Wales avoid European relegation in tight contest with Turkey

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Four men in Wales team kit, standing in semi-profile

Wales Men 2018: (L-R) Simon Pougher, Garry Coombs, Rhys Phillips, Adrian Meikle

The Welsh men’s curling team have had a difficult week at the 2018 European Curling Championships in Estonia, but have managed to secure their place in the B-Division of European curling for another season – despite a tough relegation match against Turkey this afternoon.

The team found themselves ranked 7th in their group after failing to beat former A-Division nation Austria in their crucial final group match. It had been a slightly disappointing result to lose by a single shot, especially as Wales had managed to level the match at 6-6 by stealing in the 10th end.

Relegation match

At the end of the Group Stage, Wales had an overall record of 2 wins and 5 losses, with both the wins having been from the opening day of the competition. The results of their group matches, combined with Wales’ overall Draw Shot average score, put them 7th in Group B. Wales were ranked above Slovenia, who they beat earlier in the week.

Ranking seventh put Wales up against Turkey, who finished the round-robin in the same position in Group A. The 7 v. 7 match is preferable to the 8 v. 8 match as it makes it possible to avoid relegation with a single win – or to lose and still not be immediately relegated.

The match began well, with Wales easily out-drawing Turkey in the pre-match Draw Shot Challenge, meaning Wales started the game with the last-stone “hammer” advantage – and they made good use of that by taking a score of 2 in the first end.

Turkey responded to level the scores in End 2, and then made things tricky in End 3. A couple of missed shots from Wales, combined with good control of the centre line from Turkey, had Wales in some difficulty by the Skip stones – and while Turkish Skip Ugurcan Karagoz didn’t throw the perfect 8th stone, Adrian Meikle’s final stone of the end finished just short of the scoring zone leaving Wales a shot behind what they might have expected.

Turkey took a 2 in the 4th end, to go 4-3 ahead – but End 5 caused some real damage and made life really difficult for the Welsh team. A couple of crucial stones didn’t end up where Wales needed them, which left Turkey with a well-guarded stone in the middle of the house come Skip stones, and Turkey took full advantage to steal a score of 2 and go 6-3 up at the half-time break.

Second Half

The second half saw Wales generally better able to control the house, even in the ends when they did not have the hammer. Wales could re-focus after a score of 2 in the 6th end, and after Turkey only scored a single shot in the 7th, End 8 proved a turning point.

Despite Turkey controlling the centre line well for the first half of End 8, Wales managed to clear the guards and then remove the opposition shot stone to lie shot when the final Turkish stone of the end came down, with a second yellow stone in the house but not counting. Turkey attempted a take-out shot, but missed the shot stone leaving Adrian Meikle a hit for 3, which he executed well. This put Wales 8-7 up after 8 ends.

End 9 was not a textbook end of curling, with lots of stones in the house and control switching from Wales to Turkey part-way. Sadly Wales’ stones near the front of the house were cleared away, leaving Turkey able to draw in to the edge of the 4-foot circle, and despite a decent freeze shot, Wales could not prevent Turkey putting their final stone on the button to score 3 – giving them a 10-8 lead.

Wales began the 10th End conventionally, putting up a couple of corner guards while Turkey put 3 stones in the house to apply pressure. A combination of a good heavy draw from Garry Coombs and a shot from Turkey unfortunately removing their own stones from the house left the scoring zone open for Wales to draw in, and despite Turkey’s efforts to clear and then out-draw the yellow stones, a well-judged heavy draw with Adrian Meikle’s final stone gave Wales a score of 3, and a 12-10 victory.

You can relive the action from all of Wales’ matches at the Championships this year by following the LiveStones as entered by coach James Pougher.

The result

The 12-10 victory in the relegation match means Wales’ men have secured their place in the B-Division of European curling for another season.

Turkey will now face France, who won their 8 v. 8 match against Slovenia. Slovenia themselves are now relegated to the C-Division (which is played in April 2019), where they will be joined by the loser of the match between Turkey and France.

Elsewhere, England’s men were playing a semi-final match against Latvia at the same time as Wales were fighting to avoid relegation. The team led by Andrew Reed won 9-6, meaning England’s men will now play in the A-Division for the 2019-20 season, and play Denmark for the B-Division Gold Medal at 6pm (UK time).

James Pougher, who as he recovers from surgery acted as team Coach for this competition rather than playing in his regular role of Skip, said:

The team are over the moon to qualify Wales for next year’s European Championships in Sweden.

It was a disappointing week where we lost many close games that could have been a win had a couple of shots of ours and the oppositions gone slightly differently.

A win against Turkey means safety.

But a huge congratulations to Andrew Reed’s English rink, who have had a fantastic week, topping the group and going on to gain entry to the world qualification event in New Zealand and England’s promotion to the A division.

In the A-Division, Scotland’s men will play for the Gold medal on Saturday afternoon, but none of the women’s teams from the Home Nations are either in medal contention or at risk of relegation.