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After the Christmas & New Year break, national competitions are back in full swing and we have plenty to report on. Many individual competitions have now reached the area Semi-Final stage, with plenty of Westlecot involvement still. Also over last weekend, Westlecot returned to Denny Cup action, for a last 16 battle with Riverain with a place in the Quarter-Finals up for grabs.

We go to the National Pairs first of all, where just before Christmas Neil Smith & Scott Edwards took on Dave Snell & Mel Biggs for a place in the area Semi-Final. Both pairs had enjoyed comfortable wins in all of their previous matches, so this looked set to be a great game. The first half of the game was relatively tight, with both sides trading some quality bowls. However, in the second half, Neil and Scott upped their game, and managed to gradually pull away to eventually win 17-6 and secure their place in the area Semi-Final.

Later that week, Neil & Scott teamed up again, this time with Mikey Titcombe, to travel to Chipping Norton to take on David Leighfield in the National Triples for a place in the area Semi-Final. This game got off to a very rocky start for our trio, trailing early on and struggling to secure the count they needed to get themselves back into the game. This continued for a majority of the game, and left Neil, Mikey and Scott needing 9 shots in 3 ends to force an extra end.

This was an incredibly tough ask, but a good 2, followed by a super count of 5 gave Westlecot a fighting chance going into the last end. After Scott’s first 2 bowls, the 2 needed were held, however the opposing skip, Martin Shepherd, produced a very good bowl to reduce the count to 1 and leave a very difficult draw for 2, which despite a fantastic attempt, Scott pulled up just short, meaning a 1 shot loss. This unfortunately ends Westlecot interest in the national triples for this season, with the Chipping Norton trio moving on to face clubmate AJ Docherty in the Semi-Final.

Next up for Neil was National Singles, where he took on clubmate Chris Cheesley. Chris enjoyed a good win at Carterton in the previous round over Craig Morphet, whereas Neil has recorded comfortable wins over Martin Shepherd, Alan Dunkley and Paul Costin. Chris got off to a good start, leading the match early on, but Neil pressed the accelerator and found his form, and gradually drew clear, eventually running out a 21-9 winner. Neil now meets Mikey Titcombe in the next round, with a place in the area final up for grabs.

Now back to the National Pairs, where Andy McIntyre and Mikey Titcombe teamed up to face Paul Costin and Ade Kemish of Oxford City & County. This was a very good game of Bowls, with the opposition playing very well and keeping Andy & Mikey under pressure. A count of 5 for Paul and Ade late on in the game left Andy & Mikey with work to do, trailing by a few shots and running out of ends.

Mikey & Andy responded well, and a couple of great bowls from Mikey managed to turn the tide in their favour again, establishing a 3 shot lead going into the last end. Two fantastic bowls from Paul on the final end left The City & County pair holding 2 of the 3 they needed, however Andy & Mikey filled the head well and made the shot very difficult for Ade, who despite some strong efforts, couldn’t quite add the third shot they needed to force an extra end. Mikey & Andy move on by 1 shot and will play clubmates Neil Smith & Scott Edwards in the area Semi-Final.

In the opening round of the Ladies Pairs, Yvette Maxwell-Darkes travelled to Oxford City & County to take on Carol Gaskins. The winner of this tie would advance to the area Semi-Final to take on Lucy Smith. This was a very close game, with it going down to the last couple of ends. Fortunately for our pair, they managed to secure the victory 17-15, meaning we will definitely have Westlecot representation in the area-final.

On Saturday, it was time for the big one, Westlecot vs Riverain in the Denny Cup, with the winner advancing to the national quarter-finals. On paper, this looked to be a high quality, evenly matched game and it certainly did not disappoint.

There were very contrasting starts by our rinks, with Neil Smith and Mikey Titcombe making strong starts, leading 5-2 and 7-2 respectively. Tom Pittuck and Chris Cheesley’s quartets were not as quick out of the blocks, trailing 1-8 and 0-8 respectively at the 5 end stage. By the 10 end stage, the game had begun to swing in our favour, with Westlecot winning this 5 end spell 27-15 across the 4 rinks, largely helped by Tom Pittuck’s rink scoring 2 5’s to lead 13-10. Chris Cheesley’s rink had started to put up resistance to the barrage of excellent bowling by their opposition and had reduced the gap marginally to 5-12. Neil’s rink were still marginally out in front at 9-8, and Mikey’s rink had extended their lead to 13-5, leaving Westlecot 5 shots ahead overall.

In the next 5 end spell, not too much changed, with Westlecot just about winning this passage of play 18-17, still just 6 shots in the match overall. However, in the 16 to 18 end spell of the game, the tide once again turned in Riverain’s favour. Neil had maintained his 1 shot advantage, with very little separating the two rinks throughout the course of this match. Tom still maintained a 3 shot cushion, whilst Mikey had managed to extend his lead very slightly to 11 shots. An unfortunate count of 6 on Chris’s rink gave Riverain the overall lead for the first time in a while, and it seemed as though our hopes were beginning to fade.

However, there were still more twists where that came from. A vital 5 from Tom’s rink, closely followed by another 5 on Mikey’s rink once again gave Westlecot the advantage. This was backed up by some fantastic bowls by Neil Smith and Chris Cheesley to turn ends around that looked as though they were going against us. This eventually left us 6 shots in front, with just one end to play on Chris’s rink and Tom’s rink.

Once again though, Riverain responded, with Chris’s opposing skip playing a very good end to allow them to score a 4 and leave things down to the final end, with Riverain needing a 2 to force the extra end. Just as things were looking a little bleak, Josh Fail, playing 3 on Tom’s rink, produced an excellent draw bowl to cut the count down to just 1. Fortunately, Riverain could not find the second bowl needed to prolong the match, and Westlecot advance to the Quarter-Finals after a great battle that truly could have gone either way. We now look forward to the 29th January, when we will face Dorchester for a place in the Semi-Finals. Well done to all involved in our best run in the competition for nearly 20 years.

Following on from the excitement of the Denny Cup, we moved onto the Wessex League on Sunday, taking on Rivermead in our third game of the league phase of the competition. Our away rinks got off to a strong start, with the rinks skipped by Mikey Titcombe and Paul Kistle both establishing strong leads. Our home rinks skipped by Tom Pittuck and Terry Walton were involved in much tighter tussles early on. We managed to maintain a big advantage throughout the game, and eventually our home rinks also got out in front and pulled away, meaning a strong overall win, and adding the maximum 16 points to our total for the season. A great start to the campaign, we now look ahead to a fixture with Loddon Vale on 23rd January.

That’s all for now, plenty of action to look forward to this week, with the Mens Over 60 Double Rink back in action, and plenty more individual national competition matches to report on as we reach the crucial stages in the battle for National Finals places!

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