The Story of the 2023 British Isles International Series

7th July, 2023

A week ago today (Friday 30th June), players called up for international duty kicked off their 2023 British Isles International Series campaign. We asked England’s Emily Ferguson to give us a unique insight in to the experience – check it out…

Content is the word of the weekend – with players and Bowls England officials never missing an opportunity to get the camera out and film the action. Whether that be a cheers in the bar, one of the many heavy downpours, playing cards in between games or Ed Morris’s winning bowl in the bronze medal match. Whenever the camera appeared, the word content was sure to follow. 

Another word on everyone’s lips was the weather – as the three days weren’t quite the bright sunshine and warm temperatures we had become accustomed to at home. Instead, we had torrential downpours, strong gusts of wind and cold conditions – reminiscent of April or October, not the start of July. But as Tom McGuinness pointed out in one of his content videos, there were some brief interludes of sunshine. 

The weather didn’t put a dampener on the weekend however, as England showed once again that it is home to some of the world’s best bowlers. The women had an outstanding series, both topping their groups and playing against one another in the gold medal match. The men also rose to the task, with England’s Lions tabling in third after a tense bronze medal game that went down to the final bowl. Below we take an in-depth look at what happened on each day of the series, which helped ensure England came away with three medals, gold, silver and bronze.

Friday 30 June - Day One
Wet, windy and cold characterised day one in Ayr, as the heavens poured for much of the day.

It meant the new Aceit kit, proudly displaying our principal partner Aviva, was well and truly put to the test during the downpours but it proved up to the task – though the washing lines in the bathroom were certainly put to good use in the evening.

The Eagles certainly got the short straw with the weather, with heavy downpours through their evening game against Ireland Shamrocks.

Sadly, the women’s singles player for Ireland was taken ill very early on in the game, when Kirsty Richards was 5-1 up. The match was conceded and the skip in the women’s pairs also came off to support her mum, with the lead coming up to skip and the reserve coming in. Officials agreed that the final score line of the singles would be 21-14 to England – an average of the singles results in the competition so far.

The disruption didn’t affect our Eagles however, as the women scooped a 10-0 victory and the men clinched 4 points, narrowly losing out on shot difference by one.

Earlier the England Lions has a close game against Wales, with both teams managing to pick up six points.

Back at the hotel, players wound down in the bar, went out for dinner and chatted about how the games went.

The women waited with anticipation for the announcement of the teams for Saturday morning, with Paige Dennis coming in for the England Lions and Rebecca Moorbey coming out.  Sophie Tolchard moved over to lead the pairs with Michelle Coleman, Jamie-Lea Winch went down to lead in the fours and Paige came in as two. Eagles remained unchanged.

A few changes in the men’s team saw both resting players come in for the morning game. Harry Goodwin went over to play three to Wayne Wilgress in the fours and Ben Pauley slotted into Harry’s place in the triples.

The switch in teams had little to do with performance however, as the managers were keen to stress from the start that the players chosen were a squad of 11 – not 10 – and every player would get a game.

Saturday 1 July - Day Two
Conditions worsened into day two, with heavy gusts of wind wreaking havoc on the green.

The Eagles’s first game saw a confetti of leaves fall on the green, though that didn’t stop Nicole Rogers from attempting to remove them (though she soon realised this was an impossible task).

The rain also returned and lashed down on the players, which didn’t help the pace of some already heavy greens.

But the Eagle’s persevered once more, with the women securing an impressive 8-2 against Scotland Saltire and the men drawing 5-5, missing out on the overall shots by one. The men’s fours, skipped by Triston Morton, had a particularly impressive performance and won 17-7.

England’s Lions took to the greens next and managed to stay relatively dry, though the strong gusts of wind continued to affect play. The women won 8-2, with Stef Branfield continuing her fine form in the singles with a 21-6 win against Natalie McWilliams. The men lost 6-4, though the newly selected fours secured a win, alongside team captain Jamie Walker in the pairs.

The third session of the day saw the Eagles take to the greens once more, with a slight tweak to the women’s team. Laura Holden was moved over from two in the fours to two in the triples, Steph Crates took her place and Vicky Bayliss was rested.

Halfway through the match the heavens opened and play was temporarily suspended – and naturally it was the men who ran for shelter first. The rain eased after 15 minutes, allowing the players to dry off slightly and return to the greens.

But the session proved a tough one against Cymru, with the women’s triples just losing on the last end after the skip turned out our closest bowl to steal a four. The pairs drew and Kirsty Richards lost the singles, but the fours team skipped by Rebecca Wigfield stormed to victory for a third game in a row.

The men however had a much tougher match against a strong Welsh team. It was the Devon duo of Louis Ridout and Jamie Walker who took the points, winning 19-17. Perry Martin in the singles lost 21-11, with the triples and fours also losing out.

The evening session saw the Lions return for their final match against Ireland Emeralds. Though it started rather bizarrely, as England’s opponents failed to turn up on time for the trial ends. Officials instructed the Lions to get on with the two ends without them, prompting some confusion among the spectators. Their opponents did turn up just before play commenced – though no explanation was given for the delay.

Unphased by the lateness, the Lions got off to a flying start – even if the downpours disrupted play once more (and, you guessed it, the men were the first to sprint to the clubhouse). Stef Branfield had a strong comeback to lose 21-16 in the singles, but the rest of the women’s disciplines won by an impressive scoreline. The result meant the women secured their place in the final on Sunday afternoon.

Over on E green the men’s team went right down to the wire. Ed Morris stormed to victory in the singles, winning 21-12 and the pairs also won convincingly. After the triples team lost, it all came down to the fours, as the squad needed to pick up eight points to top their table and secure their place in the gold medal match.

The team did hold what was needed, but the opposition skip cut it down with his last bowl meaning the men finished second and would play for the bronze medal tomorrow morning.

Back at the hotel, the women celebrated with a night of cocktails. A social media war soon erupted between the Lions and Eagles as content once again proved to be the order of the day.

The men swapped cocktails for pints, with many taking to the pool table in the bar to play their own version of bowls – as two games in a day didn’t quite prove to be enough bowling for them.

Sunday 2 July - Day Three, Finals Day
England’s Eagles were up bright and early again to play their last match in their group against Jersey. The women only needed to secure three points to book their place in the final but this proved no problem at all and they took home a full house.

The men saw a complete team change for their final game, in the knowledge that sadly they could not make a medal match. Joe Dawson moved to the singles, James Hampton and Triston Morton played the pairs, Kevin Harrison, Charlie Souter and Stuart Irwin formed the triples and the fours was made up of Lee Hayward, Lee Calver, Perry Martin and Andrew Walters.

The switch up made all the difference, as they won in three disciplines and drew in the other. James and Triston had an incredible game, winning 31-2.

Next up were the medal matches, with the women playing each other for the coveted gold medal. Manager Sandy Hazell gave a moving speech beforehand, telling players it was her dream for the squad to both top their groups.

The Eagles hit the ground running in the fours and singles, and after a few ends took a strong lead in the triples. The pairs was a much closer affair, with Rebecca Moorbey and Sophie Tolchard taking an early lead for the Lions but Ruby Hill and Annie Dunham soon upped their game and clinched a win after the score lay level going into the final end.

In the end the Eagles soared to victory, winning in all disciplines. Though many of the team noted that it wasn’t quite the triumph they had pictured at the start of the series as it’s always hard to celebrate a win against your own.

The men’s bronze medal match was by far the most exciting match of the day. The women moved over to show their support as the game neared completion, with everything resting on the outcome of the men’s singles. But this was no mean feat for Ed Morris however, who lapped up the pressure and the atmosphere and drew two pearlers to steal a win – and the bronze medal – from Scotland.

A trip to the bar was in order after the medal ceremony, with England jubilant after taking home three medals. Overall players seemed happy with the new format, though hopefully next year when England hosts at Royal Leamington Spa the heavy downpours will be replaced by warm sunshine.

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