World Bowls Countdown – episode nine
As the climax of our trip down Memory Lane, and just prior to the start of the 14th World Bowls on the Gold Coast, we are featuring the most recent manifestation of the phenomenon that is World Bowls. Thanks to Covid19, of course, it’s been seven long years since the Thirteenth World Bowls was staged in Christchurch in 2016. David Rhys Jones, our trusty guide through the history of World Bowls, was there, and this month shares with us some of the highlights.
2016 – CHRISTCHURCH
NAU MAI HAERE MAI KI AOTEAROA
“Welcome to New Zealand!”
Arriving in Christchurch for the Thirteenth World Bowls was a shock to the system for those who had visited as a player, official or spectator in 2008. We had all heard of the devastating earthquake that had levelled so much of the beautiful city in 2011, but it was a horrifying and emotional eye-opener to see the state of the place.
We were assured that Christchurch was ‘open for business’, and it was a relief to see the resilience being shown by bowlers and bystanders alike. The ‘never-give-up’ attitude earned our deepest admiration. And an optimistic tone was set by a stirring Maori welcome at the opening ceremony.
But, although the host country got among the medals – and actually landed the Leonard Trophy – the Kiwis had to give best to the Jackaroos, whose men won one gold, two silvers and a bronze, while Australia’s high-flying women struck gold in three of the four disciplines.
Karen Murphy became the third player to retain the women’s singles title, when she followed in the footsteps of New Zealand’s Elsie Wilkie, who won consecutive titles in 1973 and 1977, and Ireland’s Margaret Johnston, who did likewise in 2000 and 2004. To the disappointment of home supporters, Scotland’s Lesley Doig defeated Kiwi star Jo Edwards in the semi final, and put up a good show in the final, before Murphy got home, 21-13.
Murphy’s team-mates proved beyond doubt that Australia’s women were (and probably still are) simply the best, when they won the triples and fours. Carla Krizanic, Natasha Scott (now Van Eldik) and Bec Van Asch defeated Welsh hopes Emma Woodcock, Kathy Pearce and Anwen Butten 17-6, in the triples final, while Kelsey Cottrell, Krizanic, Van Asch and Scott outplayed England’s Jamie-Lea Winch, Bex Wigfield, Wendy King and Ellen Falkner, 23-8, in the final of the fours. The English quartette had won ten matches on the trot on their way to the final – and this was their only defeat of the entire championship.
Note how the back-end of the Australian triples and fours were interchangeable, Van Asch skipping in the triples, and Scott taking charge in the fours. That is surely a testimony to their compatibility. The only title that escaped the Aussies was the pairs, and this writer’s heart swelled with ppride when young Welsh duo Laura Daniels and Jess Sims pipped home favourites, Angela Boyd and Jo Edwards, 16-15, in the final. Eight years previously, Edwards had skipped someone with the surname Sims – Sharon, to be precise – to the title.
Both pairs had lost only once at the group stage and were fast-tracked through to the semi finals, where the Blackjacks edged home, 13-11 against England’s Sophie Tolchard and Ellen Falkner and the Welsh duo outplayed Scotland’s Lesley Doig and Lauren Baillie, 20-11.
In the men’s events, Shannon McIlroy, a proud Maori, defeated Ryan Bester, 21-17, in the men’s singles final, then let out the triumphant roar of a wild animal on the podium, to celebrate his coveted gold medal. Indeed, it was McIlroy’s victory that tipped the scales to give New Zealand the Leonard Trophy. However, spare a sympathetic thought for Bester, who had bagged bronze in 2008 and silver in 2012, and who had his sights on gold in 2016. The popular Australia-based Canadian came so close to achieving his ambition.
New Zealand also won the fours, thanks to Mike Nagy, Mike Kernaghan, Blake Signal and Ali Forsyth, who beat Australia’s Barrie Lester, Brett Wilkie, Aaron Wilson and Mark Casey, 23-4, in a surprisingly one-sided trans-Tasman challenge, but it was Wilkie and Wilson who came up trumps in the pairs, storming home, 18-17, against Irish challengers Gary Kelly and Ian McClure in the final. Wilson was making his debut at this level, but went on to prove his worth by winning back-to-back Commonwealth Games singles titles in 2018 and 2022.
Jamie Walker, Andy Knapper and Rob Paxton gave English supporters something to cheer about when they held off a strong challenge from Aussie trio Lester, Casey and Aron Sherriff in the triples final. On a tense extra end, with the scores tied at 14-14, Paxton’s men edged home, 15-14, when Walker’s opening delivery stayed in shot position throughout. So, with England winning the men’s triples, and Wales coming out on top in the women’s pairs, the prospect of a southern hemisphere monopoly was thwarted.
The consensus was that home advantage undoubtedly played its part. Fast greens and gusty winds Down Under make life difficult for ambitious and talented visitors, just as heavy greens, which may be wet, pose problems for Aussies and Kiwis who come and play in the United Kingdom. But, as we have seen, the very best players from both hemispheres adapt well, and can overcome obstacles like these.
However, in my view, the rise of the Kiwis, and especially the phenomenal success rate of the Aussies in recent years is due to the investment – financially and in terms of time and expertise – made by Bowls New Zealand and Bowls Australia. With people like Steve Glasson in charge in Australia, and Dave Edwards leading a well-qualified team of coaches in New Zealand, it’s no wonder that the southern hemisphere game has come on in leaps and bounds.
In Christchurch, Karen Murphy, who bought into the team ethos philosophy, told me, “The team ethos generated by Glass (Steve Glasson) and his colleagues means we really are a team in all senses of the word. Team Australia means just that – other countries may pay lip service to the idea, but the Jackaroos have such a strong bond that we truly are ONE TEAM!”
More recently, I have been impressed at the way Bowls England has taken the hint, and there are signs that the other UK countries are following the lead set by our southern cousins. In the ‘olden days’, men and women hardly talked to each other in bowls, but, now, male and female team-mates laugh and joke, enjoy each others’ company, and support each other on and off the green, and the introduction of para-bowls at the Commonwealth Games has intensified the togetherness and boosted team morale. And a good thing, too.
MEN’S MEDALS in CHRISTCHURCH (2016):-
Gold: Shannon McIlroy (New Zealand). Silver: Ryan Bester (Canada).
Bronze: Darren Burnett (Scotland); Aron Sherriff (Australia).
Gold: Brett Wilkie & Aaron Wilson (Australia). Silver: Gary Kelly & Ian McClure (Ireland).
Bronze: Paul Foster & Alex Marshall (Scotland); Mike Kernaghan & Shannon McIlroy (New Zealand).
Gold: Jamie Walker, Andy Knapper, Rob Paxton (England). Silver: Barrie Lester, Mark Casey, Aron Sherriff (Australia).
Bronze: Mike Nagy, Blake Signal, Ali Forsyth (New Zealand); Simon Martin, Neil Mulholland, Ian McClure, Marty McHugh (Ireland).
Gold: Mike Nagy, Mike Kernaghan, Blake Signal, Ali Forsyth (New Zealand).
Silver: Barrie Lester, Brett Wilkie, Aaron Wilson, Mark Casey (Australia).
Bronze: Ronnie Duncan, Iain McLean, Paul Foster, Alex Marshall (Scotland);
Bronze: Simon Martin, Neil Mulholland, Ian McClure, Marty McHugh (Ireland).
TEAM TITLE (Leonard Trophy) – New Zealand.
WOMEN’S MEDALS in CHRISTCHURCH (2016):-
Gold: Karen Murphy (Australia). Silver: Lesley Doig (Scotland).
Bronze: Kelly McKerihen (Canada); Jo Edwards (New Zealand).
Gold: Laura Daniels & Jess Sims (Wales). Silver: Angela Boyd & Jo Edwards (New Zealand).
Bronze: Sophie Tolchard & Ellen Falkner (England); Lesley Doig & Lauren Baillie (Scotland).
Gold: Carla Krizanic, Natasha Scott, Bec Van Asch (Australia). Silver: Emma Woodcock, Kathy Pearce, Anwen Butten (Wales).
Bronze: Nur Fidrah Noh, Norhashima Ismail, Azlina Arshad (Malaysia); Sylvia Burns, Susan Nel, Elma Davis (South Africa).
Gold: Kelsey Cottrell, Carla Krizanic, Bec Van Asch, Natasha Scott (Australia).
Silver: Jamie-Lea Winch, Bex Wigfield, Wendy King, Ellen Falkner (England).
Bronze: Kateyn Inch, Angela Boyd, Kirsten Edwards, Val Smith (New Zealand).
Bronze: Hazel Jagoney, Ronalyn Greenlees, Sonia Brice, Ainie Knight (Philippines).
TEAM TITLE – Australia.