overall shots balance was negative (59-67).

In the West Tyne singles, Trevor played the Hexham House champion, Willy Dunn, in a two-leg match.  In the first leg, at Elvaston, he scored three threes late in the match to win 20-10 and establish a comfortable-looking cushion for the return.  However, Willy had rescued several ends with his final bowl, and that feature of his game came to the fore in the second leg.  From 3-3 he went to 11-3 with two consecutive fours, each of them clinched with the final bowl when Trevor had been lying at least two shots himself.

The margin remained at around ten throughout the match, until a four for Trevor on the fifteenth end of eighteen made it 12-18, an aggregate lead of 32-28.  On the next end he was lying three, effectively match shot, only for the last bowl to “do” him again, and with that boost Willy won the next two ends with some excellent bowls, and won overall by two shots. These were two really good games, even if the result was not the one we wanted.  In the first leg the home player won 12 of the 18 ends, winning 20-10; in the second the home player also won 12 ends, with exactly the same ratio of shots (24-12).  It could hardly have been closer – but it was still another negative balance!

Our second senior fours team lost heavily at home to Ponteland on a day when nothing went right.   So it was down to the standard issue fours team to provide some positive news, and they duly did so, against Rockcliffe.  After eight ends it was 4-4, at which point the visitors pulled ahead so that we were 5-8 down, but then our four (David Boaden, Brian, Keith and Darren) took control, with at least one of the first three bowling a very good bowl each end. In fact they didn’t lose another point, and Rockcliffe conceded after 19 ends, with the score 21-8 in our favour.  An actual win – some of that bunting from the Queens Cup day would have come in handy!

 

Whitewash

The hottest week of the year forced us to use quite a bit of water on the green, but plenty of cold water was poured on our league teams too.  The Nines side went to Backworth more in hope than expectation, and although the pairs came to within three shots (15-18) the triples and fours lost by an aggregate 33 shots.  The overall result, therefore, was a 0-8 loss, which it has to be said is par for the course at Backworth but not exactly great for morale either.

The ladies, meanwhile, travelled to Alnwick with rather more cause for confidence after recent performances.  Once again, though, each rink fell short, by small but crucial margins, and the result this time was 0-12.

That left hopes for positive news pinned firmly on the West Tyne match with Prudhoe House, but on Wednesday evening, 24 hours before the game, Prudhoe announced that their club has folded and that our fixture was obviously cancelled.   Although we knew that at least one of their earlier matches had been postponed because of low numbers this was nevertheless a shock.  It also guaranteed a further fixture with no points!

It would be nice to report that we had at least won a friendly, but in a most enjoyable game at Portland on Friday afternoon, in full, hot sunshine. we lost overall by nine shots (62-71).  Playing four rinks of triples we lost three of them, with a large win on the fourth thanks to the consistency of Brian Norman and John Lambert, who managed to dishearten the opposition with their nagging consistency, all the while reducing their own skip’s role to one of centring the jack and marking the card.

Portland, of course, represent the Gold Standard in post-match teas, so any disappointment at the result lasted for about the time it took to get to the bar.   But it will still be good to get some points, rather than pints, next week.

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…