THE STARS of Northampton Express may have smuggled their way past our A-team, but they were never going to be allowed to pull off the same trick twice. Abington B, our strongest line-up this season, gained revenge on behalf of their bowling brethren to put themselves in the 3rd round.

Having seen the Mick Taylor/Peter Milburn helmed side come close to eliminating this same team a few weeks earlier, the B-team, helmed as ever by John Freeman and captain Jonathan Brown, took the hint. This was a prize scalp there to be seized.

And they produced in spades. Brown's rink in particular deserve credit for defeating the same quartet who were national champions in this format less than two years ago. A two on the second end gave them a lead they wouldn't relinquish for the rest of the evening and by the climax they had claimed shot on 12 of the 21 ends. Altogether, it completely banished memories of their struggles at Roade in the previous round.

They even came out as the better winning rink, despite Freeman's rink seeming a shoo-in for that honour for most of the game. A dropped five on the 19th end briefly added some late drama to proceedings, but it was the only black mark of the night, and they held on for what was still an impressive result against an Express rink similarly packed with talent.

Once again, this Abington side have proved they are a match for anybody. And a good job too, because next up is West End.


Colin Barnes, Adam Brown, Alan Dunkley, Jonathan Brown (capt.) 18-12 D Graham
Tony O'Leary, Alan Coleman, Phil Reeve, John Freeman 21-19 C Bland

Agg: 39-31


ABINGTON WALKED along a tightrope upside down in the opening round of the National Top Club. The B-team defied gravity and survived in the most extraordinary manner, but the A-team plummeted.

It's accepted wisdom that the two-wood singles defines a game in the Top Club. There are exceptions, but the vast majority of matches are claimed by the side who secure that first point early on. Both matches went according to this rule, though the Bs seemed determined to defy it for a period.

In fact, the As' early exit may have helped the Bs to progress. Defeat to Desborough allowed unused substitute Dave Fage to transfer his services before becoming cup-tied, and it was he who edged a narrow 2-wood game at St. Crispin's to give the Bs some breathing space.

As he walked off, the pairs and triples were a dead heat. That the fours, skipped by Peter Boulden, were down by double figures was allowed to be a minor inconvenience for the moment. Especially as Reg Jones entered the fray in the 4-wood singles and immediately shot into a 15-5 lead.

Rob Archer and Pat McAlwane duly responded and closed out the second point. Still deadlocked after 15 ends, they would register seven shots to just three against over the last six. 2-0 up and all that was left to do was watch Jones finish the job.

Except that wasn't quite how it happened. Inexplicably, Jones had lost his footing and the singles was now also level. His opponent, Gordon Currey, was upped his game so well and so quickly that Jones needed to resort to playing weighted shots and consequently lost his rhythm.

With the fours battling hard but unable to close the gap significantly, it was now a matter of hoping either Jones or Milburn's triple could calm their heads and rediscover the knack. The former would not recover the lead. The latter began the final end four shots down - and between them, they bowled one of the heads of their lives.

Peppering the jack and providing cover exactly where it was needed, not a wood was out of place, and their opponents crumbled. Milburn didn't even need the benefit of the last bowl. In a stroke, Abington B had woken up from a nightmare, safe and sound.

The A-team's game was similarly tense, but with the reverse ending. Jonathan Brown's fours rink swatted aside their foes with a display so supreme the point was practically guaranteed before the 2-wood. And all seemed well when Alan Coleman, up by one on the last end, stuck his first bowl right in front of the jack.

It wrenched everybody's gut to see such a perfect and surely winning shot actually bettered by a world-class running bowl that removed Coleman's and also collected the jack to make a tight two. On that one wood, so much turned out to rest. Of course, there were plenty of other opportunities to claim a win but - while it would be grossly unfair to make Coleman a scapegoat - the psychological balance was definitely tipped the wrong way from an Abington perspective. Desborough gained renewed assurance. John Freeman's triple only just regained their composure in time to prevent a comeback loss in the triples while Tony O'Leary in the singles and Phil Reeve in the pairs were made to play heavy bowls once too often, both slipping to narrow defeats.


2-wood: Alan Coleman 15-16 R Chambers
Singles: Tony O'Leary 19-21 P Ward
Pairs: Dave Jones, Phil Reeve 17-18 J Haines
Triples: Adam Hawkings, Terry Brown, John Freeman 20-15 C Wigfield
Fours: Colin Barnes, Adam Brown, Alan Dunkley, Jonathan Brown 25-8 P Mellor

Agg: 2-3

2-wood: Dave Fage 18-15 J Dickens
Singles: Reg Jones 17-21 G Currey
Pairs: Rob Archer, Pat McAlwane 17-13 D Cox
Triples: Alan Mann, Chris Beck, Peter Milburn 16-15 M Dickens
Fours: Bill Roberts, Trevor Aston, Peter Kneeshaw, Peter Boulden 23-23 P O'Dell

Agg: 3.5-1.5


ABINGTON B progressed past the opening stage of the National Double Rinks, albeit with an unsynchronised display at Roade. Conversely, the C-team exited after a wildly see-sawing affair at St. Crispin's.

With the random allocation of 'A', 'B' and 'C' labels this year, Abington B is nominally the strongest of the three, though only one half of that arrangement lived up to the billing at Roade. Captain Jonathan Brown's rink were left in debt to their compatriots, skipped by John Freeman

After conceding a three and a four on the opening two ends, it took until the final third for Brown's rink to settle. Whereupon they rallied from 4-18 down after 12 to the respectability of 16-21.

Thankfully, by that stage, Freeman's rink were practically phoning news of the win through to Bowls England. They only conceded on five ends, gluttonising their opponents to take their tally from 22 to 34 over the last three ends. Job done, but it will require a better all-round performance than this to make a mark in the competition.

It's a burden that will now fall on them alone, as the 'C' team were on the receiving end of a scoreline, faintly remarkable for totalling 96 shots, an average of 24 for each competing unit. Would that the actual scoring were so civil though.

Instead, despite chalking up a tally of shots that would usually be good enough to win a double rinks game, the Abington men had to concede an end early, with a fairly comfortable margin between their output and their Crispin's conquerors.

The game had no pattern, with random big scores being freely exchanged. The one telling observance was an infuriating tendency for one rink to drop a stackful immediately after their teammates had tightened the aggregate up.

For the first half, the tie was finely poised, but the second quickly became a wild goose chase. At the precise moment that Dave Vernon's rink were salvaging a 13-21 deficit to equalise, so Dave Jones' were dropping 12 across three successive ends. Heads dropped again, and Vernon's rink immediately gave back all that they'd earned. There could be no recovery from that.

Abington C scored only nine shots fewer than their B-team compatriots, but still comfortably lost. The lesson here is that timing is crucial. Sometimes it pays to spread the close woods out more evenly across the game.


Colin Barnes, Adam Brown, Alan Dunkley, Jonathan Brown (capt.) 16-21 D Acates
Tony O'Leary, Alan Coleman, Phil Reeve, John Freeman 34-7 J Hartright

Agg: 50-28

Adam Hawkings, Dave Fage, Terry Brown, Dave Jones 18-26 P O'Dell
Rob Archer (capt.), Pat McAlwane, Ollie Kirkwood, Dave Vernon 23-29 M Dickens

Agg: 41-55


THE CLASSIC mistake of sports analysis is to start from the result and work backwards. It's certainly one that should not be made when reviewing Abington A's immediate exit from the National Double Rinks on Sunday May 6th.

For the vast majority of their prelim at Northampton Express, both rinks matched their illustrious opponents wood for wood. For a good portion of the match, they even had their noses in front. A famous upset was not only possible, it was happening.

And then, in a heartbeat, it evaporated. A final scoreline of 19-40 (with an end to spare on each rink) was perhaps anticipated beforehand, but for those who had witnessed events, it felt very strange. Unjust even.

Mick Taylor's rink took the first shot and held the lead until the 14th(!) end. The quartet they faced were England's national fours champions less than two years ago, and subsequently runners-up in the British Isles championships this time last season. It was an extraordinary effort. Sadly, it proved to be no more than a pacemaker, and they ultimately failed to go the full distance. Nevertheless, it was only an unfortunate dropped five on the 17th end - where they had been set to take the lead again until a brilliant take-out drive from the opposing skip - that put a significant gap between the two.

The other rink, skipped by Peter Milburn, wasn't quite such a fairytale in the making, but again they took on a foursome featuring some of Northamptonshire's finest bowling talents and competed admirably. Until the final third at least. From a halfway mark of 7-9, they only scored two more before eventually conceding.

So, the natural order eventually found a way to re-assert itself. But we'd do well to bear in mind that this time the seeds of disappointment were sown by the feeling of greater promise.


Phil Boseley, Reg Jones, Peter Kneeshaw, Mick Taylor (capt.) 10-19 D Graham
Alan Mann, Bill Roberts, Trevor Aston, Peter Milburn 9-21 C Bland

Agg: 19-40