Wales exit Europeans on a high

The sight of sunshine over Glasgow at noon on Wednesday is a welcome change for a Wales side becoming accustomed to the 8 a.m. draw; arriving at Braehead for the first of a double header in high spirits with plenty already to be proud of at these European Championships. Going into the first of those two games against a Slovakian side with their own designs on the Play Offs, the Welsh line up is altered once more with Simon Pougher replacing Garry Coombs at Lead, ahead of the orthodox order of Rhys Phillips at Second, James Pougher at Third and Adrian Meikle Skip.

A solid effort with the draw shots gave Wales the hammer to start with and Slovakia responded by putting shots into the house early. A Welsh miss allowed the Slovakians to guard their own stones and ultimately Wales were forced to surrender the hammer and draw for one. The opening stones of the second end were sent behind the tee-line but Slovakia were able to split the house before squeezing a tight shot inside to roll over. This presented Adrian the opportunity to play the double take out however the roll was not quite right and only one of the Slovakian stones could be removed, resulting in a gain of two for the Eastern Europeans.

Drawing around Slovakia’s first stone at the beginning of the third, Wales looked well set to profit from the return of the last stone advantage, but the situation developed dangerously with a succession of good Slovakian stones drawing into the house. Some control was restored with a good Welsh hit to remove two stones before Adrian was able to draw in – ably assisted by some delicious sweeping by Rhys – to take two from the end and restore Wales’s lead. The fourth end started much better than the previous one, with Wales burying one early and largely staying in control of the shot making. Slovakia were forced to take just the one from the end after needing to make a draw, and the scores were evened up once more.

The fifth end, just prior to the interval, was an ideal opportunity for Wales to open up a gap between themselves and their opponents, although a Slovakian stone lingering at the back of the house proved difficult to dislodge and would ultimately be crucial in spoiling the end. Wales froze up to it on several occasions and the chance to draw for two was open but the final stone pulled up short of its intended target and the Welsh had to settle for just the one point from the end.

The sixth was an even and open end including multiple good hits from both sides, with the house staying largely clear until the very last plays were made. Slovakia hit the last Welsh stone away but fail to roll out, taking the one and evening up the scores once again. The poor luck of the Slovakians was carried over into the next end were a crucial early miss put the advantage firmly in Wales’s favour, but their opponents fought back well to keep the end moving and Wales were ultimately happy to blank the end and keep the hammer in their favour.

The match turned in the eighth where Slovakia were able to engineer a steal against the hammer and lead for the first time since the second end. Two stones went deep early and whilst the Welsh were able to hit the majority of them away – including a good take out from James – there were just too many to cope with and the steal was achieved. A similar pattern developed in the ninth with Slovakia challenging Wales to hit out whatever they put in and the weight of numbers simply being too great. The final draw had to be made by the Welsh to prevent a steal of three and was, but it couldn’t prevent two stones being lost and the outcome of the match swinging further into the favour of the Slovakians. A defensive effort early in the tenth cemented this advantage and Wales were soon left without enough stones to make up the difference, bringing to an end a frustrating but tightly contested encounter with the score Wales 4, Slovakia 7. Meanwhile, on the adjoining sheet, a last stone win for Israel against group leaders Turkey brought an end to Wales’s chance of making the play offs.

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Picking themselves up and dusting themselves down, Wales returned in the evening for their final game of the European championships against an Israeli team that had looked solid throughout and had his their best form to dislodge previously unbeaten Turkey earlier in the day. More dramatic changes were made to the Welsh line up with Adrian Meikle dropping down the order to play First stones whilst still calling the shots from the Head, Garry Coombs returning but moving up to Second, followed by Rhys Phillips at Third and James Pougher entrusted with the responsibility of playing the Last Stones of each end.

Israel opened up with the hammer and remained in control of the first end until its conclusion, taking the blank to maintain their last stone advantage. They then attacked Wales in the second, putting shots in and rolling behind them. A good shot from James cut this down but it wouldn’t roll over enough and the final Israeli stone was just able to pick it out and stay for a take of two. The Welsh then set up the third end well, with three stones in the house from an early point, and didn’t really look back – with an Israeli miss partway through aiding Wales’s cause. Good shots later on doubled away two Welsh stones but James was left with a draw to make – and did – resulting in a take of two and a levelling of the scores once again.

Stealing a one in the fourth was a good result for the end, with a fortunate roll behind a crowded front-of-house bettering any effort by Israel to remove it and giving the lead to Wales for the first time in the encounter. The fifth end was then blanked, as Israel looked to hold onto the hammer going into the break and Wales happy to be performing above the level of their opponents. They were even happier once the sixth end opened the second half, with a steal of one extending their advantage and for the first time in the day they began to look comfortably in control of the game.

Excellent shots at the beginning of the seventh end were a sign of the Welsh dominance that developed as the game progressed. There was no surer sign of this than the powerful, driven double take out sent down the ice by Rhys – the sight of Garry running in order to sweep after taking a brief break from the ice was some measure of the quality and power of the shot! A magnificent steal of two widened the gap and Wales will have been happy that the scoreboard was reflecting the quality of their play.

The eighth end was marked by good early weights which created a promising situation. A split house behind a mounting number of guards shut down all avenues for Israeli gain and, although they made a good shot to remove one of the Welsh stones, they couldn’t prevent another steal by the Wales team to move the score into irrecoverable territory. Both teams shook hands at the end of the eighth with the final score standing at Wales 7, Israel 2. Although Israel would progress into the play offs at the expense of Wales, the boys were satisfied with the quality and control of their display and the final tournament record of four wins and three defeats represents a good return against a competitive and ever improving B Division lineup.

Wales lose to unbeaten Turkey

A frustrating early morning encounter with Turkey ended in defeat for Wales – although the match was closer than the 6-3 score line suggests.

A good pair of draw shots from Wales gave them the hammer at the beginning of the match. All three opening ends were blanked, however, after good defensive work by Turkey left Wales with no opportunity to score more than one – and no desire to surrender the hammer.

In the fourth end the game changed. Turkey set up the end well, putting their stones in and leaving Wales with little choice but to take one and surrender the last stone advantage for the following end. With the hammer secured, the Turks pressed on and took a score of three in the fifth and led 3-1 going into the interval.

When play resumed, it was the Turkish who remained in the ascendancy; a series of good shots setting the play up until they were able to steal one in the sixth end and another two against the hammer in the eighth, either side of a blank end.

Wales did well to cut the deficit down by scoring two in the ninth but faced a tall order to try and steal at least three in the tenth end. Turkey did a good job of closing out the avenues for Wales when they presented themselves and, with insufficient stones left to draw level, hands were shaken before the conclusion of the tenth end.

 

Up next: Wales play Slovakia and Israel tomorrow in the final round robin games.

For game updates and even more curling coverage, please follow @fpowcurling and @teampougher

Wales secure B-Division status for 2017 with double victory

Wales secure B-Division status for 2017 with double victory

Wales 9-6 Spain – Boys make hard work but come out on top

Wales 8-2 Lithuania – Afternoon siesta pays dividends with comfortable win

The frosty sight of Glasgow tower blocks sprinkled with occasional lit up window and the green hue of traffic lights through the mist could not be further from the idealised picture of sunshine and sand painted by irrepressible Spanish tourist board advertisements, and the Iberians will have been left wishing for their homeland after a gruelling examination that went the distance at the hands of a Wales team facing the second of three consecutive 8 a.m. starts – and the first half of a Monday double header.

For the first time at this tournament Wales made a change to their line up, bringing in alternate Simon Pougher as Lead, joining Rhys Phillips at Second, James Pougher at Third and Adrian Meikle continuing to Skip the side that had won one and lost one at the 2016 Championship so far. A solid pair of draw shots from Rhys and James gave the Welsh the opening advantage of the hammer and, after peeling away several Spanish stones in the opening end, Adrian was able to roll in to take one.

Wales managed to get a stone in the house early in the second end and, when Spain’s attempted takeout clipped the guard, James is given the opportunity to put a second one in as well. The Spanish third atoned for his error, however, with an impressive double to clear the house and reduce the chance of Wales stealing anything. Adrian then draws into the house and the Spanish skip clips the guard, leaving his stone lying to one side of the house. Adrian removes this stone and rolls to rest, forcing the Spanish to take the only one and level the scores.

Guards went up out in front in the third, resulting in a messy end. Matters come to a head when a Welsh take out stays narrowly wide and a Spanish stone is able to linger in the house for a steal of one. Wales are able to get stones in the house early in the fourth end, whilst taking out Spanish stones but an error riddled end concludes with a Spanish take out accidentally taking off their own stone and then pulling up short with their last to leave a straightforward draw for Adrian to score four – Wales’s biggest end of the competition so far.

A split house in the fifth is opened up by another well played Spanish double but James plays a good stone of his own to keep Wales in contention right up until the end, raising a Welsh stone to remove a Spanish and rolling over into a good position. Adrian puts his two stones at the top of the house, forcing the opposition to  once again draw for one and heading into the half way interval with the score at Spain 3, Wales 5.

The sixth end presented several opportunities for Wales to take two but these were repeatedly cut out by good Spanish stones until a difficult shot well made restored the Welsh advantage to three points. A scrappy series of traded hits in the seventh leaves and the Spanish use the advantages afforded to them by the hammer in this end to cut the deficit and enter the final phase of the match just a single point behind.

Crucially, a miss by the Spanish early in the eighth opened up the possibility of another big end for Wales, widened still further by the very next Spanish stone striking the long guard. The Welsh couldn’t take advantage, however, and the following shots from Spain were all well made to restrict Wales to taking just one from the end. No real pattern developed in the ninth and it eventually took some good shot making by the Welsh to force the Spanish to take one and – essentially – to keep hold of the hammer going into what would be the decisive end.

The tenth came to life with a powerful, dynamic display of sweeping by Rhys for James’s first delivery which, although removed by the opposition was followed by another well measured effort, to leave Wales in prime position to take something from the end. Adrian then sent his first down to peel away the Spanish guard and roll to join the early stone at the rear of the house. Spain were able to draw onto the Welsh stones but Adrian was up to the challenge of removing that to leave three Welsh stones counting and no Spanish shots in the house.

Wales will have been glad to have gotten out of a number of potentially tricky situations in this game, with their superb effort to score big in the fourth ultimately the difference between the two sides. Final Score after ten ends: Spain 6, Wales 9.

Five and a half hours later, the Welsh were ready for their second challenge of the day and the chance to put valuable distance between themselves and relegation to the C Division. Well rested, the boys restored Garry Coombs to the line-up as Lead but that was the only change. The draw shot this time did not come out in Wales’ favour and they were forced to deliver first.

After initially struggling to get stones to stick in the house throughout the first end, Adrian was able to draw in to the centre and whilst Lithuania tried to remove it and roll out their shot didn’t carry enough weight and they were forced to take the one. The second end started well with guards up in front but both teams were able to navigate their stones around and into the house. Lithuania found the Welsh stubborn to dislodge and Wales were able to tap up a guard stone to join them, sending their opponents into damage control. This was unsuccessful, however, and Adrian was left with a narrow gap through which to slip another stone for four – the second time that had been achieved in the day.

Wales got two in the house early in the third, with the Lithuanians only able to chip away one of them at a time. Their opportunity came at the close of the end, however, when they finally push the Welsh out and leave the house open for a blank end. A hitting end emerges in the fourth as Lithuania fail to build any rhythm to their play, intent on settling for a blank end. The fifth and final end of the opening half sees Welsh stones staying clear of their Lithuanian counterparts and come to rest as a pair of neat corner guards, just on the edge of the house. With a draw for one the only option, the Lithuanians have are forced to go into the break 2-4 down and surrender the hammer to the Welsh.

The sixth steps up fairly early with Welsh stones wicking away Lithuanian ones to draw into the centre, before Adrian is able to bring one to rest at the back of the house and another squirts past after some muscular sweeping for a Welsh take of two. Wales put one in early in the seventh, looking throughout the end to steal and apply more pressure. At the very end, with the welsh still sitting one, Lithuania used the hammer to play a heavy draw; intending to tap the Welsh stone out but inadvertently tapped their own shot away for an unexpected steal of one – much to the surprise and merriment of the vocal Welsh support.

What would prove to be the final end started with a number of long Lithuanian guards being peeled away – including one shot from Rhys Phillips which forced both of them out wider – before Adrian could draw marvellous into the button to effectively end the contest. The result was confirmed by a handshake between the skips with the score standing at Wales 8, Lithuania 2.

That score leaves Wales on a record of three wins and just one defeat in their opening games, joint second in their group and no longer looking anxiously over their shoulders at the undesirable prospect of a relegation shoot out. Instead, the boys can look forward to the coming tests of Turkey, Israel and Slovakia with an air of optimism that is well deserved.