Without wanting to sound like a stuck record, the wonderful thing about the National Lawn Bowls Tournaments is that they provide the chance for even the most parsimoniously-skilled bowler to play against legends in the sport.
No other sport provides such an opportunity.
In other sports, the triers play other triers. And the elite play others in the elite (although over the past decade, many have questioned whether the Auckland Blues are triers or elite).
Players in the Nationals can also find themselves playing against humble Clark Kents … bowlers who once off the green revert to their superperson, spiderperson or batpersone personae … saving the world, reversing climate change, cuddling hectors’ dolphins, or even governing the sport of bowls.
One such four snuck into Section 6 of the Summerset National Fours Men’s round-robin.
Camouflaged as ordinary lawn bowlers, the Fours team of Tony Lepper, Mark Cameron, Allan Smith and Mark O’Connor presented anonymously on the greens at Bannockburn and Waipiata.
They were an unknown quantity.
Glen McDonald, skip of the Belfast Bowling Club team of Mark Schrader, Mark Young and Bryce Young (and winner of the National Fours in 2004, and runner-up in 2003 and 2005), wondered what he was up against in the first round.
“There were some early nerves in both teams,” Glen observed kindly, “But we settled into our work, and maybe they didn’t so much.”
An early lunch of ham, potatoes, peas and coleslaw at Bannockburn didn’t provide the hoped-for potion to spark Lepper, Cameron, Smith and O’Connor’s game. And they ended the day 0-3. And the tournament 0-5.
“It was great to actually play in the Fours,” says Chief Executive of Bowls New Zealand, Mark Cameron. “Usually we just swing around the greens shaking hands. We had a lot of fun. And the experience gives us a much better feel for the event.”
Cameron is a year 3 bowler from Riverhead in Auckland. But Central Otago was his first Nationals as a player, rather than just a handshaker.
For Allan Smith, Director of Bowls New Zealand, the experience was a new one as well. Smith’s only been playing bowls 2 years out of the St Heliers Bowling Club.
“It’s one thing to sit in the boardroom and make decisions about bowls. It’s another to actually get out at the coalface, and experience our premier tournament. The teams’ loved being here.”
President of Bowls New Zealand and Whitby Bowling Club member, Mark O’Connor, was equally effusive. “We didn’t do well ourselves, but we made a lot of teams happy with their win over us!”
Cameron, Smith and O’Connor are protected by the tyranny of distance from Central Otago.
But for the skip of the team, local cherry grower, Clyde bowling Club member and Chair of Bowls New Zealand, Tony Lepper, there may be a lot of stick to put up with from locals for a very long time.
“I’m used to it,” laughs Lepper, also the ex-Mayor of the Central Otago District Council. “We had hoped we might get one win in section play, and we were all-but in three games, but it wasn’t to be.”
“That’s what makes bowls so addictive. Anyone can be a winner or a loser on the day.”
There’s one great thing about the early exit for the Four. They’ll be able to get back to their superjobs, doing what they do best : managing and directing this wonderful game.
And judging by the buzz around the rinks at Central Otago, they’re not doing a bad job at that.
It’d be great to be a fly on the wall at the next Bowls New Zealand board meeting.
Once the four have got over the jibes from the other directors about their performance (or lack of) at the tournament, hopefully they’ll get down to the more serious business of considering the Central Otago Centre for future Summerset Nationals.
It’s a decision that doesn’t sound too hard.
All 120 competitors in the women’s singles have advanced to post-section play at the Summerset Nationals after wet weather prevented the first and only day of qualifying to be completed in Auckland.
While play was relatively uninterrupted at some greens, others a mere handful of kilometres away were flooded by torrential rain.
A near full schedule of play was completed at host club Carlton Cornwall in Epsom, where Blackjacks Selina Smith and Clare Hendra and emerging player Lisa Prideaux were amongst those to qualify on their own accord after winning their opening three section games.
Seven-time national champion Mandy Boyd also won her opening three games at Blockhouse Bay in west Auckland, while 2019 champion Debbie White won two of her three.
But across the Harbour Bridge at Browns Bay and Mairangi Bay only one of the four round-robin games were completed.
Stoke Stakes winner Tayla Bruce was amongst those limited to just one outing and will perhaps be underdone entering tomorrow’s (January 3) post-section play.
Bruce will play Orewa’s Elaine McClintock in the first knock-out round at Carlton Cornwall tomorrow. McClintock won both of her qualifying games.
Post-section play will also take place at Glendowie, Howick, Browns Bay and Mairangi Bay with the quarter-finalists to be found by the end of the weekend if the weather allows.
The rain also had a major impact on day one of qualifying in the men’s pairs, which have been reduced to five rounds of section play.
Only two of the first three scheduled rounds were completed at Central, Pakuranga, East Tamaki and Papatoetoe, where Mike Kernaghan and Finbar McGuigan got the better of Seamus Curtin and Shannon McIlroy in their much-anticipated opener, 16-11.
Kernaghan and McGuigan followed that up with a comfortable second round win, meaning they need just one more victory to advance to post-section play.
Defending champions Ray Martin and Robbie Bennett made a perfect start at East Tamaki, while pairings at Howick and Birkenhead were only able to fit in one game because of the rain.
All three rounds were completed at New Lynn, where 2019 winners Jordan King and Chris Lowe beat Blackjacks Gary Lawson and Andrew Kelly 19-12 in the third round to book a place in post-section play.
Lawson and Kelly will need to win one of their remaining two qualifying games at Central Bowling Club in Sandringham to secure a place in the knock-out rounds.
Post-section play in the women’s singles and section play in the men’s pairs will start at 8:30am tomorrow, weather permitting.
The first national title will be handed out on Monday, when the women’s singles final is scheduled to be played at Carlton Cornwall.
The men’s pairs final will follow on January 5, when qualifying will then start in the women’s pairs.
Section play in the men’s singles will get underway on January 6, with the final two title matches on January 8.
The disabled and blind national singles and pairs will also take place from January 4-7.
All finals will be broadcast on Sky Sport Next.