Scott Mackenzie had five wins from seven games at the nationals. PHOTOS/FILE
Wairarapa are the talk of the New Zealand bowls scene after coming within one bowl of making the national inter-centre championships final on Sunday.
In the end, the team of eight from one of New Zealand’s smallest centres proudly walked away with bronze medals from the annual championships in Wellington.
The fact they qualified second in their section to make it through to the last eight was a first for Wairarapa at this particular event. To eventually go one step further than that was the icing on the cake.
What was to become an effort of fairy tale proportions, from a centre with only about 130 competitive men, didn’t start well.
Wairarapa’s first opponent was Dunedin and the southerners, who have won the national title on several occasions, claimed a comprehensive 3-0 victory.
That result put Wairarapa on the back foot, but their situation improved when wins in the pairs and the fours gave them a 3-2 win over Hawke’s Bay.
Next came one of the tournament favourites in Nelson, with Wairarapa starting the rank underdogs there. However, this was the big turning point in their campaign as they won all three disciplines – singles, pairs, and fours – to end the first day’s play at the top of the points table.
Wairarapa still needed a win over the strong North Otago team to qualify for the top eight, and they rose to the occasion, winning the singles and fours, for a vital 2-1 success.
A 1-2 loss to Kapiti in their last section fixture placed them second behind Dunedin, setting up a quarterfinal against a Manawatu team brimming with confidence after emerging from section play unbeaten.
Singles player Scott Mackenzie set the standard for Wairarapa with his consistent draw play taking him to a convincing 25-8 win, and while Manawatu won the pairs, it was a close go in the pairs.
John Claydon and Gary Caffell took an early lead Wairarapa, relinquished it in the middle stages and then fought back to lose 16-20.
Everything then depended on the fours. It was a humdinger of a match with Wairarapa’s Gary Muriwai, Peter Ireland, Bill Brunenberg, and Gavin Hamlyn leading most of the way but Manawatu always close enough to make it tense.
At least three ends were killed late in the game, but Wairarapa held their nerve for a narrow win, and amazingly, they were into the semis.
Standing between Wairarapa and a place in the national final was a star-studded Auckland side containing several past and former internationals and a host of national titles among them.
To say it was a real-life David and Goliath affair was a fair comment, but Wairarapa played well above expectations again.
MacKenzie gave them a flying start by winning his singles against international Jamie Hill. The game went point-for-point practically all the way until a drive that removed Hill’s counter gave Mackenzie a 25-24 win.
In the pairs, Claydon and Caffell were up against national singles champ Mike Galloway and highly-rated Tony Grantham.
Some incredible draw bowling from Galloway, often when he was down on the head had the Aucklanders race out to a handsome lead but Claydon and Caffell rallied well over the closing stages and the match went all the way to the 18th end with Galloway and Grantham eventually winning by five shots.
Here too, the result depended on the outcome of the fours. Wairarapa had their supporters – and there were plenty of them on the edge of their seats – as the match went into the 15th and last end, with Wairarapa holding a one-shot lead.
However, Auckland managed to get a two-shot advantage early on and, try as they might, Wairarapa could not change that situation, and Auckland’s 11-10 win was enough to put them into the final against Southland, a match they lost 1-2.
The highlight of what was a splendid team effort for Wairarapa had to be the effort of Mackenzie to win five of his seven singles, all against high-quality opposition.
The fact the four performed so well was also extraordinary as none of them had previous national intercentre experience.
Indeed, Hamlyn has only been playing the game for less than three months, and Brunenbeurg came in at the 11th hour as a late replacement.
Credit must also be given to first-year selectors Lester Dee and Warren Fisher, who were prepared to tinker with their combinations to get the best results and this paid big dividends.
The Wairarapa women’s team finished sixth in their section, behind North Harbour, Bay of Plenty, Central Otago, Southland, and Kapiti Coast.
Their only win came in round three against Southland, with victories in the singles and fours.
Otherwise, the four had a 19-8 win in the 1-2 loss to Kapiti, and the pair drew 18-18 in the 0-2 loss to Central Otago.