Going Strong

maga hat_editedBy this point in recent seasons our competitive games have been limited to league games and sporadic progress in one or two cups. This year has been different. Quite apart from an extra league, and the interest of being top of that division, we are still in the Top Club competition, with a game in Whitehaven on 7 July – a date which sadly clashed with the Final of the Jubilee Cup, where we had to scratch.

Meanwhile in County competitions, Steve Bennett is in the quarter finals of the singles and (with Malcolm Cooper) the pairs; in the triples, Keith,Matthew and Philip had a great win at St George’s on Friday to reach the semi-finals.  On the women’s side Shelagh is a finalist in the 2-wood singles, and (with Jean) in the semi-finals of the pairs after beating Burradon, while Jean, Betty and Susan are finalists in the triples. As a little bonus, both the Bell Cup and Challenge Cup first round days were washed out in early June, so we still have a chance there when they are finally played. The summer still has plenty of interest.

Pride of place in league reports this week has to go to the ladies. Away to Chirton, they were stretched to the limit in getting a team together, but thanks to a lot of goodwill and logistical work we put out a full team of 12 – ironically, the home team managed only eleven. Shelagh’s rink went well ahead early on to reach 14-4 at half-way, and maintained that advantage to win 24-10. Betty’s rink took longer to get going, just one shot ahead at the half-way mark and then, one end later, one shot down at 6-7 (though Chirton were going to lose a quarter of their score). This indignity clearly sparked a revival and they then won six ends on the trot to establish a 17-7 lead, and even though Chirton won the last two ends it would never be enough to come back. On a low-scoring third rink Jean supervised a closer affair altogether, 8-8 after 12 ends and still close with the score on 12-10 with one end to go before a single made sure of the points.

There is one more little statistic to record, thanks to Match Secretary Susan MacDonald. The Collins and Shipley team have now taken 54 points of the 108 available so far this season, thus obviously conceding 54 as well. That, as Susan points out, must be the perfect definition of a mid-table team. But given the doubts that were prevalent before the season started, and some suggestions that we might not be ready or fit for Division 1, this comfortable position is really very impressive.

There is of course only one division in the Nines, where we hosted Ponteland hoping to improve on our 7-1 win against them at the start of the season – a win which gave us so much confidence in the early weeks. Unlike that night in May when darkness seemed to be falling almost from the start, this was a nice sunny evening even if the top layers were on quite early. The fours got off to a perfect start, with Terry Boon playing an outstanding game, and after 11 ends were 15-2 ahead. At this point there was a slight lull as an element of cautious consolidation crept in, but had it not been for a three dropped on the last end the final score (17-11) would have looked a lot better. However, once again it is a mark of improvement that we can now feel disappointed with a six-shot win over such opponents.

The triples and pairs each had a difficult patch, at different times in the game. The pairs were 5-6 at half-way (nine ends), at which point a four and a two gave them a cushion which allowed them to sit very comfortably ten ahead going into the last end. Like the fours they then took their eye off the bowl to lose a four, but this was another six-shot win (18-12). The triples also had to work really hard in the first half to lead 8-6, before a couple of good ends gave them a healthy 16-7 lead with five ends to go. At this point Ponteland came back into the game strongly, with seven shots in the next three to make it 16-14, and were then lying three on the penultimate end before Phil bowled a perfect runner to edge off the shot bowl and slice the jack away for two shots. That put paid to the resistance, and if wasn’t literally a match-winner for the whole fixture it did confirm the full eight points – another excellent result.

Having half a dozen people away on the Gosforth Bowlers’ tour had not harmed our Nines team too much, as our pairs and triples were basically unaffected by the loss. But needing twelve players for the Clegg league the next night was altogether more problematic, and we should be very grateful to all those who put aside domestic duties or simple relaxation to turn out for the game at Throckley. The team turned up to find the Throckley green marooned in the middle of a building site, and two hours later the match result was to show that our own efforts to develop a wide playing base are still a work in progress. The heavy and rather unpredictable nature of the green gave the home team quite an advantage, but despite this we competed well, with several of those new to the sport once again getting involved.

Craig’s rink was the stand-out success, romping into a 16-4 lead at about the halfway point, and then easing off only slightly for a 23-14 win. Malcolm’s rink was almost the reverse image, being 6-16 at that mid-point and eventually coming back to 16-21 thanks to a three on each of the last two ends. Until that late spurt the problem had been in the range of scores, with only one end scoring more than a single on our part and the majority of ends for Throckley being multiples.

The other two rinks were closer – neither side on either rink scored on more than two consecutive ends. Indeed, on Trevor’s rink neither side scored more than a two at any point, and neither was ever in the lead for more than two ends; the lead changed hands eight times. Unfortunately this was not a game of 18 ends (12-11 to us) but 21, and when the music stopped we were the ones holding a 13-14 scorecard. In another close game Steve Benson’s rink got to 4-3 after seven ends, but once they fell behind they stayed behind except for one end level at 9-9. The final result here was 13-17, so it was an unlucky 13 on two rinks.

Overall, then, we had been 31-34 down after 11 ends; 56-55 ahead after 18 ends; but then 65-66 down after the full 21. As ever, the fact that we had shaded the number of ends won was irrelevant, and only a minor comfort – the basic point was that we didn’t score well enough on the ends we won, as it was so often just a single, isolated shot. At least we had gone into the game some 20 points clear at the top of the division, so a rather sad 2-12 defeat in terms of league points won’t have changed the position even though it has dented our averages.

Speaking of averages, we can surely learn something from the relative success rates of the teams this week. (It’s often easier to learn from defeats than from victories.) Leaving aside the issue of who exactly was playing, and the quality of the respective opponents, there is a nice stat that stands out. If we discount the first two ends, which are limited to one shot anyway, we can usefully look at the ends from the third end onwards for each rink to see how many winning ends were earned by a single shot. Ready?

Against Ponteland, where all three rinks won, we scored a single on 14 out of 29 ends, in other words, a smidgeon under 50%; the one winning rink against Throckley similarly scored singles on five out of ten, bang on 50%. So, since we were pleased with that clear win, and delighted with the result in the Nines, it suggests that that ratio is a good one. This is actually confirmed by the ladies’ excellent win, which showed an almost identical pattern, with 14 out of 30, or 47%.  So that is all remarkably consistent. But if we now look at the three losing rinks at Throckley the number of ends won by a single shot rises to 19 out of 26, or 73%. Obviously the precise percentage isn’t crucial, and there can be no exact figure to aim for, but what the calculation makes really clear is the importance of getting more than one bowl in the head, both when building a score and to prevent the opposition from dislodging a single, vulnerable bowl.

Here endeth the lesson…

Well, it would have done, but on Sunday another big game came up – the Top Club match at Whitehaven which we referred to in the first paragraph.  Twitter users will need no telling about the result, but no account of the game could fit into 280 characters, so here’s a summary.

On a cloudless afternoon we went on to the green to a huge cheer, which unfortunately was from the neighbouring Rugby League ground, where Whitehaven were at home in a top-of-the-table clash: we had to make do with half a dozen local members or family supporters, boosted by reserve and ace photographer David Robertson.  The green was not quite as fast as it looked, but giving good results except that (for both sides) there was an area a few yards from the ditch where the bowls would run on, whatever speed they were doing.  At least the frustration was shared.

As usual, the singles used the same rink, and in the opening two-wood Keith showed his usual accuracy in holding off a late challenge from the home player – they went into the penultimate end at 12-12, at which point a two put him well in control and he wrapped it up on the final end to give us the first point.

At about this point the other three rinks were also doing nicely – around the half-way stage both the triples and fours reached 10-6, with the pairs on 10-8.  But strangely, it was the home team which had started slowly and then seemed to adjust to the green.  The pairs lost a three and a four to go from 12-8 to 12-15, soon becoming 14-18, while the fours also lost the early momentum which had seen them win seven ends in succession to go from 1-6 to 12-6.  In fact, they then lost seven on the bounce, to be 12-17 down as the home side found their preferred length.   Things were not looking good.

They were looking even worse in the singles, where Craig was 4-11 down early on, with the same margin held through to 11-18. Maybe not our day after all…  While all this was going on the triples also saw their lead disappear, but did really well to never let the home team get ahead despite being level at 13-13 and then, with one end to go, 14-14.  So it was a last-end shoot-out, and although each side held the shot in the course of the end Phil didn’t even have to bowl the last wood as we had scored a two to make it two wins.

The fours and the pairs were still behind by a few shots each, but, out of the blue, over on the far rink, Craig rallied from his position of 11-18 to score a four and then, next end, another four, to suddenly be in front, and in no time at all he had finished off the game and seal the overall win.  The cheer from the rest of the team might not have matched the rugby, but it was the biggest we’d heard on the green for quite a while!

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Straight A’s

After several dismal days the sun came out on Wednesday both in Hexham, for the ladies’ Collins and Shipley match, and even more so over at Seaton Delalval, where the men played Astley Park in the Clegg league.

At Astley Park the men arrived from all sorts of directions after work, and after this logistical triumph the actual game seemed quite relaxing. Not that it was straightforward: Malcolm’s rink went well ahead, only to be pegged back at 10-10 halfway through, then again took the lead before finding themselves at 15-15 with three ends left. A three at this point made things look happier, and a 19-16 win was the right result in that they had been behind only once, at 1-2. Astley Park’s top rink gave Phil’s rink a good run: we were 0-5 down after five ends but (showing the value of that sort of containment) then went 7-5 ahead. However, the score then ended up being tied on four more occasions, including after 18 ends, so by winning the last three ends to win 19-12 our team did really well. On the other two rinks Craig and Trevor seemed to be in a contest for top rink scores, both leading 20-5 near the end, but Craig’s rink carried on their run without dropping another shot to win by twenty while Trevor lost five of the last six ends to finish at walking pace, ten shots up.

Overall that was enough for a shots win of 85-45, and more importantly a 14-0 win for the third week in succession. Next week will be more a struggle, with several regulars away on the Gosforth Bowlers Tour, but at least we have a good margin of safety at the top of the table. Also very encouraging was that two of our new members, Ian and Peter, made league débuts and fitted in really well. The words ducks and water sprang to mind.

Last week we saw how far the ladies had come this year when they regarded a mere draw against Burradon as something of a lost opportunity. At the start of the season, with three consecutive defeats, there was still a sense that the performance each time was better than the result, and that belief is now paying off. This week we hosted third-placed Amble. Jean’s rink were never behind, though after 15 ends neither side had scored more than a two, and we were just 10-7 ahead with three to go. So what a time it was to pick up a five, allowing everyone to relax and win the last two ends as well for a 21-7 win.

Susan’s rink were similarly limited to ones and twos for the first 15 ends, at which point they were 9-12 down. So here too the sixteenth end was crucial, as they levelled it with a three, and then, after losing a single, picked up two on the last end to win 14-13. This was a really determined effort, and well-worth the two points. Meanwhile, on the third rink, Shelagh had seen an 8-3 lead disappear to level 8-8 at the halfway point, but then, in spectacular fashion, won all nine of the remaining ends to win 23-8. Last week the whole team had collapsed in the last 12 ends across the board; this week was a massive improvement, winning 20 of the last 27 played and turning the half-time scoreline of 21-23 into a resounding 58-28 win. A “second-half team”! Other results aren’t yet in, but based on form and likely outcomes there’s every chance that this performance has lifted us well up the table, into at least fourth place.

Partly as a result of our continuing success in various County events, it was a bit hard making up the numbers for the West Tyne game at Allen Valley on Thursday, but thanks to the willingness of several new members and at least one old stalwart who had been looking forward to a quiet evening, the match went ahead with a full complement.

It was a lovely, cloudless evening in Allendale, with the usual friendly greetings. The treatment on the green was a little less cordial, however, as one of our rinks went down 7-26 and the other by 12-19. Fortunately for us these were the two strongest home rinks and the other two went in our favour by rather similar scores, 29-7 for Mark’s rink and 25-7 for John Lambert’s. Our various débutants had mixed fortunes in terms of results, but if there is anywhere to be introduced to the pleasures of West Tyne bowls it is Allendale, with or without the midgies. Thanks to our two large winning margins the overall score was 73-59 and the three bonus points made it 5-2 on the night. By coincidence, that Allen Valley score (59) was exactly equal to the average both for their shots scored and our shots conceded in games prior to this one. Pass me my anorak, would you?…

davIn competitive terms, then, it was a very good week, but it was still good to get a win in a friendly away to Alnwick on Friday. It just had to be another A, didn’t it? Alnwick turned out to be several degrees cooler than Hexham, on the fringes of a sea fret with quite a chilly breeze – this caught some of us out, but the magnificent tea afterwards put everything right.

 

As we all know, the scores aren’t terribly important in these games, unless you win, at which point they become a wonderful barometer of the club’s strength in depth. Speaking of which, next week there will be a need for more input from a range of players: several of our men will be away with the Gosforth Tourists, while there is also a County tour involving a couple of our ladies. It so happens that we have a bye on Thursday in the West Tyne, but for the other three leagues players are urgently (as in: urgently) required. After this week’s excellent results we should at least hope for some respectable scores to keep us in contention across the board.

Coming up Trumps

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!

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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…

 

A Summer Game?

Whether or not this turns out to be a record month for June rainfall, there seems never to be a day without rain. There is a particular irony in the fact that work started last week on the installation of our new irrigation system – ah well, at least it forced us to tidy the shed.

On Tuesday night, over in North Shields, it was the temperature that was the big feature as we ventured out of the changing room for a Nines match against Collingwood. The pairs certainly caught their hosts cold, picking up three fours and a five on the way to a 28-5 lead which was only slightly dented by the loss of a late five, so that a score of 30-12 was not flattering at all. The triples took longer to assert control, with neither side more than two shots in front until the half-way point (7-6 in our favour). Winning three of the next four ends put our team 13-7 ahead, at which point a random six for Collingwood levelled the scores with only four ends to play. The team remained so calm that you would never have guessed they had just lost a big count, and three ends later they went into the last end seven shots ahead, making the eventual 20-14 win look like a formality.

Meanwhile, the fours managed to control not only the conditions but also a determined opposition. In a rather low-scoring game, they were behind only on one early end (3-4), but never extended the lead to more than three, though in fact that margin occurred several times (8-5, 10-7, 12-9, 13-10). So for all the narrowness of the game, and the eventual 13-11 margin, they were clearly on top the whole time. The outstanding statistic of the night was still that the temperature was in single figures in the middle of June, but overall, an 8-0 win made the conditions bearable.

June was doing its best to imitate November the next night, too. The home match in the Clegg league went ahead – much to the surprise of our visitors from Astley Park – on the basis of a green inspection and total trust in an array of weather forecasts which proved to be very accurate in that rain arrived an hour or so after we finished. Not that it was totally pleasant out there, and we should thank in particular those who agreed to turn out at short notice when we were struggling to make a team.

As it happened, the teams worked together very well. Big wins (33-8 and 27-9) on two rinks made sure of the bonus points, with our complete dominance shown by winning 17 and 15 of the 21 ends respectively. It would be easy (and accurate) to say that the results here were never in doubt, but in fact after nine ends, at a point when the second rink was 13-4 ahead, our third rink was 13-3 in the lead and theoretically even more of a cert to win. However, that’s when 13 proved to be the “graveyard” it is known as in bowling circles, and Astley Park proceeded to win seven ends on the trot to lead by two shots. It’s as well the match wasn’t 18 ends, as we were still two down, but after drawing level with one end to go we scored two on the last to win 18-16.

The fourth and last rink was also well down, on paper at least, as they neared the end of the match, but here the opponents had an advantage by virtue of having only two players , each bowling three woods. The penalty was a loss of a third of the score, so after 16 ends, and the score at 10-15 on the board, it was actually a dead heat. Once again we proved to have more staying power, and despite slipping behind by one (or more precisely, two-thirds of a shot) on the next end a couple of solid threes meant that the final score was 17-17 on the night, translated into a win by something over five shots after the penalty. So here we were with a 14-0 win in terms of league points, pushing up into top place in the table. Once again, the blend of old hands and newer league players worked well, and thanks are due to all for turning out so cheerfully on a dismal night.

The ladies had seen their match at Gosforth postponed in the afternoon, and once the rain set in overnight on Wednesday it became pretty clear that we should call off the West Tyne game against Alston. This was in part precautionary, bearing in mind the number of players, the distance travelled by our opponents, and the good chance of rescheduling. However, the green had in fact held up well in the rain, as shown by Steve Bennett and Shelagh Carter playing and winning their County Mixed Pairs that night (23-13): this puts them in the quarter-final. Earlier in the week Shelagh and Jean had had a very good win in an early round of the pairs, while at the weekend Jean, Susan and Betty reached the final of the triples with a 16-13 win in the semi-final against a team from Ponteland. These successes clearly made up for any lack of action in the league!

There were mixed fortunes in the County competitions for the men. Philip and Craig lost to a notable pair from Newbiggin in the pairs. In singles competitions we had the unusual situation of two of our players (last year’s finalists) each playing someone from Morpeth St George’s. Steve Bennett went to Morpeth and won in the Open Singles, while Brian Elstob was at home to the very experienced Phil Harvey in the Champion of Champions. Brian certainly wasn’t disgraced, and the match went to 23 ends, of which he won 11. But it was a classic example of the old mantra about needing to secure second shot, especially in singles. Brian may have won 11 ends but they all came as singles, whereas his opponent had won four ends before scoring less than two, and by this point was already into double figures. As it happens, Morpeth St George’s are our opponents on Tuesday in the next round of the Top Club competition – eleven-a-side, and we can only hope that the temperature is into double figures as well…

“Top Draw” Performance

One of the oddities about bowls, and one which we have commented on several times over the years, is the way that almost every league involves a different scoring system, while even the various knock-out competitions organised by, say, Bowls England have different formats too. This week was a perfect example of the variations.

The ladies had a tough-looking fixture against Bedlington Dr Pit in the Collins & Shipley league, but got off to a good start, with two rinks leading 6-0 and 7-0 respectively after four or five ends – the picture was only partly spoiled by the third rink being 0-6 down at the same point. This last score was against the best of the Bedlington rinks, and things continued to slide so that at half-way we were 2-15 down. But as it happened one of the other rinks were trouncing the opposition by a remarkably similar score, so that the overall position on those two rinks was 18-17 in our favour. From then on our losing rink did well to limit and indeed restrict the deficit, so that our advantage on these two unbalanced rinks grew even more by the end. But at the same time our third rink saw their early lead whittled away until it disappeared altogether just before the end. The result of all this was that we won just one rink but also – crucially – managed to win the overall match on shots, thus getting the six point shots bonus and coming away with an 8-4 win. This was an excellent result, and with the two teams above us playing each other it should – barring a very unlikely set of scores – be enough to lift us off the bottom of the table. It was only the third case of an 8-4 scoreline in the 17 C&S results recorded so far this season.

There was even rarer result in the Nines league, played against Benfield in steady but bearable rain on Tuesday. The temptation was there to agree on a game of 11 ends before we started, but we took a chance on it – just as well, as at the 11-end mark we were leading by one shot on one rink and losing by a shot or two on the others! Most of the second half was tight as well, but the pairs drew ahead against a strong Benfield pair for a good 16-11 win. The fours had seemed to be in line for a great win, 13-13 after 14 ends, but then inexplicably gave away two fives and a three so that it finished with a most misleading 14-26 scoreline. One-all!

By this time you could just make out the players on the green, but the triples fought on, going into the last end one down, and then lying two until the Benfield skip promoted a bowl to make it one in our favour. It was now one of those situations where you have to either accept the draw or go for the win with a chance of failure; Matthew bravely tried to play their second shot out to restore the two-shot margin, but it was too tricky and we had to settle for a draw after all. So (with one end having been burned) here we were after 19 ends, all square on a rink that made the whole match level. The two-point bonus for winning most rinks was therefore split and the overall score was 4-4 – only the second occurrence in 35 Nines league results this season.

After these close games based on some very different rink performances, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to see a repeat performance in the West Tyne game against Hexham House A. Here two of our rinks went well ahead early on, but a glance at the other scoreboards showed that the overall game was actually going away from us. One of our winning rinks found themselves being caught, but held on well for a 17-14 win, while the other had a great night, racking up a 35-5 win, which might have been more but for a strange episode on the fifteenth end where each side thought they had agreed on a different number of shots. Two to us? Three? Without VAR there was no way of proving anything, so we settled for two.

It was pretty inevitable what was going to happen next. Despite this massive win, our other two rinks each lost by fairly large margins, though between them managed to score a vital three shots on the last end. And after the final scores were added it turned out as 72-72, so that the three points for shots had to be split, with the rinks also being split two-each. This result of 3.5-3.5 was the first time this season in the West Tyne, and there was just one such score in the whole of last season, so we really were into a run of rare or unique results!

These two drawn league games were remarkable, but at least in the Top Club competition against New Delaval the rules made clear that there cannot be a draw in any of the disciplines. In this best-of-five set-up it quickly became clear that the fours would struggle, and after levelling to 3-3 after just two ends they found the green as hard to tame as their opponents and fell way behind. Meanwhile Keith (Two) Woods fought really hard against his young opponent and would have beaten an awful lot of people, but still found himself going into the last of the 21 ends level – so it was “best of one end”, and Keith was just pipped to it. We were now two-nil down with the pairs level and the triples behind, having trailed for just about the whole game.

But the fat lady hadn’t even cleared her throat! Craig was keeping quite close, and so were the pairs, while the triples had been 4-11 down but playing ok, as proved by a five that followed. They then slipped a bit, but managed to be two behind with three ends to play, and then just one down with two to play. The penultimate end seemed to be going against us, but the opposition shot bowl was in such a strong position that it limited our options to one perfect strike, rather like those you see on TV when the commentator uses arrows to show what would happen in the best of all worlds. And of course, it duly came off, to give us a three and leave us two ahead. With the opposition now deflated and worried we took over on the last end, with front shots and even a precision blocker, and won in the end by five.

Meanwhile, over on the singles rink both players were giving it everything, not just in their play but in terms of the exuberant shouting (“Clean!”… “Drop!”… “Whiiiiite!”) and after slugging it out with great bowls on both sides Craig came through for a narrow but deserved win, to make it 2-2 overall. At this point Steve and Malcolm were 21-each with two ends to play, then lost a one. On the last end they were lying two before the New Delaval skip reduced to it to one with his very last bowl. So it all came down to the last bowl of the night. Malcolm and Steve talked about it for a long time, Malcolm thought about it for even longer, and the (by now) significant audience all had their own thoughts about what he might do. And finally a backhand rolled up the green to make the plant that Steve had advised, pushing one of our bowls in for a two and a one-shot win on the last end.

It really was a bit of a smash-and-grab win, as just twenty minutes earlier the home team might have been really confident of at least 3-2 and probably better. It was also one of the most exciting finishes we had all been involved in – after about 1250 bowls in the course of the night it all came down to the last one – well, at least it didn’t go to an extra end! It also meant that on three separate nights of the week the overall result in a match went to the very last bowl of the match. It’s also worth recording that the New Delaval lads were very fair and sporting throughout, even with the disappointment at the end, and contributed hugely to a really great night of bowls.  We now have a home tie against Morpeth St George’s on 18 June, in what is effectively, and unofficially, the Northumberland final for this competition.

Meanwhile, to return to the ladies, Jean, Susan and Betty had a very good and gutsy win in the County Triples against a strong Morpeth team, and the week was shaping up nicely. So after all that, it was a big anti-climax to have the Challenge Cup postponed on Saturday – the semi-final round was due to be held on our green, but heavy overnight rain, with more forecast, meant there was only a minimal chance of getting through the day. No one in any of the teams involved expressed any disappointment, anyway, and the day is to be re-scheduled for 22 June. If we have any more excitement like this week’s we’ll all be worn out by then…

Long to Rain Over Us

Apologies for the late posting this week – there is a lot going on as we move into June. But we can still review the last week of last month.

May is a famously unpredictable month in terms of weather, and the local conditions played a large part in our games that week. On Sunday, for instance, we set off in the morning for our Top Club match in Whitley Bay in light rain, and the promise of a few more hours as the rain tracked across from the west behind us. In the event, we got there as the sun came out, and had a lovely couple of hours with only the wind as a hindrance – the match report for that game was given last week.

The next day the club held its Queens Cup event in the afternoon, with all manner of outfits to meet the standard of red, white and blue garb. The winners were Susan MacDonald, Mark Terry and Michael Slade, a new member who must now think that winning things is par for the course.

By the time tea had finished the rain had started, which was bad news for the Senior Fours team playing against Rothbury. The bowls were immediately leaving trails of spray, and it was just a question of heaving them up the green more in hope than expectation. (There was general agreement that we didn’t need to chalk any touchers, as the chances of anything going into the ditch, even straight from the hand, were so small.) It was a pretty dismal night, compounded by a bad result – from pretty much level pegging at half way our team collapsed, losing just about every end thereafter, never by a lot but always enough. The Rothbury lads simply adjusted to conditions that much better, especially the way that the green changed pace as it got drier with use, and deserved the win.

The Clegg League game against Centurion Park was also played in light but incessant rain, with players spending as much time drying their woods as bowling them. We had a strong team out, but for reasons that may or may not have been rain-related, we struggled on all rinks. One rink won by three shots, having lost a 9-4 lead to go 10-14 down with five ends to go, before winning all five of those for 17-14. A second rink won 16-14 in a game where neither side led by more than three shots, with that lead of three lasting only for one end. Our third rink lost by five, having been behind basically the whole match, and hardly managing to score more than one shot on any winning end. So with two narrow wins and a slighter wider loss we were all square on shots. With Craig’s rink struggling early on, winning only four of the first 11 ends and trailing 10-11, things were looking as bleak as the weather, but from this point on they lost only one more shot, and 12 shots on the last four ends produced a healthy score of 31-12, with that 19-shot margin of course being the overall difference on shots. The league points tally was therefore 12-2 in our favour, but in truth that scoreline bears no resemblance to what happened on the green., and for a long time it looked as if the points were heading back down the A69. Division 5 was supposed to be an easy entry point for us, but it is proving much more difficult than anticipated.

Earlier in the day the ladies had played at Alnwick in rather better, though still not ideal, weather. The result was another 2-10 defeat, but once again the actual margins on the green were not that great, with the overall shots deficit just nine over the three rinks. As usual, they gave it a really good go, and no doubt will find that the exposure to this higher level improves the standard even if it doesn’t always lift morale at the time!

By Thursday the weather was still pretty miserable, and the West Tyne game against Haltwhistle had to be postponed. By mid-afternoon the green was starting to be a bit spongy, and the forecast was for more rain in the evening. At this point the chances of damage to the green, or injury to players, were growing, and it simply wasn’t worth the risk of wasting everyone’s time to come to a match that might well be called off half-way through.

Conditions remained very mixed into the next week, but we’ll leave that for the next post, hopefully more in line with our regular schedule…

We have lift-off…

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!

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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?

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