Monday, January 23, 2012

Four Nations Report

An action packed Four Nations weekend kept everyone on tenterhooks right up to the last stone of the last end of the last of the thirty games as England’s ladies tried to squeeze one shot out of Ireland to win back the Turnbull Trophy. In a situation typical of the to-ing and fro-ing of the weekend the Irish had fought back from a twelve shot deficit after two games (5-7, 3-13) and, while their men had increased the deficit by losing by three shots following a spectacular triple raise double take-out from England, their ladies were holding a 15-0 lead to tie the match with their match-winning stone well guarded. With no repeat of the final stone on the next sheet forthcoming, an amazing turnaround was complete and Ireland won by 29-28, their third win in five years by the same one shot margin!

Ireland won just one more trophy when they beat Wales, also by one shot (25-24) in a match where, by comparison, all the games were close and two of the games ended up peels, both achieved by the same Irish skip.

It was seven years since Scotland last beat Ireland but they came out fighting this year and after two games (men and women) it was 19-8 in their favour. Unlike England, Scotland managed to hold on to their lead and actually extend it by two shots to win by 30-17.

It is only in the last few years that Wales have managed to consistently beat Scotland and they were the holders of the Big Bertha Curling Stone Trophy. The first session of games showed that they meant to retain the trophy as the scores were 12-1 (women) and 12-3 (men) for the Welsh and an amazing twenty shot deficit faced the Scots as their mixed teams took to the ice. While one team clawed back a couple of shots with a 12-10 win, the other could not find the 19 shots required and in fact lost by one to make the final score 43-24 for the Welsh.

The Welsh also held the Kay Trophy having beaten England on home soil in Kent last year and with three of their teams winning by close margins it looked like they might retain it but having performed heroics against Scotland, the Welsh ladies suffered against England, losing 1-14 and enabling England to regain the Kay Trophy, their only win of the weekend.

Scotland against England is the bedrock on which the Four Nations weekend is founded and the matches between the two retain the old format with men and women playing separately for two trophies and, as Andy Tanner, the Welsh President, pointed out at the dinner on Saturday evening, it has a long history with the Tom Ballantyne Trophy (for men) having been first presented in 1933, though of course matches between the two countries date back to the nineteenth century. The trophy, which the Scots won last year, was absent this weekend but the competition was as strong as normal. Eight games were played and after four it was 30-27 to the visitors. With one score still to come in it was still England leading by five shots but that last game saw the Scots turn that around with a 12-3 victory to retain the Trophy by 55-51.

The Connie Miller Trophy (which Connie originally won for a points competition at Crossmyloof in 1955) had spent the last year in my house following England’s thrilling win last year and after the first game it was on course to stay there as a close fought game ended up 7-7. After five ends of the second game it looked even more certain that it would be coming back South as the English led 5-3 but a late rally by Scotland produced a 9-5 win and an overall score of 16-12 to leave the trophy back in Scottish hands. For a short while!

Once again the staff at Greenacres did a marvellous job producing ice which stood up to two days of almost continuous curling and also a great carvery on Saturday evening at which the speeches were short and sweet. Thanks go to the Welsh Curling Association for the hospitality which should transfer to the Irish for 2013. I say 'should' but the likelihood is that it won’t – but not for any sinister reason.

Bill Gray, the Irish President, announced at a meeting on Saturday that they were hoping that a new ice rink in Dublin would be ready for curling next season and they would love to hold the Four Nations there, but he did not think it would be ready for January 2013. He asked if the Scots would consider swapping their hosting duty of 2014 to 2013 while the Irish took responsibility for 2014, either in Dublin (preferably) or elsewhere if that venue was not ready. The RCCC reps were going back to consult and a decision would be forthcoming soon, but Pat Edington, RCCC President, was fairly sure that the Irish wishes could be accommodated. Watch this space!

Fakery! This is NOT the Tom Ballantyne trophy. RCCC President Pat Edington and ECA President Alison Arthur act out the presentation, as if the real trophy was present. Scotland won the competition though. Well done to the five men's teams.

The Meikle Trophy, between Wales and Ireland, is contested by one men's, one women's and two mixed teams. Ireland won this by a shot. Bill Gray and Andrew Tanner.

England v Ireland play for the Turnbull Trophy, two mixed, one men's, one ladies' match, won by Ireland by one shot, again!

Andrew Tanner and Alison Arthur with the Kay Trophy for competition between Wales and England (one men's, one women's and two mixed teams). England retained this trophy.

The Marshall Millenium trophy is for the Scotland v Ireland competition. Two mixed, one men's and one women's team. Scotland won this.

Alison Arthur presents Claire McLaren with the Connie Miller trophy, played for between Scotland and England by two ladies teams. A Scottish win.

Big Bertha is for competition between Scotland and Wales, one men's, one ladies' and two mixed games. Wales won this again.

Photos are courtesy of Gill Maguire. Captions are by Bob Cowan.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Triumph of Experience over Youth

I remember when I won the RCCC Rink Championship with Graeme Adam back in 1971, the lead of the opposition team said at the presentation after the final that he knew it was time for him to give up as he had just been beaten by a team whose combined age was the same as his – 62. On that occasion youth triumphed. This year while playing in the ECA Mixed Doubles Championship I looked around and suddenly realised (after a quick mental calculation) that the combined age of the six juniors that were also on the ice was less than that of my partner and I combined!

But it was the team that was not on the ice at the time, a combination of experience and relative youth, who were the eventual victors in the English Mixed Doubles Championship at the weekend. John Sharp has won the last three English MD titles playing with Jane Clark, but Jane has decided to have some time off from curling and so John found himself a new partner in Lorna Rettig and they came to the Championships fresh from a win in the Wetzikon MD in Switzerland.

There were originally six entries for the Championship but unfortunately Nigel Patrick and Alison Hemmings had to withdraw when Nigel was admitted to hospital just a few days before, leaving John and Lorna, and myself and Jean Robinson to face the massed ranks of the Kent Juniors!

For the first time in the ECA, LSD was used to determine choice at the first end with each team having five minutes practice before throwing their draw. In the event of a tie for a play-off position the average LSD would be used instead of tiebreakers and so it was very important to get your draws close to the tee. With five teams in the competition even those with a bye went through the practice/LSD routine to give an extra LSD to use in the average.

In the first session the Sharp-Rettig combo swept aside Harry Mallows-Lucy Sparks by 13-1 while the junior pairing of Ben Fowler and Hetty Garnier had a fairly easy victory over Brown-Robinson by 7-2. Session 2 and the first appearance of Anna and Sam Fowler, who were runners-up last year, but against Sharp-Rettig they were to fall to an 8-2 defeat while, in the battle of the juniors, Mallows-Sparks surprisingly got the better of the Fowler-Garnier pairing.

It was in the middle of the next session, when Sharp-Rettig had their bye, that my mental arithmetic about the relative ages kicked in as we were in the process of defeating Mallows-Sparks by 7-3. In the battle of the Fowlers, youngest sibling Ben gained the bragging rights by defeating his elder brother and sister by 10-6.

Sunday morning and a bad session for all the Fowlers as Sharp-Rettig defeated Ben F and Garnier by 9-5 while Brown-Robinson defeated Anna F and Sam F by the same score.

So it all came down to the final session and the game between Brown-Robinson and Sharp-Rettig. A win for the former would mean a play-off was required while the latter would be crowned champions if they won.

While Sam and Anna Fowler scored a full house 6 on their way to defeating Mallows-Sparks by 12-1, Sharp-Rettig had a fairly straightforward victory by 10-3 to win the right to go to Erzurum, Turkey, in April as English champions.

Well done to John on his fourth successive title and to Lorna for winning her first opportunity to play in a World event.

Lorna Rettig and John Sharp, ECA Mixed Doubles Champions. Photo by John Brown.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

And Not Forgetting the Juniors!

Well, Copey has done his bit about the Seniors (see Behind the Glass) so I thought I would bring a bit of balance by posting from here in Copenhagen about the European Junior Challenge.

It is always a pleasure to come to Taarnby, though today’s flight was a bit on the bumpy side both taking off and landing! I arrived in time to find Italy’s girls blanking their fourth successive end against our English girls to make the score 1-1 after six ends. The tactic worked as they then got their two at the seventh but an overthrown take-out by the Italian skip enabled Anna Fowler to draw for two at the eighth and send the game into an extra end. Unfortunately Anna’s last draw came up short and Italy won without playing their last stone. This was the English girls’ first defeat after three victories and so they are still well in the hunt. It was also a pretty quick game as they finished the nine ends while other games were still in the seventh!

As I write they are playing the undefeated home team who have looked impressive so far. (Currently it is 2-2 after 5 ends).

Three teams qualify for the play-offs in the girls’ event with one semifinal and then a final. Even if they lose to Denmark, if England can avoid defeat in their next three games against Germany, Poland and Estonia, then a play-off place is a definite. Those will not be easy games but Anna Fowler’s experience from playing in the Europeans in Moscow will be a big help.

One of the surprises so far in the girls’ competition has been the poor form of the Polish team, three of whom recently did so well in Moscow. One of those missing is the third, Magda Straczek, and it is obvious that she was one of the strengths of the team in Moscow as here they have lost their first four games.

Another country struggling this year is Germany, with a new team to the Championships, who are also without a win after three games. Unusually this year there is no team who played in the World Championships last year as France who were relegated have not entered, but there are still nine girls’ teams as Hungary have entered for the first time since 2007.

While England’s girls have played four games already and are playing their fifth, the boys have just played two – a smaller group and an early bye have brought this about. Their first game against Russia was a low scoring affair with a three for Russia the only thing really separating the teams.

Earlier today they played Latvia and, in spite of a bad start and being three down after two ends, they fought back well and ran the Latvians out of stones at the last end to win 7-4.

There are two groups of boys’ teams, one of eight teams and one of seven. In the group of eight there is a definite split occurring as four teams have won three games and four teams have won none.

One of those on three wins is Estonia, skipped for the fifth time at this level by Harri Lill, who is turning into the king of the extra end! Two of his three wins here have been after an extra, to add to three out of seven that he played at the Europeans in Moscow, though he only won one of those. The other form teams in that group are Spain, Germany and Italy.

Unfortunately I am only here for the day, unless of course the winds get up again later, but you can follow all the news and scores at