Monday, January 24, 2011

Reflections on the Four Nations


In addition to all the reporting from Bob on his blog from Fenton’s here are just a few thoughts from me on what was a successful weekend.

A lot has been written and said about the actions of the RCCC with respect to their selection policy and then the decision (later overturned) to withdraw their trophies from the competition. Ultimately this had no effect on the actual running of the weekend as we still had to deal with four teams curling, eating, drinking, needing transporting to and from airports and hotels.

Obviously it had an effect on how I used my time in the run up to the weekend, at least until the Scottish team had organised themselves, as it meant that I had an additional task of trying to raise a team to fill the gap which had appeared in our schedule.

At no time were the ECA ever intent on showing up the RCCC or causing them or certain individuals to suffer some of the name calling and vitriolic comment appearing on other Fora. Yes, we were disappointed by the RCCC’s late decision not to send a team but with the other countries having already booked flights and hotels, with the ice booked for the whole weekend and with a dinner and band booked, we had to run a viable competition or lose a lot of friends and money.

As president, secretary and competitions convenor of the ECA for many years combined I have often had to struggle to raise teams for the Four Nations when it is held in Scotland because of previous commitments and the time and cost elements so I can appreciate the difficulties which the RCCC had at this busy time of year. The difference may have been what each of us then did when the usual channels were not successful. I am not ashamed to say that in years past I have used Scottish friends living locally to the venue of the event to bolster the English teams (and also to help out the Welsh and Irish teams)!

What this year has done is, and it may be only temporarily, to raise the profile of the Four Nations so that for at least next year there will be a lot more scrutiny about how the teams are selected, particularly in Scotland. What is important is to know that the Four Nations is not one competition, it is simply a convenient way of packaging seven individual trophies into a time and money saving package – but it works. I am sure that the four of us will sit down or hold conference calls to decide on the future of the weekend in the light of this year’s events.

While the happenings of the last month will continue to have a high profile in Scotland, as far as the ECA is concerned what is done is done and we can look back on a very successful weekend. We raised a lot of money for the Make-A–Wish charity from our raffle – approx £1300 I believe and the first prize of the laptop was won by Ross Barr (ENG), the £100 M and S voucher went to Richard Pougher (WAL) and the third prize of a silver necklace to Catriona Cooper of Scotland – all very equitable so far. Unfortunately for the Irish the fourth prize of a bottle of brandy went to Bob Cowan! The Irish team apparently only bought green tickets but only one was drawn out throughout the whole raffle which featured more than 20 other prizes.

The shot of the weekend was undoubtedly Lana Watson’s draw to lie three within the four foot against Scotland which pinched the Connie Miller Trophy back from Scotland, but it is also pertinent to say that in the next session she took seven at one end off an Irish team skipped by…….no that would be unfair – he knows who he is!

My apologies also for the lack of scores on any website owing to an administrative cock-up involving cooks and soup – and not the ones producing the stovies, toasties and breakfast rolls!

As to who won – well all the countries won at least something but interestingly six of the seven trophies changed hands this year and only one was retained by last year’s winners. The Irish were the most successful, winning all three of their contests but only by the smallest margin of one shot against England and Wales and relatively comfortably by seven shots v Scotland. Wales beat England and Scotland, England won one (the Connie Miller Trophy v Scotland) and Scotland won one (the Tom Ballantyne Trophy v England).

So on the whole a successful weekend but one that I am glad we do not have to repeat for four years!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Czech and Norwegian Juniors for Perth

It started at 8 am and finished just a shade after 7 pm and in another extraordinary day at the curling club in Prague the local boys team skipped by Lukas Klima climbed back from the depths of despair yesterday morning after losing to Germany and seeming to be out of the competition only to be rescued by Austria beating Italy, to win the European Junior Challenge and the last place in the World Junior Championships in Perth in March. To do so they had to play and win four hard games of curling – beating Italy 8-5 after an extra end, Poland 6-4, by means of a three at the last end, Estonia 6-5, having to repel a great fightback, and Russia by 8-4 as a result of a four scored at the sixth end through a double take out by the skip.

In contrast the Norwegian girls skipped by Kristine Davanger and including Pia Trulsen (two Olympic gold medal winners’ daughters) had it easy as they only had to beat Italy 5-4 and Germany 6-4!

As for the English teams, the girls finished sixth in the final rankings on 3 wins and 5 losses while the boys were fifth in their group just ahead of Wales, both teams on 1 win and 5 losses. Overall this equated to ninth for England and twelth for Wales based on comparative draw shot challenge distances against the other group.

And now it is time to party.......alcohol free of course!

You can find all the results and standings on the event website here.

Friday, January 07, 2011

An extraordinary afternoon in Prague

An apology and an update from Prague

Apologies to Russian and Estonian readers as I was wrong in my assertion that Netherlands had already qualified for the semi-finals of the Junior Men’s Challenge here in Prague in my piece last night. I had ignored the one possible option which ultimately came to pass and saw the three teams finish on 5-1 records. Today Russia beat Netherlands and Estonia won both their games, easily against England by 11-1, and against Slovakia by 6-2. This brought the Draw Shot Challenge into play to decide who had automatically qualified. Before Estonia’s last game – they were one session behind - their DSC distance was 30.5cm while Russia’s final DSC was 39.6 and Netherlands was 45.1. So For Harri Lill, the Estonian skip, there were two challenges in his final game – mainly to beat Slovakia but also to ensure his last stone draw before the game was closer than 75.8cm to the centre, which would keep his DSC distance below Russia’s and give him direct entry to the semi-final and make Russia play the Netherlands again. The first part he completed in style by covering the hole for the second game in a row and then he played a fairly clinical game to earn that place in the semi-final. So first thing tomorrow morning Russia will try and repeat their victory over Netherlands.

In the other group Germany qualified by beating the host nation in the morning session and then the stage was set for a remarkable finish to the round robin play in the final session. The one basic outcome was that if Italy beat Austria they would qualify top as they had beaten the Germans way back in the very first session of play and no tie breakers would be needed. As the session progressed Italy were 5-2 up on Austria and Poland were similarly edging ahead of France. But then things changed and Austria came back to 5-5 going into the last end (Italy had last stone) while Poland led France 5-3 and were lying first and third shots when their skip went to play his last stone of the game – and lo and behold he jammed the French stone he was trying to remove onto his own shot and then the French skip drew for 2 and an extra end. This would be the third extra end in 5 games for both teams – Poland had won both of their previous ones while France had lost both of theirs.

Over on Sheet D Austria were determined that things would not be easy for Italy and when their skip drew a perfect draw behind a guard it needed a gentle tap back from the Italian skip to win the game, but unfortunately for him he was heavy and slipped through the house. Cue scenes of equal despair and delight as the Czechs were let back into the competition with at least a tie break against Italy. But things were still going on on Sheet B and with a Polish stone biting the front rings it just need a hit and roll from the Polish skip on a half guarded French shot to win and enter the tie-breakers. This was successfully achieved and what’s more their DSC distance gave Poland the bye to the second tie breaker leaving Italy and Czech Republic to fight it out in the first!

And now the story was – when would the tie breakers be played. For some reason there is only one time slot in the programme for tie breaker games – Saturday morning, but as two are needed would it be fair to ask either Czech Republic or Italy to possibly play 4 games in one day? Other options were play the first one late tonight (Friday) or delay the finals until Sunday. In the end there were no objections to starting early tomorrow morning and so the first tie breaker is at 8 am.

So to summarise: Tie Breaker 1 in Group B is Italy v Czech Republic, winner plays Poland, winner plays Estonia in semi-final. In Group A tie breaker 1 is Russia v Netherlands and winner plays Germany in semi-final. So how about the girls – well it was all rather tame and over in the first session of play today – Norway, Germany and Italy all won and finished in that order and so Germany will play Italy in the semi-final and the winner will play Norway in the final. The second session was all about bragging rights for those teams below. Final report on what will be a long day tomorrow though I shall be spending a lot of it anywhere else than the curling club as I try and see more than one square mile of Prague!

Prague, Thursday

So with just one day of round robin games to go we know at least one of the boys’ semi-finalists in Netherlands who maintained their unbeaten record with a win over Wales. And they are guaranteed to finish top of the group after Russia lost to Estonia in a result which gives Estonia a chance to grab the other semi final spot, either directly if the Netherlands defeat Russia and Estonia finish their campaign with wins over England and Spain, or via a tie break if they lose one of those games. After Slovakia scored their first win by defeating England 6-2 no other team has a chance of making a play-off spot.

The other section is still wide open – the easy option will be if Italy beat Austria as they will qualify along with the winner of Germany v Czech Republic. However if Italy lose to Austria who won their first game in beating France, then the winner of Germany and Czech Republic will qualify top and the loser will have to play Italy and possibly Poland if they defeat France. That would mean two tie breaks and would they cancel the banquet?.........

Clear as mud then! Wait there is more...

Then there are the girls – Norway extended their undefeated record with a win over Poland and then came through against a determined England team at the last gasp. After six ends England led 3-2 but a couple of misses let Norway pick up a three at the seventh and they ran England out of stones at the last end. Earlier in the day England had beaten Poland in an another low scoring game by 4-2.

Meanwhile Germany clung to their coat tails with a fairly easy 10-2 demolition of Slovakia and then an amazing low scoring 2-1 victory over Poland. Italy won their only game of the day 6-3 v Estonia but they still have to play Norway and Denmark and so are by no means secure in third place. And I had better not tell Alex Tordrup, the chief umpire, that a certain combination of results could end up with five teams tied for third place – Italy, Denmark, England, Poland and Spain – and the way the results have been going.......

One feature for me at this competition has been the relatively low scores, certainly compared to previous Junior Challenges. So far we have had the 2-1 German victory over Poland mentioned above, a couple of 4-2 scores, a 4-3, and numerous 5-2, 5-3, 6-2, 6-3 scores. Only five victorious teams out of the 56 games have scored ten or more shots to win. Does this mean that the weaker nations are becoming stronger or does it represent a growth of more defensive curling, playing the simple game and refusing to take a gamble with some guddling. Over three games last night there was only one score of more than one shot in the first six ends – and that was a 2.

Probably a combination of the two and I have seen some brilliant shot play but also some really naive tactics – to be expected from juniors of course.

One interesting contrast – in 2005 Poland’s girls played in the Challenge and lost to Germany by 19-0 – this year it was 2-1. They also lost 24-0 to Russia and 24-1 to the Czech Republic in 2005 – this year their scores have read 7-2, 5-3, 1-2, 5-6, 2-4, 3-6 – that is an aggregate tally of 23-23 for 6 games!

More tomorrow night when hopefully we will not have too much bad news for the Chief Umpire!

You can find all the results and standings on the event website here.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Prague Notes 2

So here we are halfway through the week and things are definitely looking up in the English camp as the girls recorded their second win this afternoon against a useful Estonia team, three of whom had beaten the full English team in Champery just a few weeks ago. It was a low scoring game and, without the hammer, England played well to steal ones at the first three ends. However the Estonians responded and had a chance to square the match at 4-4 in the seventh when lying one with last stone to come, but a bizarre choice of shot, which had the Estonian coaches in despair, resulted in them giving us another one and it was a measure for two which just went to them. So it was 5-2 instead and we ran them out of stones.

Earlier the girls had lost to the strong German team, though only in the last couple of ends, and the boys lost to Russia. There had been great celebrations last night after the boys defeated Wales and the girls Slovakia – it may not have been Germany and Russia but the thrill for the juniors of winning their first games in this company was palpable.

In the girls' event the two undefeated teams, Germany and Norway, met this afternoon and it was a tense thriller which was resolved by a very delicate tap-up by Norwegian skip, Kristine Davanger, to break a 3-3 deadlock after seven ends. Italy, Spain and Poland follow next on two defeats after Denmark continued to struggle yesterday, though they bounced back with two wins today over Slovakia and Spain, to leave themselves on three defeats, Poland having inflicted the third of those in a surprise yesterday. This is level with England and Estonia, with Slovakia bringing up the rear and still to record a win. Denmark could still get into the top three and a semi-final place, but it could all come down to their last game against Italy on Friday morning.

In the boys event, Group A is as expected the preserve of Netherlands and Russia, both undefeated after four and three games respectively and Group B is proving as tough as predicted.

France lost both games played until tonight at extra ends, and have just lost a third game to Italy and so are therefore not going to get to the semi-finals, a surprise after coming so close in the final last year. In another shock tonight Poland beat the Czech Republic at an extra end and have become a factor in this group instead of France.

So it could come down to tiebreakers and surprisingly there is currently no room in the programme for two tiebreaker games and when this question was raised at the team meeting the answer was not very satisfactorily answered – cancel the banquet, we have curling to play! And I thought it was only the ECA who failed to programme enough time for tie-breakers!

You can find all the results and standings on the event website here.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Prague Notes 1

Day 2 of the European Junior Challenge at this super Prague venue. My first visit and it is such a great facility but I reckon that might be all I see of Prague as there is a big schedule of games with two English teams involved.

And this is a serious competition with coaches of the calibre of Dan Raphael (ex Chinese coach and now coaching Italy), Tormod Andreasson of Norway with the task of coaching the daughters of two Olympic champions - Trulsen and Davanger, and Markku Uusipavalniemi on the bench for Estonia.

I am here assiting our new English Junior Coach, Greg Dunn, formerly of Holland and originally from Ottawa. I think we are going to be a bit thinner by end of the week - from nervous tension and a lack of time to eat! Today for example we have games at 0900, 1230 and 1600 - following a late night game last night at 2045! But at least we have the evening off.

I was last at this challenge two years ago and it is amazing how the standard has increased even in that short space of time. A bit too early to summarise form, but one surprise is that the Danish ladies, who last year just lost out to Germany on getting to the World Juniors, are already on two losses having lost to Germany again and, more surprisingly, Poland by 2-7. Having come down last year Germany are probably favourites to go back up but could still face a challenge from Denmark if they recover, Norway and maybe Spain and Poland with Italy an outside bet.

There are two groups of men and the balance does not seem quite right. In one group it is difficult to see beyond Netherlands and Russia for the semi-finals, though Spain and Estonia could cause an upset, but unlikely to go all the way, while in the other group there are strong teams from Germany, Italy, France and the Czech Republic. My tip for a quick return to the Worlds is Russia with Italy a strong second chance.

All the results are here.