Bowled over in Saundersfoot
STEADY HAND?: Getting to grips with things udner the watchful eyes of Welsh internationals Ceris Hewlings, Gemma Amos and Joe Dennis.
SO it all came down to one final wood.
As myself and Bill Carne looked on, having made a complete hash of the last end of our triples match, we desperately hoped our final team member would drag us out of trouble.
What provided us with a glimmer of hope was the member in question happened to be 20-year-old Joe Dennis, a Welsh indoor international and a considerably more accomplished player than the pair of us.
But despite Joe’s best efforts to rescue an almost irretrievable situation by taking out the jack, it deflected agonisingly towards the five strategically placed woods of the opposition – and a 2-2 cliff hanger suddenly became a comprehensive 7-2 defeat.
That was the manner in which my visit to Saundersfoot Bowls Club, the ninth of my 17 Commonwealth Games challenges, concluded after an educational and thoroughly enjoyable two hour session.
Now, while I have long considered myself a sports fanatic, I will readily admit that prior to last week, my interest in lawn bowls has been minimal. Therefore, upon being greeted on arrival by club member Ceris Hewlings – I was not exaggerating when I introduced myself to her as a complete novice of the game.
Ceris herself, is anything but. A seasoned international, she is currently listed as the non-travelling reserve for the Welsh squad for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
And I learnt she was just one of many success stories to have emerged from the club since its opening in 1962.
Amongst a host of junior and senior internationals, the club can boast Sarah Mansbridge, who played in the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpar in 1998, and Ann Lewis, who played for Wales for an amazing 21 years.
“We have more than 80 members and currently run four teams in the Pembrokeshire leagues,” said Ceris.
“But we also have our own club events and a number of our members play in county matches.”
And not without success. The men’s side have been crowned Pembrokeshire league champions on nine occasions, while the ladies won back to back titles ias recently as 2011 and 2012.
Therefore, I was in good hands as Ceris talked me through the basic starter points – namely the technique for a forehand or backhand 'roll', and ensuring I understood the correct weight bias of the woods.
However, I will confess to taking some time to get used to judging the weight and speed, and my first few practice attempts varied between falling woefully short or flying into the ditch.
But after slowly getting the hang of things, it was time to start thinking tactically, and learning how to strategically place the jack and ‘block off’ opponents. And my passing interest in curling during the Sochi Winter Olympics, where the scoring procedure is remarkably similar to lawn bowls, ensured I at least understood the points system.
I then warmed up with two ends against Bill, and despite my suspicions that is experience extended way beyond the ‘occasional game on cricket tour,’ I managed to escape honours even.
But what struck me was that as Ceris showed me the ropes, taking place just yards away was a serious county singles match.
“One of the great things about bowls is you can play seriously or for enjoyment,” said club chairman Myrddin Dennis.
“We have some people joining who just want to learn, some who want to play competitively, and some who just want to meet new people.”
“It’s a sport you can take part in whether you are 10 years old or sometimes 90 years old, and age or experience is definitely not a barrier.”
And curiously I asked Myrddin how a sport like bowls, which does not enjoy the global coverage of more celebrated activities, was able to attract new members.
“A lot of people play for the social side,” he replied.
“It’s a sport where the very young can mix with the very old and after a game or event everyone will sit down together and socialise.
“We are lucky with our location here in Saundersfoot. During the summer we have a lot of teams who enjoy coming down on tour, and tourists will often join us just for the summer season.
“The club is open every day so people can have a game or a bit of practice here whenever they like.”
But of course, like any good club, there is a pathway for those who want to play at a serious and competitive level – and Ceris explained that the popularity of bowls had grown immensely in the past decade.
“Sport Wales have had a big impact on the Wales set up,” she said.
“At that level, it’s all about results now and there is a lot more emphasis on physiological well-being, and things like fitness and nutrition.”
Indeed, it is all too common a mistake to under estimate the mental strength needed for bowls, and many would also be taken aback to learn that a standard warm up consists of brisk walking, ankle flexing, calf raises, lunges, twists, and arm swings.
Luckily for myself and Bill - our triples contest was only set as best of three ends. To put that into perspective, singles contests often take place over 21 ends – and can last up to several hours.
So we teamed up with the unfortunate Joe to take on Ceris, Welsh junior international Gemma Amos, and club vice-chairman Dianne Rigdon.
On a meticulously kept surface, a bit of beginners luck for myself and Bill, combined with Joe’s steady hand, saw us take a shock 2-0 lead after the opening end.
But it was only then I was able to appreciate the powers of concentration needed to be a successful bowls player, as moments later, a lapse in focus and two shoddy throws from me contributed to Ceris and co levelling at 2-2 going into the decider.
And it was then I learnt how just one poor end can severely influence an outcome. Despite our best efforts, myself and Bill were somewhat tactically outwitted by our more illustrious opponents, and despite Joe’s attempt to rectify things, we slipped to a 7-2 defeat – and our moment of glory was gone.
“You two picked things up quickly,” Ceris told us afterwards.
“But like any sport, it takes getting used to.”
Kind words, that rounded off a very enjoyable crash course in the sport.
But sadly for me and Bill – celebrations of a first ‘international’ victory remains on hold for now.
Bill Carne's verdict:
In terms of warm welcome, clear instruction and niceness the visit that Fraser Watson and I enjoyed at Saundersfoot Bowling Club would take some beating.
We were greeted by club chairman Myrddin Dennis and vice-chairman Diane Rigden, plus Welsh internationals Ceris Hewlings, Gemma Amos, and Joe Dennis.
So no pressure there then since we were going to take some of them on in a game situation, once we had been given the afore-mentioned tuition!
Ceris was the drive behind our trek to Saundersfoot and her instructions were clear and precise, but she did chuckle when we asked daft questions (they came mainly from Fraser because I have played odd games of bowls on cricket tours but he was a real bowling novice.)
A few ends to get used to the bias on the woods and Fraser and I had two ends to take each other on. Fraser maintains that it was one end apiece and I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was counted on shots nearest the jack. But there we are – I had to settle for a draw!
Be that as it may, then came the challenge, refereed by Myrddin.
Fraser and I, ably assisted by Joe, took on Ceris, Gemma and Dianne, who lulled us into a false sense of security by saying she wasn’t a Welsh international and then seemingly having a homing signal from her woods to the jack.
First end – 2-0 up. (Well bowled Joe!).
Second end – 2-2 (Feminine lack of sportsmanship, Fraser and I whisper to each other!).
Third end – 2-7 defeat (I think they must have heard us!).
Then it was up stairs to a cup of coffee, sandwiches and cake – such hospitality which the ladies explained was a fundamental part of the friendliness in a day’s bowling so that you got to know the opposition. But it didn’t soften the blow that you whipped us ladies!
As we drove away, Fraser and I were in complete agreement – what great fun and sporting activity that is a credit to Pembrokeshire Bowls!
And to round things off, we have to say well done and commiserations to Ceris because she has been selected as non-travelling reserve for the Welsh team in the Commonwealth Games.
Would it be terribly unsporting to hope that one of the team sustains . . . I better stop there!
Tune into this week’s Radio Pembrokeshire Friday Night Sports Show, between 6-8pm, to hear Bill Carne speak to Fraser about his bowls experience, and to Ceris and Gemma about their involvement in the Welsh set up.
For more on lawn bowls in Pembrokeshire, visit the Sport Pembrokeshire Facebook page or www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/sport.