New Zealand

Lawn bowls: Kings of repartee riff on the greens

Meet the international chess grandmaster and the table tennis wizard playing lawn bowls at the Commonwealth Games.

Glasgow silver medallists Mark Noble and Barry Wynks are back to challenge for gold alongside Bruce Wakefield in the para triples on the Gold Coast.

In 2014 they had Lynda Bennett on their team, and in 2002 Wynks was part of the trio devastated when team-mate John Davies was sent home for inappropriately touching a Games volunteer.

That cost a chance of victory.

Advertisement

“It was a huge disappointment at the time,” Wynks says. “I felt like I had played this game for three years and … you can stick it.

“But I had so much support when I came back I thought, ‘Bugger this, I want to get stuck in and do something about it.'”

Aged 13, Noble was hit on a pedestrian crossing by a car. His shattered hip and pelvis required numerous reconstruction operations.

Wynks was born with a shortened right arm and right leg. He says that made life “one hell of a lot easier than having an accident”.

The way the pair riff off each other reminds you of Jim Henson’s Waldorf and Statler, but these blokes are anything but muppets. Their sports and games skills have been enhanced by a mental will for parity.

“We joke around a bit, but neither of us takes to heart what the other one says, it’s friendly banter,” Noble says.

How does the 55-year-old derive satisfaction from the sport? “It’s quite good when we’re playing able-bodied guys and bashing them over.

“We certainly milk it a bit. We don’t mind telling them: ‘If you can’t beat disabled guys, you shouldn’t be playing them’… As long as you know them [the opposition] well,” he says with a grin.

Wynks chimes in: “It’s probably hard for some guys to go home and tell their wives and kids they’ve been stitched up by people like us with missing bits and pieces. Some even had to do that after playing me at table tennis.”

That sport was the 65-year-old’s first specialty in a career encompassing cricket, rugby, golf, badminton, diving and water polo.

Wynks featured prominently at several national table tennis championships and it’s easy to imagine him applying a Forrest Gump-like determination to the craft. As one colleague noted, when Wynks was made a life member of Table Tennis Manawatu: “What we do know is that he has a very good left leg and an extremely good left arm.”

Noble turned his attentions to chess post-accident because there was “nothing else I could do” from a hospital bed.

The Anatoly Karpov fan would send letters overseas in correspondence chess and get replies months later with opponents’ moves. It’s a touch quicker in the internet age.

He applies his chess knowledge to the greens of the Broadbeach club.

“You’ve got to try to think more than one bowl ahead.”

Noble came through the Wellington system — and still plays there on occasion — but both are members of Palmerston North’s Takaro club. They share accommodation at the athletes’ village; Noble’s alleged snoring earns him a room to himself.

The fact they are staying in the village underlines the inclusive aspirations of the Commonwealth movement. But is genuine progress being made?

“Probably more people are getting involved in disabled sports,” Wynks says. “There are more opportunities and better acceptance. You’re treated like an equal, but 25 years ago that was different.”

“Sophie Pascoe carrying our flag sums it up for me,” Noble adds.

“That means we’re looking at the wider picture …

“Twenty to 30 years ago I don’t think that would’ve been an option.”

April 7, 2018 / by / in
Commonwealth Games: Oldest athlete bowls up again

Close your eyes, lean down on one knee and release a bowl across a green for a distance up to 40m in search of a jack.

Welcome to the world of New Zealand’s oldest Commonwealth Games athlete Sue Curran.

She’s hunting a medal on the Gold Coast to avenge the fourth her and partner David Stallard secured in the para mixed pairs at Glasgow four years ago.

At 71, Curran is helped by her “director” Ann Muir to navigate the greens, similar to a caddy in golf.

Advertisement

“Ann knows the game inside out. She’s got more experience than I will ever have,” said Curran, who started playing when she was 65.

“She stands behind me and gives information as my eyes on the green. That means telling me what the speed is, how far up the green the jack is, whether to play forehand or backhand and where the last bowl finished.”

Curran said it’s her responsibility to get the weight right.

“We put hours of practice into getting the feel of the greens. If our director tell us it’s 28m, we should know by the feel of the bowl what length that would be.

“We can only go by that, because neither of us can see the other end of the green. I can see shadows and movements, but I can’t see the bowls or the head.”

Curran had to retire from work because her vision was deteriorating and she was “hacking her way around the golf course” with limited success. A future with the Blind Jacks soon beckoned.

“My stepfather persuaded me to have a go, so I entered the New Zealand nationals. I was runner-up in the mixed pairs so got put into the blind development squad.

“I ended up going to Worthing [in England] for the world championships a year later, playing in a slightly better-sighted group, and came back with silver and bronze.”

Bruce Wakefield, Barry Wynks and Mark Noble contest the para triples.

Defending champion Jo Edwards, Ali Forsyth, Blake Signal, Paul Girdler, Shannon McIlroy, Mandy Boyd and Val Smith return for another Games.

Tayla Bruce, Katelyn Inch and Mike Nagy debut.

Inch lives two blocks from the hosting Broadbeach club.

“I came here to gain experience on the greens, and share my knowledge with the team.

“They’re a wee bit slower than at the same time last year, due to rain and conditions. The speed doesn’t bother me, I’m ready to adjust for whatever comes.”

New Zealand has won 38 bowls medals at the Commonwealth Games, including 12 golds.

The competition runs from April 5 to April 13.

April 1, 2018 / by / in
Woman treads in Graham Henry's footsteps at Kelston Boys High School

The first woman to lead one of New Zealand’s great rugby boys’ schools says she has no intention of competing with her last three predecessors.

Singapore-born Adeline Blair, 49, named on Wednesday as principal of Kelston Boys High School, becomes the first woman to lead any state boys’ school in Auckland.

The school’s last three heads Sir Graham Henry (1987-96), Stephen Watt (1996-2011) and Brian Evans (2011-17) were all prominent rugby players and coaches.

Blair manages the school’s lawn bowls team.

Advertisement

“The past three principals have always been really stalwarts in the rugby world. I can’t and I won’t compete with that,” she said.

“That’s them. But what I bring to the school is something that will match what they produced. Now it’s my turn to show what I can do for the school.”

Former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry, pictured (left) with Steve Hansen in 2015, led Kelston Boys' High School from 1987-96. The school has produced 10 All Blacks. File photoFormer All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry, pictured (left) with Steve Hansen in 2015, led Kelston Boys’ High School from 1987-96. The school has produced 10 All Blacks. File photo

Born and educated in Singapore, Blair trained as a primary school teacher in Scotland and came to New Zealand with her British husband, who works in information technology, in 1993. The couple have two daughters now aged 24 and 22.

Blair’s entire New Zealand teaching career has been at Kelston Boys. She started teaching English for adults in the school’s community education division in 1996, and joined the fulltime staff still teaching English as a second language in 2002.

Since then she has taught maths, social studies, geography and tourism, became deputy principal in 2015 and acting principal after Evans left to head Wesley College in January.

Brian Evans (centre), principal from 2011-17, is a former coach of the Black Ferns and coached Kelston Boys' First XV before moving to Wesley College. File photoBrian Evans (centre), principal from 2011-17, is a former coach of the Black Ferns and coached Kelston Boys’ First XV before moving to Wesley College. File photo

Asked about her other interests, she said: “My school is my community. I devote a lot of my time to extracurricular stuff, helping with the homework centre, helping sports teams.”

The board chose her to keep the top job from a field of nine applicants and its announcement on Facebook has drawn an outpouring of emotion.

Former student Daniel Tuala posted: “Wow congratulations ms!!! Mrs Blair was the best tourism teacher i ever had. Always wanted the best out of us boys. And She had jokes too.”

Another former student Cam Webster said: “Congrats Ms Blair! Youre an awesome, considerate and fair person.”

Like other West Auckland schools, Kelston Boys has lost students to richer central Auckland schools since schools became self-managing in 1989. Its roll slid gently from a peak of 1250 in the 1980s to 1100 in 2010, and has since plunged to 662.

European students have abandoned the school, dropping from 371 in the year 2000 to 42 last month. Most students are now Pasifika (62 per cent) or Māori (19 per cent).

However Blair said this year’s Year 9 intake was higher than last year’s, and West Auckland’s growing primary school rolls pointed to Kelston Boys’ roll growing again from here.

The Education Review Office reported in 2015 that the school’s pass rates in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) surpassed the national average, with both Pasifika and Māori students “achieving well above national averages”.

Adeline Blair becomes one of only four women leading NZ boys' schools. Photo / Doug SherringAdeline Blair becomes one of only four women leading NZ boys’ schools. Photo / Doug Sherring

Blair becomes one of only four women leading NZ boys’ schools, joining Susan Hassall at Hamilton Boys’ High School, Karen Gilbert-Smith at Whangarei Boys’ High School and Deborah Marshall-Lobb at Northcote’s Hato Petera College, where the roll has recently dwindled to 11.

Hassall said it was “unheard-of” for a woman to lead a boys’ school when she became headmaster 19 years ago, but her students now “don’t see it as anything unusual”.

“You can create an argument for it because women are very openly caring and that is more acceptable from a female. I think you can ‘gentle’ a school, while at the same time maintaining the discipline that is required,” she said.

The sole male principal of a New Zealand girls’ school, Stephen Bryan, said he was seen as an “oddity” when he took the helm at Sacred Heart College in Napier 12 years ago. He now leads St Catherine’s College in Wellington and believes attitudes are changing.

“It’s about leading a school through role-modelling good citizenship and ensuring that the best outcomes are put in place for the school community you serve.”

March 22, 2018 / by / in
WATCH: Bowls New Zealand triples champion drops the F-bomb three times on live television

Bowls is not typically associated with expletive, emotionally charged language but New Zealand’s latest champion flipped the script while celebrating his win on live television.

In an explicit post-match interview, the 2018 Triples team captain David Eades was “a lot excited” after claiming the national title and it showed.

Talking to Sky Television after the match about what the win meant to him, Eades dropped three F-bombs in the space of about 10 seconds after the win.

“F***in’ heaps man. That’s for my son Ben and my wife Irene, I f***in’ love them to f***in’ bits and I’d die for them all,” he said.

Advertisement

His response was met with laughter from the spectators with the interviewee awkwardly apologising to the viewers.

“Sorry about that – live television,” she said.

Eades was unable to stand still for the remainder of the interview, rocking to-and-fro, leaning in tightly to the microphone to answer the remaining questions.

He went on to thank his team mates, Bruce McClinktock and Bart Robinson, as well as praising the opposition after the toughly fought final.

“The three people that we played against, they are very very fine bowlers.

“They’re probably the best three bowlers in North Harbour and Triples, and mate to beat them you have to be very very good. They’re a great combination,” Eades said.

At the end of the interview Eades assured the interviewee and viewers that he would be celebrating well afterward.

February 17, 2018 / by / in
Bowls: New Zealand team named for Commonwealth Games

Bowls New Zealand has named the 10 athletes that will represent the country at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Among the team is defending Commonwealth Games singles champion Jo Edwards, who will be attending her fourth games.

Edwards, who won gold medals in Manchester (2002) and Glasgow (2014), has been training in Brisbane in preparation for this year’s games.

“The greens on the Gold Coast are different to home so it doesn’t do any harm being based here and getting to know them,” Edwards said.

Advertisement

“There’s good competition here as well so that’s driving me and helping with preparation,”

Ali Forsyth, who has represented New Zealand at the Commonwealth games twice before, says he expects the team to perform well in the Gold Coast.

“The New Zealand team won seven medals out of a possible eight at the 2016 World Championships so that’s given us a great deal of confidence,” Forsyth said.

“I believe we can medal in close to all four of the men’s events on the Gold Coast if we get on the greens as much as we can between now and April.”

Making their return to the games are Ali Forsyth, Blake Signal, Paul Girdler, Shannon McIlroy (world singles champion), Mandy Boyd (Glasgow 2014 bronze, women’s fours) and Val Smith (Delhi 2010 silver, singles; Glasgow 2014 bronze, women’s fours).

Tayla Bruce, Katelyn Inch and Mike Nagy will be making their Commonwealth Games debuts in the Gold Coast.

New Zealand has won 38 bowls medals at the Commonwealth Games, including 12 golds.

The lawn bowls competition will run from April 5 to April 13.

Full team:

Ali Forsyth – Men’s Fours/Men’s Triples
Blake Signal – Men’s Pairs/Men’s Fours
Mike Nagy – Men’s Triple/Men’s Fours
Paul Girdler – Men’s Triples/Men’s Fours
Shannon McIlroy – Men’s Singles/Men’s Pairs
Jo Edwards – Women’s Singles/Women’s Pairs
Katelyn Inch – Women’s Triples/Women’s Fours
Mandy Boyd – Women’s Triples/Women’s Fours
Tayla Bruce – Women’s Triples/Women’s Fours
Val Smith – Women’s Pairs/Women’s Fours

January 26, 2018 / by / in