FORSYTH SAGA CAN BE EXPLOSIVE
New Zealand has a strong home advantage for the bowls world championship starting in Christchurch this week. Ken Nicholson rates the team’s chances.
MEN Singles: Ali Forsyth (New Zealand).
Throughout 2007, Forsyth showed he could beat anyone. And he was consistent, as his run of 11 consecutive test wins in 2007 proved. He’s an aggressive player who is not shy when it comes to pulling out the big drives but some critics think he over-indulges in this department. When Forsyth gets the pace of the greens, he’s as accurate on the draw as anyone and he is at his best when he is forcing his opponents to do the driving. A likeable but volatile character, Forsyth has something of a short fuse on the green but he has shown in the past year that he can keep this in check.
Players to watch in post-section: Darren Burnett (Scotland), Gerry Baker (South Africa), Nick Cole (Spain), Martin McHugh (Ireland), Mark Walton (England).
Pairs: New Zealand – Russell Meyer, lead, Gary Lawson, skip.
If their last international outing, against the high-flying Australians Aron Sherriff and Nathan Rice, is used as a guideline, mark down Meyer and Lawson as a realistic gold medal chance. At their best, few combinations will match this pair who are deep in experience and class. They can have off days, as has been shown in the tests leading up to the World Bowls but, when they hit their straps, Meyer and Lawson have all the answers to beat any opposition.
Teams to watch in post-section: Australia – Aron Sherriff, lead, Nathan Rice, skip; England – Mark Bantock, lead, Robert Newman, skip; Canada – Mark Sandford, lead, Ryan Bester, skip; Scotland – Billy Mellors, lead, Darren Burnett, skip.
Triples: New Zealand – Andrew Todd, lead, Ali Forsyth, Richard Girvan, skip.
Like the pair, the Kiwi triple finished their 2007 international preparations on the highest note, beat- ing the previously all-conquering Australians with a brilliant display on the third day of the trans-Tasman series. Girvan, in particular, had one of those games when everything turned to gold and he’ll be wanting to reproduce that form throughout World Bowls. If he does, opponents will be shaking their heads in despair. New Zealand has drawn the easier of the two sections but there’s some mighty tough opposition in post-section, especially from the British teams and Australia.
Teams to watch in post section: Australia – Bill Cornehls, lead, Wayne Turley, Mark Casey; England – Mark Walton, lead, Stephen Farish, Graham Shadwell, skip; Scotland – Wayne Hogg, lead, Willie Wood, David Peacock, skip.
Fours: New Zealand – Andrew Todd, lead, Richard Girvan, Russell Meyer, Gary Lawson, skip.
New Zealand has a very solid unit which often relies on the form of Lawson at skip, simply because he has the task of delivering the last two bowls, and the Kiwis are a definite medal chance, especially on their own greens and with a reasonably comfortable draw in section play.
Teams to watch in post section play: Australia – Bill Cornehls, lead, Wayne Turley, Nathan Rice, Mark Casey, skip; England – Mark Bantock, lead, Graham Shadwell, Stephen Farish, Robert Newman, skip; Scotland – Wayne Hogg, lead, Billy Mellors, Willie Wood, David Peacock, skip; Ireland – Jonathan Ross, lead, Jim Baker, Jeremy Henry, Neil Booth, skip.
WOMEN Singles: Val Smith (New Zealand).
It wouldn’t have taken long for the national selectors to settle on Val Smith (above) as the women’s singles player. She’s talented and has a ton of grit – just the right ingredients to soak up pressure. Her record in 2007 is second to none and she, rightly so, was named New Zealand’s Player of the Year at the annual awards. While she’s suffered a handful of losses in the past international series, Smith has the ability to produce her best when it’s most needed and she’s beaten the best in the world in the past 12 months. In that world-best group are Malaysia’s Siti Zalina, the winner of the singles gold medal at the last two Commonwealth Games, South Africans Lorna Trigwell and Colleen Webb, Scotland’s Kay Moran, and the Australians, Karen Murphy, Julie Keegan and teenage whizzkid, Kelsey Cottrell.
Players to watch in post section: Siti Zalina (Malaysia), Kay Moran (Scotland), Margaret Johnston (Ireland); Kelsey Cottrell (Australia).
Pairs: New Zealand – Val Smith, lead, Jo Edwards, skip.
These two have been the closest of friends since they grew up in Nelson as schoolgirls – and they play like it. Edwards and Smith now have tons of experience behind them and, while they are in a very tough discipline against hordes of talented combinations, they can give as much as they get. On her game, Smith is the perfect lead, while Edwards has accumulated a wide range of shots in her role as skip of the pairs and fours. Both will want to begin World Bowls in confident fashion – if that happens, they’ll be up with the best of them when it comes to medal time.
Countries to watch in post-section: Australia – Lynsey Armitage, lead, Karen Murphy, skip; Malaysia – Siti Zalina, lead, Nor Hashimah Ismail, skip; Scotland – Kay Moran, lead, Margaret Letham, skip.
Triples: New Zealand – Marina Khan, lead, Jan Khan, Sharon Sims, skip.
Despite fluctuating form throughout the international season leading up to World Bowls, there’s enough experience in this trio to be in the reckoning – if the two Khan sisters and Sims can get away to a roaring start. To help them settle into consistent form, they have a relatively kind draw and two or three good wins early on will instill some self belief which may have been missing at times in 2007. Sims has done it all before and she’s got three world titles to prove it.
Countries to watch in post section: Scotland – Joyce Dickie, lead, Seona Black, Margaret Letham, skip; Malaysia – Nor Shafeeqah Yahya, lead, Nur Fidrah Noh, Azlina Arshad, skip; Australia – Kelsey Cottrell, lead, Julie Keegan, Claire Duke, skip.
Fours: New Zealand – Marina Khan, lead, Jan Khan, Sharon Sims, Jo Edwards, skip.
All four have a wealth of experience at international level and, individually, have enjoyed a good deal of success. Now it’s up to this quartet to put all their talents together and, if they achieve this, they have the ability to mount a realistic bid for a medal. As in any fours competition, much depends on the form of the skip but Edwards will need accurate bowls from the Khan sisters and a supporting role from Sims, to beat off the impressive list of other medal claimants from the main countries. Edwards’ quartet should have gained lift in when they rolled the tough Australians in the last test of the trans-Tasman series and, if they play to that standard, they’ll shake up a few more favoured countries as well.
Countries to watch in post section: Australia – Lynsey Armitage, lead, Claire Duke, Julie Keegan, Karen Murphy, skip; South Africa – Sylvia Burns, lead, Loraine Victor, Cheryl Cox, Lorna Trigwell, skip; Ireland – Allison Bell, lead, Donna McNally, Bernie O’Neill, Jennifer Dowds, skip.
Ken Nicholson is media liaison for Bowls New Zealand.
Mr Consistency: Ali Forsyth on the charge.