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2017 MacRobertson Shield Coverage

ROUND THREE

AUS 14, USA 7
ENG 15, NZL 4 

MATCH STANDINGS

40 -- Australia (3-0)
38 -- England (2-1)
22 -- New Zealand (1-2)
24 -- USA (0-3)

NEWS

Journal: Jeff Soo (USA)
Journal: Paddy Chapman (NZL)
Reports: Chris Clarke

VIDEO

Livestream: Lawn Four Cam
YouTube: James Hopgood Channel

RESOURCES

Photos: Round 1
Photos: Round 2
Photos: Round 3
Link: 2017 Official MacRob Website
Link: 2017 MacRob Scores
Facebook: MacRobertson Shield 2017 Page

ROUND ONE

NZL 11, USA 10
AUS 12, ENG 9

ROUND TWO

AUS 14, NZL 7
ENG 14, USA 7 

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Entries in MacRobertson Shield (69)

Tuesday
May162017

Video: New Zealand's Dramatic Win vs USA


Video from Chris Clarke: The last action of the USA v NZ Test at the 2017 MacRobertson Shield held at Mission Hills. We join it with USA leading 10-9. Chris Shilling is in the third against Stuart Lawrence and Aiken Hakes is game up against Jeff Soo.
Sunday
May072017

Soo 18: 2017 Mac Wrap Up

All that history, and now our names too -- Malcolm and Greg Fletcher with the MacRobertson Shield. Click to Zoom.

On the final day of the 2017 MacRobertson Shield, England and Australia extended their leads. Two singles matches were left unplayed, due to the extreme heat (officially 105/40, but probably hotter on the lawns) and the fact that both tests had been decided the day before. The final tally:

1. Australia (3/3 test matches, 40/63 individual matches)
2. England (2/3 test matches, 38/61 individual matches)
3. New Zealand (1/3 test matches, 22/61 individual matches)
4. United States (0/3 test matches, 24/63 individual matches)

Australia's victory is notable in many ways. It is their first series win since 1935, and their first outside Australia. It is the first time since 1935 that the England or Great Britain team has been beaten twice in a row, the first time three siblings have played in the event, and the first time that the defending champions have finished lower than 2nd.

ROUND THREE PHOTO GALLERY

What lessons can the other teams draw from Australia's performance?

It's good to have the world's #1 player on your team. An obvious point, but beyond assuring a healthy number of wins at the top position, this engenders a lot of confidence for the rest of the team.

Strength in depth is critical. The top performer for the series on percentage of matches won was Greg Fletcher, playing at #5 and winning 5/6 singles and 7/9 doubles with Simon Hockey. Every team has at least one player ranked in the world top ten; it's at the bottom of the order that the differences are most pronounced. A team that can legitimately put very strong players at #5 and #6 has a huge advantage.

Team unity and discipline play a role. During Great Britain's streak of seven successive MacRobertson Shield championships, their team-of-rivals style worked well enough, because of their overwhelming advantage in playing strength for most of that period. In a more competitive series, Australia (and New Zealand in 2014) have shown the value of a unified approach. This applies to on-court matters such as tactics and doubles compatibility, as well as logistical arrangements for travel, housing, etc. An effective team manager is a big help.

Thursday
May042017

Clarke: 2017 MacRobertson Review - Round 3

Third Tests Review

It would be all too easy to write about the hoard of errors that we have seen over the past five days. To do so would completely fail to acknowledge the extreme temperatures that the players have had to endure. I would certainly not have been playing at multiple junctures, with temperatures reaching 106 F. The pull on the balls had increased noticeably, with some players commenting that the black has been too hot to pick up.

Therefore, I will just comment on a few of the high quality matches that have still occurred. Jamie Burch played well to beat Paddy Chapman, Aiken Hakes played well to beat David Maugham who also played well back and Robert Fletcher played well against Ben Rothman.

England comfortably beat NZ 15-4, although the match should have been tied 3-3 after day 2. Australia played solid croquet to achieve the basic Mac pattern of winning each day 2-1, 4-2, 2-1, 4-2, 2-1. The USA were competitive throughout.

The event lacked several things and one thing.

  • Finishing – so many basic finishing turns failed to finish.
  • Understanding – there was a lack of understanding of how to make lift leaves, play pegged out endings, optimise non-lift leaves and optimise openings.
  • Leaves – so many games featured leaves giving away 9 yarders, or doubles.
  • Firm hoops – it was too easy to run hoops gently from distance and angle.
  • Originality – there was a lack of popping combined with hoop leaves.
  • Reliability – very few players were able to produce a consistent performance level.
  • Desire – from the English to turn up fully prepared to play the Australians in the first Test.

Below is an overview of each team followed by my thoughts on the individual players. Whilst we were over here, we had the NFL Draft after which some reporters gave a grade to each of the 32 teams. I have tried to do the same with the players, considering how they performed compared to expectations. Grades run from A+ to E-. The fact that I have given no-one a low grade is an indication that there were no walkover “guaranteed” wins this Mac. All players can leave with a degree of satisfaction.

USA

This was a good performance from Team USA. They were constantly competitive and picked up a large number of wins. I disliked their response R 9 yards E of the peg in response to supershots (particularly long ones) and this opening was unsuccessful most of the time. Overall, their breaks were scrappy and their leaves left a lot to be desired. They started well in all Test matches but looked much more nervy as the winning line became closer.

New Zealand

This was a team that only knew its true identity a couple of weeks before the event. For them to mount a comeback from 4-7 against the USA was a massive achievement. They got into every Test, but at times it appeared that they were researching for a new book called “101 ways to put down winning turns.” They could easily have picked up another 9 or 10 match wins. They will view this year as a transitional one and look forward to introducing their exciting young prospects into the next Mac and hopefully welcoming back a couple of their strong experienced players.

England

Started poorly and improved slightly. There were some good performances capable of winning the event, but too many mistakes combined with poor tactical decisions cost them. Clearly playing the strongest opposition in week 1, when out of season, was an additional handicap. The fact that they were playing a different game to the one normally played in England cannot have helped them. In 2006, GB destroyed their opposition, reaching 11-0 in the final before cruising to a big win. In the 11 years since, England/GB have failed to win the most matches in any MacRobertson Shield and have lost two Solomon Trophies. They seemed unaware that TPOs and sextuples were bad tactics. I have written for many years that England turn up to these major events unprepared with untried doubles pairings. This year it cost them.

Australia

Almost the opposite to the England team. 30 months of preparation combined with a clear tactical game plan and good doubles pairings set the solid base for a good all round team performance. I’m not sure that they pegged anyone out at all before the last day. They have a youthful team that could go on from here and will no doubt have great support when they defend their title in Australia in 2021. Worthy winners.

Player Analysis


Robert Fletcher: Grade A-
When you come into a MacRobertson Shield graded 200 points higher than the next player, it is tricky to meet the expectations that everyone has of you. Robert made close to zero errors having made the first hoop of his turn, but did fail hoop 1 on a few occasions. His shooting was mixed and the easy lawns meant that he suffered more defeats than he would have liked.

Simon Hockey: Grade B
Probably the least consistent of the Australian contingent. Simon often looked classy when on a tp, but his shooting and leave making often fell below expectations.

Ian Dumergue: Grade B
Got his team off to a good start in the first test before weakening in later Tests. Variable shooting ranging from good at long range to suspect at short range. Lovely positive character – excellent captain.

Malcolm Fletcher: Grade B+
Error prone towards the start of the event, but improved as he settled. Breakplay still far too loose for my liking, but enjoyed the easy playing conditions that allowed recoveries from previous misplay.

Greg Fletcher: Grade A+
Probably the best shot in the event, clearly having benefited from playing in the GC Worlds. Whilst he did make quite a few errors, I have felt forced to give him an A+ due to his ability to win openings, regain the innings and complete triples when playing on his debut.

Stephen Forster: Grade B
Once in the balls, Stephen always looked graceful and possessed some of the best touch of any of the players. The first shot of his turn was highly suspect, with him having recently changed to centre style Solomon for these shots.

David Maugham: Grade A
Very few errors combined with quality leaves made this a strong performance. In terms of the future, his ever diminishing backswing must cause concern.

Jamie Burch: Grade A-
Shot very well as always. Still too loose a break player for my liking, but improving. Nice speed of play.

Samir Patel: Grade B+
A little too inconsistent to quite gain an A- grade. Played plenty of good turns but slightly too many poor ones. More likely to take good tactical lines of play than some of the other English players.

Stephen Mulliner: Grade C+
Attempts at a sextuple and many failed tpos and losing tpos made this a disappointing event for the World Champion. Finished his dead match with an entertaining sextuple that had a straight quadruple with half-jumps at 4-b and rover.

James Death: Grade C-
Fun to watch as ever, but surprisingly making a lot of breakplay errors and compounding that with long periods of poor shooting.

James Hopgood: Grade B+
A mixed bag from the debutant. Plenty of high quality turns were mixed with some dreadful games.

Paddy Chapman: Grade A-
Probably my favourite player to watch. He was elegant, played controlled turns and attempted more popping than any other player. Not quite on top form and always slightly vulnerable against the best shots.

Aiken Hakes: Grade A-
The only unbeaten player in singles with several excellent matches. Doubles disappointingly less effective or cohesive. An impressive debut.

Joe Hogan: Grade C+
Great to have the first ever World Champion back in the Mac. He played several good turns and regularly hit his last shot to generate game winning turns. Regrettably, most did not finish. Shots such as irish peels and peg outs really showed the difficulty of using a basic 9” unweighted mallet.

Jenny Clarke: Grade B
The best performance level I have ever seen from a player who won such a low percentage of games. Plenty of third turn balls round and good leaves always seemed to be followed by her opponent hitting and finishing in two turns. Spoke well at the functions.

Chris Shilling: Grade A
Had one of the best combinations of controlled hoop stroke and croquet strokes in the event. Fabulous debut. Would have got an A+ if he had taken one of his finishing turns to make it 3-3 vs England on day 12.

Harps Tahurangi: Grade C+
Starting mid-series is a tough ask and Harps was always competitive. Great tp to win his first match on day 12, but too many easy breaks put down overall.

Toby Garrison: Grade B-
Tough ask to come and play at number 2 in a Mac having not played for some time. Improved day by day and was a fabulous team member.

Ben Rothman: Grade B-
Playing at the club where he used to be pro, I expected a strong performance from the British Open Champion. However loose break play cost him matches he should have won. Seemed unhappy with the hoops, complaining that they should be wider.

David Maloof: Grade B-
Loose break play once again caused some unforced errors that proved costly playing at number 2.

Danny Huneycutt: Grade C+
Perhaps the most Jekyll and Hyde performance of all. He interspersed solid triples that showed his underlying ability level with a jerky set of single ball strokes that indicated he was battling with the yips.

Jeff Soo: Grade B-
Once again playing too high in the team order for my liking, he played plenty of solid turns. However, a tendency to slam at key hoops caused his undoing on multiple occasions.

Stuart Lawrence: Grade B+
Good debut. Played some good peeling turns, but combined that with some games that degenerated rapidly in quality.

Stephen Morgan: Grade B
Good debut. Still lacking the controlled breakplay that he will need when playing in trickier conditions. Always looked solid at longer hoops. Needs to develop greater control and improve his leaves.

Matthew Essick: Grade B+
The ultimate in uncontrolled croquet. Five and six yarders regarded as normal. It is a style of play that I struggle to appreciate, but it did work in some of his matches.

Thursday
May042017

Chapman 15: Final Day

England's Stephen Mulliner on Day 15

Last Day is the Hottest

Today was the last day of play in the 2017 MacRob. Australia had already sealed the title yesterday, and England had already secured second place, so there was only pride at stake today. The forecast also had today as the hottest day of the entire event, at 41 degrees celcius. With this in mind, the two NZ/England matches with late starts had agreement between all 4 players that they should be abandoned, and so there would only be 4 points up for grabs today.

The 4 matches today were:

- Jenny vs Stephen Mulliner
- Joe vs Samir Patel
- Harps vs James Hopgood
- Chris vs James Death

Jenny had a chance to take the first game vs Stephen but an unfortunate "death roll" penult peel going to 2-back left her with a long roquet on her 2b pioneer which missed into baulk. Stephen made no mistake in taking the game from there. In the second, Stephen embarked on a SXP which finished with a very adventurous straight QP - to record the only sextuple in the event.

ROUND 3 PHOTO GALLERY

Joe had a few chances early on against Samir, hitting with all the balls in the middle, but a long angled hoop 1 was failed, allowing Samir into the match. After this, Joe never had the run of the ball and Samir won 2-0.

Chris Shilling. Click to Zoom.Harps had a similar match vs James Hopgood. James completed two consecutive clinical 26-0tp games and Harps' only error was to miss a few long shots by the proverbial coat of paint.

Chris had an excellent match vs James Death. He built on his excellent record in this, his MacRob debut, to record a 2-0 win with yet another solid break-play performance.

It has been a great event, played in good spirit between all players. Congratulations to Australia on comfortably winning their first MacRob for over 80 years. A very deserved win which was built upon several years of preparation. It sets an example to the other teams who I'm sure will be looking to implement a similar strategy in the lead-up to 2021.

Wednesday
May032017

Soo 17: AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE!

Malcolm Fletcher plays the Shield-winning turn

Australia wins the MacRobertson Shield

On the hottest day of the tournament, the Aussies felt right at home. Fittingly, it was the three Fletcher brothers who gave their team the 9th, 10th, and 11th points to win the final test match against USA, and to claim the MacRobertson Shield. Simon Hockey added another point to make it 12-6, with a final round of doubles to be played tomorrow.

World #1 player Robert Fletcher got the first point of the day, with a +25tp, +8tp win over USA #1 (and, as of the start of the match, world #4) Ben Rothman. Greg Fletcher put his team "on the hill" with a +26tp, +17tp win over USA's Stephen Morgan. Stuart Lawrence (USA) kept his team's hopes alive with a +2, -26tp, +17tp win over Stephen Forster (AUS). Jeff Soo (USA) beat Aussie captain Ian Dumergue +24tp, +15 to make it 10-6.

In the late-starting matches, Malcolm Fletcher won the first against USA captain Danny Huneycutt, +24tp. Simon Hockey won the first against David Maloof (USA) +10. Fletcher had a chance for a standard triple in game 2, but it became more and more delayed and ended with one peel done and an OSL. Huneycutt missed the short shot. There were not many easy shots in Fletcher's winning turn, but he held his nerve and pegged out to win game, match, test match and championship. Hockey joined his teammates for an emotional celebration, before returning to finish his match with Maloof.

England swept the doubles round against NZ to take an unassailable 12-3 test-match lead. Currently trailing Australia by 3 individual matches won, they have a chance to overtake Australia on that statistic in tomorrow's final round.

Wednesday
May032017

Chapman 14: Disappointing Day in Searing Heat

Australia claims the 2017 MacRobertson Shield

Going into today we were 9-3 down to England, so somewhat staring down the barrel. To have any hope of a test victory we really needed to pick up 3 doubles wins today.

The match-ups today were:

- Aiken & Paddy vs Jamie Burch & James Death
- Joe & Chris vs Stephen Mulliner & Samir Patel
- Jenny & Harps vs David Maugham & James Hopgood

The day got off to a promising start with NZ taking the first game in two of the three matches. Jenny & Harps had plenty of play vs David & James but some random errors enabled England to take a 2-0 win.

Aiken & Paddy's match was somewhat error strewn, with mistakes from all players over the course of the 3 games. NZ took the first with a TP and had a finishing turn in the second, before England had a finishing turn of their own. Chances on both sides were missed, but England finally levelled the scores. In the decider, NZ had a 3rd turn ball to 4-back but the second ball was hampered after H1. England had their own finishing turn but could only reach penult & peg. The lift was hit but another error enabled England to take the victory.

Joe & Stephen also took the first vs Stephen & Samir, with 3 solid breaks. In the second, NZ had a potential finishing turn which eventually came to grief at 4-back and penult. This let the English pair into the match and they quickly leveled the scores. After a long lunch break, the decider was all England early-on, reaching rover & peg before NZ had started. Joe hit the last lift but failed H1. Samir then took a mid-length shot at partner, but hit the peg leaving all the balls in-lawn. This enabled Chris to make a break to 4-back but England then hit back to finish and take the game 26-9 and match 2-1.

Congratulations to England on winning the test. All players were very pleased to escape the heat of the sun on what was a particularly oppressive day (approx 40deg celcius).

A short while after the England/NZ test was wrapped up, Australia scored their 11th point vs USA to take the MacRobertson Shield for 2017 - congratulations to them on their first win in this event since 1935. This is probably the first MacRob in over 50 years where Australia has gone into the event as favourites, and it shows in their play as they have been the team to beat for the whole event.

Wednesday
May032017

Chapman 13: England Withstands the Heat to Extend Lead

England's David Maugham on D13, Round 3 versus New Zealand

Today was by far the hottest day at the MacRob so far, approximately 40 degrees celsius. The match-ups were as follows:

- Aiken vs David Maugham
- Chris vs James Hopgood
- Joe vs Stephen Mulliner
- Harps vs James Death
...with late starts for Jenny vs Samir Patel and Paddy vs Jamie Burch.

The first point of the day came courtesy of James Hopgood, taking a 2-0 win over Chris. Chris had plenty of play, and reached 4b and peg in game 2 before James hit in and finished with a TP.
Aiken equalised the day's score at 1-1 shortly after by taking out David Maugham 2-1, coming back from game and break down, then break down in the third, to win and give NZ a much-needed point.
Harps vs James was an all-day affair that eventually ended 2-0 to James, despite a lot of interaction. In the second game, Harps reached rover & peg and had a rush to rover vs James' single ball for peg. James smacked the peg from near corner 2 to take the win just in the nick of time.

Joe vs Stephen was an epic battle between two players who first played each other in the MacRob in 1982. Stephen took the first, and TPO'd Joe in the second, however Joe eventually hit a long shot and took a break to the peg. A 3-yarder was missed after rover, allowing Stephen a chance. Fortunately for NZ, Stephen missed his own 3-yarder to give Joe the game. Joe had all the early play in the decider and was on a standard TP. With all the peels done, he failed rover from close-by. Stephen failed to progress and Joe had another chance, but failed rover again. Stephen again failed to progress and this time Joe made rover but missed the peg-out from fairly close, sending a ball off the lawn in the process. Stephen found his second wind and finished in 2 turns to take a 26-24 third game.

Paddy vs Jamie was a clinical match in Jamie's favour. After a succession of misses at the beginning, Jamie had the first break. Paddy hit the lift and started a popping turn before misapproaching 1b out of nowhere. Jamie finished a short while later. Jamie had a convincing 5th turn finish in the second game to take the match, albeit having to rush peelee into position for the rover peel from just south of penult.

Jenny vs Samir had a very close first game, with Jenny reaching 4b & peg before Samir had made much progress. Samir finally hit in but made an error around 2b, allowing Jenny the first chance to close out the game, however the approach to 4b left a longer-than-ideal hoop which was failed. a 3-ball ending ensued in which Samir prevailed. In the second game, Samir had a 6th-turn ball to 4-back, and then an 8th turn ball to the peg, never getting any luck with the 4-back peel. He ended up winning the game without conceding croquet.

At the end of the day all players were very pleased to get inside to air-conditioning on what was an absolute scorcher. Well done to England on a good day. NZ's performance was approaching average but a series of unfortunate events and too many errors ultimately led England to a 5-1 scoreline.

Tuesday
May022017

Soo 16: Australia is Three Wins Away

With another winning day, Australia is in good position to secure the Shield a day early. USA must win tomorrow's singles by at least 4-2 to keep the test alive on the final day. Winning two out of three of today's doubles matches, Australia now leads the test 8-4.

England's Jamie Burch peels rover in game 1 against NZ's Paddy Chapman7-5 seemed a likely result at a couple of points. David Maloof & Ben Rothman (USA) won their match against Robert & Malcolm Fletcher (AUS) +21tp, +17tp, Rothman doing both triples, bringing the test match to 4-6. Stuart Lawrence & Jeff Soo (USA) won the first against Simon Hockey & Greg Fletcher (AUS), the Aussie pair not taking croquet as Lawrence tripled for +26tp. Break up in the second, Soo missed a rush, allowing the Aussies to level, +17tp (Hockey tripling). As the temperatures climbed, so did the error rate. The American's achieved peg and 4-back with a classic "tea-lady" leave, the Aussies on 4 and 2-back. Fletcher hit the 35-yarder and went to peg with a tidy spread. Lawrence missed and Hockey finished +5.

Stephen Forster & Ian Dumergue (AUS) went game-up against Danny Huneycutt & Stephen Morgan (USA), +21. Huneycutt had an early break in game 2, but failed hoop 3, and the Aussies kept control for +24.

The ENG vs NZ singles featured a back-to-the-future match: Joe Hogan (NZ) vs. Stephen Mulliner (ENG). The pair's last MacRobertson Shield singles match was in 1990, a year after Hogan became the inaugural WCF AC world champion. This time Mulliner is the current AC world champion. Mulliner won the first +26tp, and TPO'd Hogan's ball in game 2. But Hogan won +5otp to force the decider. Hogan had a triple peel in good order in game 3. Until he missed the peg-out from four yards, sending the forward ball off the lawn. Mulliner had two breaks to finish, +2tp.

Earlier, Aiken Hakes (NZ) continued his winning ways in singles, beating David Maugham (ENG) -23, +17tp, +17tp. James Hopgood added a point for England, beating Chris Shilling (NZ) +26tp, +5tp. Likewise for James Death (ENG), winner against Harps Tahurangi (NZ), and Jamie Burch (ENG), +20tp, +26tp over Paddy Chapman (NZ).

England captain Samir Patel made it 9-3 for his team, beating NZ captain Jenny Clarke 2-0.

Tuesday
May022017

Soo 15: Temperatures and Play Heat Up

Harps Tahurangi approaches 3-back on his match-winning turn

Today's high reached 98/37, with triple digits expected later in the week. The lawns are now running around 13 seconds in the morning and about half a second faster later in the day. At this speed, hoop hills and the occasional sloping boundary become bigger factors.

Three of today's 8:30 singles matches featured a Fletcher. All three went to three games. Each Fletcher tripled twice to add three points to Australia's total.

But first, USA captain Danny Huneycutt took advantage of errors by Australia captain Ian Dumergue to win game 1 by +23. Attempting a straight-double finish in game 2, an errant escape ball at rover resulted in two clips and four balls at rover. Dumergue failed 1, then missed after Huneycutt scored rover with one ball and made a leave; +26 to tie the test match at 2-all.

David Maloof (USA) got off to a great start against world #1 Robert Fletcher (AUS), +26tp. Fletcher reversed the score in game 2. Fletcher went round turn 3 in the decider, to a defensive spread. Maloof hit in, made a couple of hoops, then retired with a leave. Fletcher hit with his forward ball, Maloof missed, and Fletcher closed out the match +24tp, putting Australia in the lead again.

Jeff Soo (USA) won a back-and-forth game 1 against Malcolm Fletcher (AUS), +17tp. Soo failed a third-turn break in game 2, Fletcher leveling +24tp (despite rushing dead into the peg three times during his finishing turn, twice while rushing to a hoop). Soo went break-up in the decider, but ran afoul of the treacherous lawn 1 east boundary on his second break. Fletcher went round to an MSL, Soo missed, and Fletcher played an elegant triple peel for +14tp.

Simon Hockey peelingStuart Lawrence (USA) put out a supershot ball against Greg Fletcher (AUS), missing Fletcher's max-distance reply into IV. That ball stayed in IV for quite a while, Fletcher hitting fourth turn and content with three balls for most of the turn. Lawrence missed and Fletcher finished +26tp. Lawrence equalized, +17. As with the first two games, the decider opened with a supershot ball and no roquet on turn 3. Lawrence went break-up. Fletcher hit in and went round to an NSL. Lawrence missed and Fletcher finished +17tp.

Stephen Forster (AUS) and Stephen Morgan (USA) were the first late-starting match. Forster won a scrappy game 1 +19, then tripled for +17tp and the match win.

Simon Hockey went round third turn to the aggressive ("three ducks") spread. Rothman missed, but Hockey crashed at 6 with one peel done. Rothman peeled Hockey's back ball through 6, but loose play toward the end of the break led to a missed roquet and easy pickup for Hockey, +17. Quite a few errors in game 2, Rothman equalizing with +14tp. Hockey won the opening in the decider, but failed to get going with a second break. Rothman went round to a spread and Hockey missed the long shot. For the second day in a row, Rothman finished a match in the early evening to stop the bleeding for USA; the test match now stands at 6-3 to Australia.

In the ENG vs NZ doubles, Paddy Chapman & Aiken Hakes (NZ) kept James Hopgood & David Maugham (ENG) seated, Hakes going round on turn 3 in game 1 and turn 4 in game 2, Chapman tripling (straight-double finish each time) +26tp, +26tp, to put NZ on the board.

Jenny Clarke & Harps Tahurangi (NZ) won game 1 +26 against Stephen Mulliner & Samir Patel (ENG), no croquet for the opponents. Clarke went round 3rd turn in game 2, making the aggressive spread. Mulliner hit and peeled Clarke's ball out of the game; Patel finished +13tpo a few turns later. A Mulliner error gave Clarke the first clean break of game 3. Patel missed the lift. Tahurangi needed two turns to get going, but put together a gritty delayed triple peel, including a straight-double finish, for his first match win of the series and bringing NZ to 2-3 for the test match.

Jamie Burch & James Death (ENG) were quick +26tp winners of game 1 against Chris Shilling & Joe Hogan, Death tripling. Shilling had the first clean break of game 2. Burch hit and went round; Hogan hit. His triple-peel attempt came undone at 4-back, two peels done. But that was not the last error of the game, NZ holding on for +11. Plenty of long shots hit and opportunities missed in the decider, England winning +3 to retain the test-match lead after two days of play, 4-2.

Monday
May012017

Chapman 12: New Zealand Fights Back

Harps Tahurangi and Jenny ClarkeStarting today 3-0 down to England, we knew we needed a big day to get back into the test, and that is what we got.

It was a second consecutive day of doubles and the match-ups were:

- Aiken & Paddy vs David Maugham & James Hopgood
- Harps & Jenny vs Stephen Mulliner & Samir Patel
- Joe & Chris vs Jamie Burch & James Death

Aiken & Paddy started very strongly with a 3rd turn ball to 4b from Aiken followed by a 5th turn TP by Paddy. The second game was much the same, with Aiken hitting 4th turn and going to 4b, followed by another TP by Paddy, to conclude an 11-turn no-error match.

Jenny & Harps had a great first game with solid breaks by the kiwis to take a 1-0 lead. In the second, NZ had the first ball round but this time the lift was hit by Stephen who completed a TPO on Jenny's ball. This left Harps on his own and 1 missed long shot was all it took for England to establish the game-winning break. In the decider, Harps completed his first MacRob TP to take a memorable first MacRob match win.

Joe & Chris were 1-0 down in their match within about 40 minutes after a 6th turn TP from the English. However the kiwis dug in and 'pitched the tent' to force a decider. The third game contained lots of tense moments and swung each way multiple times. With NZ on 4b and penult, Jamie established a match-winning TP but misapproached penult. This enabled Joe to take his 4b ball to the peg. NZ had a couple of chances to finish the game off, eventually reaching rover & peg with the innings before Jamie hit a long shot to get back in. A couple more long shots were taken, but England managed to sneak home 26-23 to take the match win.

So NZ won the day 2-1 and trail England 4-2. We are back in a good position now and looking forward to tomorrow's singles. All the players found today very draining on what was probably the hottest day of play so far.

Monday
May012017

Soo 14: AUS Leads 2-1 in R3 vs US

England captain Samir Patel launches a lift shotRobert & Malcolm Fletcher got Australia on the board quickly against USA, beating Stuart Lawrence & Jeff Soo +17tp, +26tp, Malcolm doing both triples. The Americans had a couple of extra chances to hit in, Robert needing two turns to get going in each game, but both shots missed. Lawrence hit the lift in game 1 and went round, but Malcolm hit the lift to finish.

Danny Huneycutt & Stephen Morgan (USA) took advantage of game 1 errors against Simon Hockey & Greg Fletcher (AUS), Huneycutt tripling for +24tp. A failure at hoop 6 gave the Aussies control of game 2; they won +21 to level the match. In game 3 a wrong ball error was the Americans' undoing, Hockey tripling to close out the match and give Australia a 2-0 start to the test.

David Maloof & Ben Rothman (USA) split a scrappy pair of games with Ian Dumergue & Stephen Forster (AUS), winning the first +14 and losing the second -5. No croquet for the Aussies in game 3, making the test match score 2-1 to Australia.

Paddy Chapman & Aiken Hakes (NZ), went game up against Samir Patel & Stephen Mulliner (ENG), Hakes tripling for +15tp. The English pair leveled, +17. In the decider, Patel failed 3-back to give Hakes a break, but Mulliner hit the the lift and finished with an adventuresome quadruple peel.

James Hopgood & David Maugham (ENG) won the first game against Chris Shilling & Joe Hogan (NZ), Hopgood hitting the lift and tripling, +15. In game 2 Maugham TPO'd Shilling out of the game, both backward clips on hoop 2, leaving balls in corners III and IV. Hogan rolled out from IV, but missed the ball in III. Several turns later Hopgood made a two-ball break from 4 through 3-back, and rushed to within a few yards of Hogan's ball south of III. But he failed to get a rush, then failed to get position, and retired to IV. Hogan made 2 and 3, rolled out from IV, then soon had a solid 3-ball break going. But a deep pioneer at 2-back ended that break. Maugham made a leave, Hogan cornered, and Hopgood finished with another two-ball break.

Jenny Clarke & Harps Tahurangi (NZ) won the middle game against Jamie Burch & James Death (ENG). But a pair of Death triples in the outer games made it a clean sweep for England.

Sunday
Apr302017

Chapman 11: Sub-Optimal Day for NZ

England's James Death in play during R3 vs New Zealand

The third test started today, between NZ and England. With Australia in good position, it is likely that this test is the playoff for 2nd and 3rd place.

The match-ups today were:
- Aiken & Paddy vs Samir Patel & Stephen Mulliner
- Chris & Joe vs David Maugham & James Hopgood
- Jenny & Harps vs James Death & Jamie Burch

Aiken & Paddy's match vs Stephen and Samir started with a quick Mulliner ball to 4-back. The lift was hit and the scores equalised (plus a couple of pops on oppo for good measure), and Aiken then completed a good TP under pressure after a difficult start (involving approaching H1 from C2). Game 2, NZ had the first chance, but a backward take-off to H1 hit the wire, giving the first break to England. The lift was missed, but England's TP came to grief also courtesy of a backward take-off to H6 with 1 peel done. NZ had a break to 4-back but England regained control after hitting the lift. Game 3 had a 5th turn break from Samir, until he failed 3b out of nowhere. NZ had an equalising break with 2 pops on England's backward ball, but it wasn't enough - Stephen hit the lift and finished with an adventurous and entertaining QP.

USA's Ben Rothman in play against Australia. Click to Zoom

Joe & Chris put up a good fight against David and James, with James completing a TP to take the first. The second game was more interesting, thanks to a Dave TPO on Chris' ball. That left a 2 v 1 cat-and-mouse ending, with James pulling out a quality 2-ball break from H3 all the way round to 4b, until he tried to get behind Joe's ball near C3 and accidentally ran into it. This allowed Joe a half-chance to get back into the match - starting the turn on H2 he played some good croquet strokes and by H5 had a perfect 3-ball break. Unfortunately the 2b pioneer was a little deep and that is where his break came to grief. A short while later James 2-balled the finish from 4b to the peg.

Jenny & Harps gave James and Jamie a run for their money. Unfortunately because the doubles matches are for some reason split across the two different sides of the club, I didn't get to see much of the early play. I do know that NZ had a 3rd turn ball round in game 1, but eventually lost 6th turn in a no-error game. NZ then came back strongly to take the second after an error by England on a finishing turn. In the decider, NZ had all the early play, reaching rover and rover. Unfortunately the straight rover peel was a lot longer than ideal (about 4 yards), and neither ball ended up going through. England took their chance and finished 2 turns later.

A good day for England; a sub-optimal day for NZ. Taking the positives, the kiwis did play some good croquet, but just failed to take their chances in a few cases. We are not a team to roll over when we're behind though, and are looking forward to fighting back tomorrow.

Sunday
Apr302017

Sunday Challenge for MacRobertson Fans

As we move into Round Three with the US team looking to play spoiler versus Australia, and New Zealand and England hoping to run up the score on each other, it seems like a good day to throw down a little history challenge for our readers. Can you identify the current MacRob player that appeared in the Croquet Network photo gallery for the 2008 USCA National Championship? The player is not captioned, so best of luck:

croquetnetwork.squarespace.com/croquet-photos/2008-usca-nationals/

Please post your answer in the comments to be recognized as a true MacRob diehard fan.

Saturday
Apr292017

Soo 13: Shield is Australia's for the Taking

Australia's Simon Hockey and Greg Fletcher confer during round 1

With two convincing test match wins, and facing a last-place USA team in the final round, Australia is in strong position to reclaim the MacRobertson Shield for the first time since 1935.

No one expects the Australian players to take this last round for granted. Throughout the series they have shown discipline and determination. Nor can they afford to relax yet. The Americans will be doing their best to play the spoiler, and after England's impressive 8-1 finish to the second round, Australia leads England by just 3 individual matches. If USA pulls off the upset and England beats New Zealand, England could easily overtake Australia on percentage of individual matches won.

For USA to win would be a monumental upset, though. While the rankings paint a mixed picture, on playing form the Americans as a group have not shown improvement over the course of the first two tests, while the Australians haven't had to; they have played well at every position from day 1.

New Zealand, trailing Australia by 8 individual matches, needs a big win over England along with a USA upset. The Kiwis have a history of playing their best against "the Poms," and will be hoping to write a new chapter to that history.

Peeling stats in the second round were surprisingly different from those of the first round. As a percentage of games won, NZ went from 54% to 81%, a remarkable improvement. (However, this comes in a 7-14 test match loss; without mining data from the scores and commentaries it is impossible to say how many failed tripling attempts there were.) Meanwhile, AUS dropped from 89% to 60%, ENG from 83% to 68%, and USA from 54% to 50%. The lawns are getting a bit firmer and faster, as expected after so many successive days of mowing, and are now running around 13 seconds.

Another factor in the reduced peeling percentages is failed TPOs. As Tallyrand said of the Bourbons, or was it Chris Clarke speaking of his erstwhile teammates, "They have learned nothing; they have forgotten nothing." Pegging out the opponent (or merely attempting to do so) has not been a percentage play here. Will we see more peeling of the opponent ball next week?.

Team orders have been posted. Australia has kept the same order as in tests 1 and 2. England has shuffled the doubles order (keeping the same pairings) and also shuffled the top four singles positions, swapping Maugham and Burch at 1 and 2, and Patel and Mulliner at 3 and 4. New Zealand keeps their order from test 2. For USA, Morgan, who sat out the last test, is in again at #5; doubles pairings are as in test 1, with the order shuffled.

Saturday
Apr292017

Clarke: 2017 MacRobertson Review - Round 2

New Zealand v Australia | England v USA

Day 6

The three Australia-NZ doubles were all competitive matches. New Zealand had opportunities to win all three doubles in straight games to take a 3-0 lead, but errors allowed Australia to come out of the day 2-1 ahead. Harps Tahurangi made his debut and looked to be playing nicely, before he went off the lawn trying to get a rush on a deep 1-back pioneer during a triple to win.

USA took a surprise 2-1 lead against England. Matthew Essick made his MacRobertson Shield debut and did well to have two early balls around. Danny Huneycutt found some form and finished these with triple peels after the lifts were missed. Rothman and Maloof beat Mulliner and Patel, after yet another failed TPO, this time breaking down at 3 back after all three peels were completed.

Day 7

There was a stage today when it looked like USA might take a 7-2 lead against England. Rothman beat Maugham, Maloof had a chance against Burch who completed the first successful TPO, Death needed to hit a last lift against 4-b and peg against Lawrence, Essick beat Hopgood and Huneycutt beat Mulliner. The last match was particularly worrisome for England. After multiple failed and losing TPOs, Mulliner decided to TPO Huneycutt when on 2-back and 4-back. This time, he made it to the peg, but only achieved 2 peels of the TPO before giving contact with 4 balls on the lawn prior to his sixth defeat. Samir Patel had won +26tp +26tp quickly to level at 2-2 and by the end of the day was probably relieved to be only 5-4 down.

NZ once again were competitive and had triple peels in all three doubles games. It looked like Jenny Clarke would end day 2 still having done exactly what she tried to do every time she walked on the lawn during this Test, but a missed hampered shot after running rover cost her both the game and subsequently the match to make it 4-2 to Australia rather than 3-3.

Day 8

Aiken Hakes beat Robert Fletcher +26tp +26tp after an error third turn from Robert was followed by a no-hitter. Paddy Chapman gave the other top singles to NZ, but the strength in depth of the Australians combined with the weakness in depth of the Kiwi team, missing many of their top players, was enough to allow Australia to win another day and extend their lead to 8-4. The match between Ian Dumergue and Jenny Clarke was particularly high quality with just 13 turns.

England won the doubles 2-1 to equalise at 6-6.

Day 9

England had their first good day of the Series, winning 5-1 to wrap up the Test 11-7. Ben Rothman provided the only USA win of the day beating Jamie Burch. It was apt that James Hopgood, who lost the losing match in the first Test, won the winning match in the Second Test.
Australia won all three doubles to seal the Test against NZ 11-4 and make them 99.97% likely MacRobertson Shield winners with 6 days still to play.

The players and spectators were treated to another wonderful “Wine and Wickets” thanks to the generosity of the Mission Hills members. All manner of delectable foodstuffs arrived as the afternoon progressed. We have all been treated superbly and it has been a delight to spend time here, albeit if the weather is too hot for my personal liking.

Day 10

With both Tests won, there was less tension in the air today. England won all three matches to end up 14-7 winners, although only due to Ben Rothman failing to close out his match from 4-back and peg. England won 9 of the last ten matches to finish and are clearly starting to find some form coming out of their off season. Matthew Essick goes back to school next week and USCA AC National Champion Stephen Morgan takes his place. It is unclear whether the USA have managed to optimise their six players for any of the three Tests.

Australia and NZ shared the day 3-3 to also finish 14-7. Australia were simply better at every aspect of the game and thoroughly deserved their win, although I thought both sides leave making left a lot to be desired in these easy conditions. Chris Shilling continued his excellent form to come back from 0-25 in the first against Greg Fletcher and then won the second 6th turn. The top singles saw a strong performance from Robert Fletcher to beat Paddy Chapman. Joe Hogan found his form with two triples against Ian Dumergue who looked less focussed today (running hoop 5 twice with the same ball in the first game). Aiken Hakes beat Simon Hockey to be the only player unbeaten in singles after two Tests. Every player has lost at least two matches overall.

One of the most noticeable features of the playing conditions is that it is pretty difficult to accurately assess how well each player has played. There are some players with less than half the number of match wins compared to others despite the fact that their standard of play has been higher. I explained that these conditions might be capable of differentiating 3 or 4 different standards of play compared to the previous MacRobertson where you could probably have split players into 15 different categories.

So, we enter the final Tests with the event pretty much a fait accomplit due to the inability of the 4 National Governing Bodies to schedule the event properly. Everyone would be really excited by now if we still had the Australia v England match left to play. By now both teams are match fit. Regrettably, several countries self-interest has been allowed to dictate the order of play rather than what would be best for this historic event in order to generate the excitement and high quality finish that it deserves. Are there any other World Championships where we know which of the best two teams are likely to be and ensure that they play each other in the first round? Let’s hope that the USA can get off to a good start against Australia to create some level of interest for the spectators.

After the final Tests I will provide a personal analysis of each Team, player by player as I have done for previous events. The final Tests start on Sunday.