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!