Weekend round-up: Carruthers and Jones end season on high

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Champions Cup winners Team Carruthers (photo: Grand Slam of Curling/Anil Mungal)

Canada reigned supreme at the season-ending Champions Cup, Teams Carruthers and Jones winning the men’s and women’s titles respectively.

None of Scotland’s representatives made the playoffs – Teams Mouat and Murdoch went out in tiebreakers, while Team Muirhead finished W1 L3 for the competition.

Meanwhile, Ireland men just missed out at the European Championships C-Division in Slovenia, as Estonia men, France men, Belarus women and Lithuania women gained promotion to the B-Division in Braehead in November.

***

The Champions Cup, a new addition to the Grand Slam of Curling tour this season, which saw the winners of various events around the world compete, was held in Sherwood Park, Alberta.

Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) started the competition well – first beating Team Meachem 7-2, with steals of one in ends one and two, three in end three and another steal in end six.

They then took victory over Team Clark of the USA – stealing one in end one, scoring two in end three, another two in end six and a steal of one in end seven, to win 6-2.

But defeats to Teams Epping (9-7, giving up threes in ends two and six) and McEwen (6-3, losing a two in end four and three in end seven) meant they finished W2 L2 and would need to negotiate a tiebreaker to make the playoffs.

By contrast, Team Mouat (Bruce Mouat, Bobby Lammie, Gregor Cannon, Angus Dowell) opened with two losses.

They went toe-to-toe with Team Gushue, the most consistent men’s rink on tour this season, but gave up a four in end six to lose 7-6.

It was more of the same against Team Carruthers, a four in end five doing the damage in an 8-4 defeat.

That meant they needed to beat European champions Team Edin to stay in contention – which they did 6-5, thanks to a three in end three and a steal of one in end eight.

And they earned a tiebreaker berth alongside Murdoch by defeating Team Shuster 7-2, scoring two in end two, stealing one in end three, scoring two in end five and stealing another two in end six to triumph 7-2.

Neither Scottish rink could make the quarter-finals, though, as Mouat were beaten 7-3 by Team Laycock and Murdoch went down 8-2 to Team Simmons, the 2014 and 2015 Brier winners playing their last event before disbanding.

Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Vicki Adams, Nadine Lehmann (again subbing for Anna Sloan), Sarah Reid) were already out, having won only one of their pool stage matches.

They gave up steals in ends three, four and five to lose 7-3 to Team Einarson, before getting back on track (or so it seemed) by beating Team Lawton 7-2 – scoring two in end one, then stealing in ends two, three and four.

But they then lost 6-2 to Team Jones (giving up twos in ends four, five and seven) and 7-4 to Team Flaxey (the Canadians taking twos in ends one and four), which meant an early exit.

The women’s final was contested by Teams Homan and Jones – Homan have held the advantage over the Olympic champions (and everyone else!) this season, but that was not to be the case this time.

Jones scored two in end one, then another two in end four to lead 4-1 at halfway. Homan got two back, but three in end six stretched Jones’ lead out to 7-3, and Homan couldn’t pull that back – the Jones rink winning 7-5.

As for the men’s final, Team Carruthers got the better of Team Epping to claim victory, but only after two extra ends.

The first three ends were blanked by Carruthers, who took one in the fourth. Epping scored two in end five, Carruthers two in end seven and Epping one in end eight.

The first extra end was blanked, but Carruthers got their one in the second for the inaugural title – and to round off the curling season for 2015-16.

***

Back across the Atlantic, the European Championships C-Division was held in Ljubljana, Slovenia – with four places at the main Europeans event in Braehead in November at stake.

Ireland had men’s and women’s teams taking part, with the competition involving a round robin and then playoffs.

Ireland men (Alan Mitchell, Andrew Gilmore, Bob Sherrard, Tom Roche, John Gilmore (alternate)) started with a win against Serbia, 8-4, but were then beaten 10-3 by Estonia.

They hit back by defeating Croatia 8-3 but then lost again, 6-4 against Bulgaria.

A 6-3 win over France got them back on track, and they followed that with wins over Luxembourg (9-8), Andorra (12-1) and Romania (10-4).

Defeat to Belarus, 6-4, meant they had to win their last pool match to make playoffs – which they did, 8-5 against Iceland.

They were placed in the 3v4 game against Bulgaria. After leading 3-0 after two ends and 6-3 after eight, the Irish were taken to an extra end – where they scored three to win 9-6 and progress.

Qualification for Braehead came down to the silver medal match with France. Ireland blanked the first two ends, then scored three in end three.

But France scored two in end four, stole two in end five and stole a single in end six to take control. Ireland pulled it back to 5-5 after eight but the French scored two in end nine.

The 10th end ultimately rested on a final draw for the Irish, which came up a couple of inches short – that meant a score of one and a 7-6 win for France.

France joined gold winners Estonia in being promoted to European B-Division for next season – but for the disappointed Irish it must be said that bronze represents a superb result beyond expectation.

As for Ireland women (Ailsa Anderson, Katie Kerr, Hazel Gormley-Leahy, Clare McCormick), they also opened the round robin with a win, 9-6 versus Romania.

But sadly their luck ran out there, as they suffered six consecutive defeats – against Croatia (10-9), Lithuania (6-5), Slovenia (10-5), Spain (10-1), Belarus (8-3) and Austria (13-5) – to bow out early.

Belarus claimed women’s gold, with Lithuania joining them in winning promotion to the B-Division.

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Try Curling: Sport targets more grassroots players

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Can’t hack it: Yours truly on the ice in Perth (photo: Aline Hardie/RCCC)

Family success stories are great – but for curling to thrive, more people (especially youngsters) from outside the sport’s traditional community need to fall in love with it.

The Roaring Game Blog spoke to Fiona Kennedy, development manager at the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, about the Try Curling initiative and its impact in Scotland.

And yes, I did also get down on the ice while in Perth… more on that later.

***

Curling family dynasties are great for players, fans and journalists – the headlines are almost too easy to write.

First this week, in Canada, we had the Scotties all-star team… all with Brier-winning dads.

Then, back in Scotland, we had Gordon Muirhead skipping his way to another Scottish Seniors title, after his kids Glen and Eve had won the men’s and women’s titles respectively at the the Scottish Championships the week before.

They’re fantastic stories, part of what makes curling a delight to watch and write about.

But it’s just not sustainable for the future of the sport – in Scotland or worldwide – and so players need to be found in non-curling families.

There have been some success stories. Sophie Jackson, who is skipping the Scottish women’s team at the World Juniors in Copenhagen from tomorrow, had no family history in curling – she got into it through her school.

But more need to be found and nurtured.

Fiona Kennedy, RCCC development manager, is responsible for the governing body’s schools programme, summer camps (for adults and juniors), seminars and workshops, and disability curling projects.

As she puts it: “It’s all about trying to get more people curling through these different programmes.”

She manages the development officers and groups at ice rinks across Scotland, who put the projects like Try Curling and virtual clubs – into practice.

Try Curling is an absolute beginner’s guide to the sport, with sessions running throughout the country. It involves how to (safely) get on the ice, how to deliver a stone and how to sweep – with a game at the end too.

Asked how well Try Curling is progressing, Fiona said: “Really well. This year so far we’ve had 146 sessions offered – not all of them run but most do, depending on the time of day and where they are.

“I think our numbers are going to be about 800 participants at the moment, more by the end of the season.”

There is a ‘huge mix’ in terms of the people who come to the sessions, Fiona said.

“We have some specific Try Curling sessions – some are open to all, some areas are now doing specific ones as well.

“For example: stick curling, those who are maybe not as confident on the ice, are older or have a disability, so they can use a stick to deliver; junior specific; wheelchair specific.

“So it can be anyone in an ordinary Try Curling session but we are trying to do specific ones to target different audiences.”

Try Curling has been running for three years or thereabouts, Fiona said – she is relatively new in her RCCC role, so it was well established when she came on board.

“It had huge success off the back of the last Winter Olympics,” she added.

“We’ve kept it going and hope to retain it for the Europeans later this year in Glasgow and the next Olympics, and other events.

“It’s been a very successful programme in terms of a pathway for people to follow.”

That pathway takes Try Curling attendees onto beginners courses hosted by ice rinks – six to eight hours’ coaching – and then either into a club, or into a ‘virtual club’.

This, Fiona explains, is an in-between set-up, where you are a member for two years, still benefiting from coaching to really build up the skills needed to play matches, giving you every preparation for entering a club environment.

As already mentioned, this is a big year – the first of five big years – for curling in Scotland, with the European Championships coming to Glasgow (Braehead) in November.

After that, Aberdeen hosts the World Juniors in 2018, Stirling hosts the World Wheelchair Championship in 2019 and Glasgow hosts the World Men’s Championships in 2020.

That means looking at ‘legacy’ – using high-profile events to boost the sport in the country and drive up participation.

Fiona said: “We have a legacy project, a big one with Europeans this year.

“We’re looking at branching out and upskilling some of the people in the Glasgow and Renfrew areas, and getting children along.”

That legacy will be stretched through to 2020, with programmes designed to target regions and different audiences.

“The makeup of those will be slightly different, but I think we’d be stupid not to try to utilise these events and make sure we get in as many people as possible – even just raising the awareness of the sport, if not getting them on ice,” Fiona added.

***

So, as promised, my own curling taster session in Perth.

Sadly, residing in southern England, I have not been able to put my affection for the sport into practice since I caught the curling bug in 2013 – my nearest rink is Fenton’s in Kent, 165 miles away!

Therefore, I had the rare treat of getting on the ice thanks to the RCCC staff at the Scottish Championships, with Simon Elder on coaching duties.

Simon, who coaches in Perth on Try Curling sessions and the schools programme, took four of us through the basics.

It was a condensed session before the Championship semi-finals, so aside from a little bit of sweeping practice, the focus was on the stone delivery – stance in the hack, body position when sliding out and making an in-turn or out-turn rotation.

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‘Where do I put my chronically uncoordinated limbs?’ (photo: Aline Hardie/RCCC)

It was tough. Unfamiliarity with the ice and a lot of thinking (which body part goes where?) meant there wasn’t much force in my slides… and I hogged every stone. Comfortably.

Still, Simon remained patient and helpful – pointing out the key things I was doing wrong and passing on the tips to improve.

The men and women I was watching in the Championships had been doing this for years, which made all of it second nature.

It’s fair to say I have a long chase ahead of me!

 

 

 

Curling 2015-16: Mid-season review

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As we wave goodbye to 2015, it’s time for a look back at some of the events and stories from the first half of the curling season, and the Scottish teams’ part in them.

For all the talk of new broom technology ruining the sport, there was still a great deal that was familiar: brilliant events, Canadian Grand Slam dominance and Team Edin winning the biggest prizes…

Edin and Sidorova conquer Europeans
Esbjerg, Denmark, was the setting for the 2015 European Curling Championships and did a great job – competitors praised the ice, the volunteers and the fact that the A and B arenas were on the same site.

Scotland’s representatives were Team Smith for the men’s section and Team Muirhead in the women’s.

Smith had seen off Teams Brewster, MacDonald and Murdoch to qualify for Esbjerg, but their relative inexperience (this was a first men’s Europeans for the 2013 World Juniors champions) seemed to tell early on.

They slid to a W1 L4 record with defeats against Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands – their A-Division status seemed to be at stake and playoff hopes a distant dream.

But suddenly it clicked into place. Finland were beaten 7-3 and from there Smith reeled off the wins against Italy, Russia and Germany – they had their confidence back, and were making the big shots.

They had secured Scotland’s spot at the 2016 World Men’s Championship, but faced a tiebreaker against Sweden to make the semi-finals.

They were edged out 8-7 by Edin’s Swedish rink – a disappointment after their run of wins, but undoubtedly a fine European debut for Smith.

There was less drama for Team Muirhead in making the women’s playoffs, as they racked up seven wins from nine.

The drama was saved for their semi-final with Finland, as the Finns led 5-0 after three ends and the game looked to be slipping away from the Scots.

But the nightmarish start was followed by seven ends of professional and increasingly dominant curling from Muirhead’s rink, dragging themselves back to 6-6 after seven ends and stealing two in end eight for a lead they never relinquished.

It was not to be the perfect ending for Muirhead, as Team Sidorova of Russia won the final 6-4 – but the silver medals represented a step up from last year (where they won bronze), both on the podium and in terms of quality, delighting coach David Hay with their consistent level of performance.

Gold for Sidorova was a fitting reward for a team who operated with an air of composure and control throughout the week – while in the men’s competition it was Sweden who took top spot.

Having narrowly beaten Scotland in the tiebreaker, Team Edin got up to their 2014-15 tricks again, really turning it on when it mattered to beat Norway in the semi-finals and Switzerland in the final.

Homan hammer Grand Slam rivals
While the four Grand Slam of Curling men’s titles played for so far have gone to four different winners – Team Koe claimed the Tour Challenge, Team McEwen the Masters, Team Gushue the National and Team Epping the Canadian Open (angle raises ahoy) – there’s been one team ruling the women’s events.

Team Homan may have lost the Tour Challenge final to Team Tirinzoni of Switzerland, but since then they’ve been winning. A lot.

The Masters, National and Canadian Open all fell before them, three of their titles in a season that has seen them take more than $160,000 in tournament winnings… with plenty more to come in 2016, no doubt.

As for the Scots… well, Tirinzoni’s Tour Challenge win is the only Grand Slam title not to go to a Canadian rink at this point in the season, so it’s been an uphill battle.

Teams Brewster and Smith reached the semi-finals of the Tour Challenge tier 2, but the Olympians of Team Murdoch struggled – at least up until the Canadian Open, where they went out at the quarter-final stage after earlier notching wins over Teams Jacobs, Laycock and Bottcher.

In the women’s Grand Slams, Muirhead made the quarter-finals of the Tour Challenge (beaten by Homan) and semi-finals of the Canadian Open, Team Jones denying the defending champions a spot in the final.

With those results – as well as being runner-up at both Europeans and the Stockholm Ladies Cup, plus semi-finalists at the Women’s Masters Basel – it’s been a consistent enough season so far. Indeed their skip believes they’re in a better place than they were at this point in 2014.

One more thing from the Grand Slams: Gushue’s fall at the Masters.

As well as prompting discussion about whether helmets should be worn on the ice, it also raised the issue of concussion.

Gushue miraculously (or, perhaps, dangerously) returned towards the end of the game in which he fell – but should that have been his decision to make, or one for an objective party, i.e. a doctor?

Curling Canada is now looking to create the sport’s first concussion protocol ready for the 2016-17 season, which can only be a good thing.

Scots winning at home and away
So it’s been nearly but not quite for the Scottish teams so far in 2015-16? Not exactly.

Smith claimed the spoils at the Goldline Scottish Curling Tour Edinburgh International, seeing off Van Dorp’s Dutchmen, their other most notable performance coming at the Swiss Cup Basel, where they fell to Gushue in the semi-finals.

Brewster won the Curling Night in America men’s event held in Eveleth, as well as finishing runners-up to Edin at the Baden Masters in August and to compatriots Team Mouat at the Champions Curling Tour event in Dumfries this month.

Mouat had previously won the BrokerLink OVCA Junior Superspiel in Ottawa, Canada – a week after beating Epping twice on the way to the Challenge Chateau Cartier de Gatineau semis – and also the Forfar Open on the Scottish Curling Tour.

The team currently holding the most Scottish Curling Tour titles this season, though, are Team Hardie, who won both the Braehead and Dumfries Opens.

Just a few days before Christmas, Murdoch won the Karuizawa International in Japan, seeing off Pat Simmons’ rink in the final, and taking momentum into 2016.

On the women’s side of things, Team Gray won the Dumfries Challenger CCT ladies event, having reached the semi-finals of the Dave Jones Northbridge Mayflower Cashspiel and quarter-finals at the Boundary Ford Classic, both in Canada, earlier in the season.

Team Fleming have had a tough few months, although they did make the quarters at the Women’s Masters Basel and semis at the Medicine Hat Charity Classic in Alberta.

The future’s bright
Scotland’s hopes for future success also performed well in the first part of the season.

The first leg of the Asham Under-21 Slam was held in Greenacres and the men’s section was won by Team Whyte, while the women’s title went to Karina Aitken’s rink.

From there, while the men’s events were won by a different team each time, Team Murray went all Homan on their opponents and claimed top spot at Kinross, Inverness and Lockerbie.

As for the junior men, Team Bryce won in Kinross, Team Brydone in Inverness and Team McNay in Lockerbie.

There were also Scottish teams involved in the European Junior Curling Tour events – several picking up medals.

Team Jackson won gold at the Braehead Junior International in September, while Mouat won men’s bronze.

Brydone and K Aitken won silver and bronze respectively at the EJCT event in Oslo, Norway, while Bryce and Murray took third and fourth respectively in Thun, Switzerland.

Hopes for 2016
The next year promises to be a big one for Scotland. Tour events begin with the Perth Masters, which has again attracted a world class field, from January 7-10.

Others include the Glynhill Ladies International (also January), Aberdeen City Open (February), Aberdeen International (March) and Perth Ladies International (April).

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club hopes for increased media attention and spectator numbers for these, and the Scottish Championships in February of course, ahead of Braehead hosting the 2016 Europeans in November.

Another area of potential growth is in mixed curling, boosted by mixed doubles’ inclusion in the 2018 Olympics.

Scotland (Cameron Bryce, Katie Murray, Bobby Lammie and Sophie Jackson) were a tiebreaker away from making the quarter-finals of the inaugural World Mixed Curling Championship in Bern, Switzerland, in September.

In April 2016 we have the World Mixed Doubles Championship in Karlstad, Sweden – Scotland will be represented by Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken, and hopefully they can lay down a marker for the nation at this key time in the development of the discipline.

One more hope for the year to come: a concrete resolution to #broomgate.

Following complaints about ‘joystick curling’ and teams calling others ‘cheats’, certain broom heads were banned, at least temporarily, at elite level while the sports governing bodies try to sort it out.

It’s not an easy thing to do. How do you answer questions such as:
– How effective a broom is too effective?
– What should the balance be between good shot-making and good sweeping?
– What should the balance be between getting in the best physical shape and getting the best out of your equipment?
– Can the World Curling Federation be seen to make objective calls when it is sponsored by some broom suppliers (Balance Plus and Goldline) and not others (notably Hardline)?

However those in charge of the sport come to a conclusion (I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes!), it must involve the global curling community and the testing/decision-making process must be transparent.

Or, in other words, what these guys said.

***

Thanks for reading and supporting The Roaring Game Blog in its first few months… may you, dear reader, and the sport have a fantastic 2016!

It’s not all about you, Scotland: The Brits in Esbjerg

 

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England women – photo: lovecurling.wordpress.com

 

This blog may have a Scottish focus, and I had at least one eye on the Scottish teams throughout their time in Esbjerg, but there were three other teams from Britain at the European Championships.

They are England men (Alan MacDougall, skip, Andrew Reed, Andrew Woolston, Tom Jaeggi, Ben Fowler), England women (Anna Fowler, skip, Hetty Garnier, Angharad Ward, Lauren Pearce, Naomi Robinson) and Wales men (James Pougher, skip, Rhys Phillips, Gary Coombs, Jamie Fletcher and Simon Pougher), all of whom competed in the B-Division this year.

I spoke to the teams about how they got started in curling, the hard yards they put in to make it to Esbjerg and how they enjoyed the Europeans experience.

So. Curling. Established in Troon and Toronto, sure, even Trondheim… but Tunbridge Wells? The setting up of England’s only dedicated curling facility in Kent was the genesis point for the current England women’s team, as they all live in the area, caught wind of it after it opened in 2004 and played on from that point.

Others have links to more traditional curling nations – Canada (Angharad Ward and Jamie Fletcher – both began playing it across the Atlantic and then took it up again in the UK) and Scotland (Alan MacDougall and Andrew Reed).

Then there’s the Olympic effect. The 2002 Games inspired Fletcher and James Pougher, while the 2010 event prompted Gary Coombs to join in at Wales’ sole facility in Deeside Leisure Centre.

Deeside, in the north east of the country, is indicative of the difficulties faced by British curlers outside of the Scottish motherland of the sport.

Fletcher, who is about 45 minutes’ drive from the facility, says: “We have it one night a week… It’s ice hockey ice – we get the ice about six hours before we play so we’ve got to prepare it ourselves, and it’s often not very good.

“So we are trying to get our own facility, we’ve been working on that for a while, but at the moment we don’t have anything.

“We do our best with what we have, but having our own facility would make a massive difference.”

England is a little better off when it comes to ice provision, and could get a lot better if proposals for curling facilities in Preston, Bracknell and Cambridge come to fruition.

The England women are hopeful that more English rinks would mean more competitive curlers for them to face, and more competitions to play in south of the border – because at the moment they play so often in Scotland that Braehead (next year’s Europeans host) is becoming like a home rink for them.

But skip Anna Fowler is also realistic about English curling’s capabilities, knowing that it’s a long term game.

She said: “When the other rinks [beyond Fenton’s in Kent] open up, it’ll take a little bit of time but maybe five years after that we’ll have some good competition and I think English curling will develop.

“But we need a couple more rinks to develop the sport. At the moment it’s not really developing loads in England.”

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England men – photo: worldcurling.org/ecc2015

The England men’s team, Ben Fowler says, “train as a team in Greenacres but don’t get much time all together”.

“This season three of us met twice for a weekend of training,” he adds.

Stretched resources meant creative approaches to funding their way to Esbjerg, paying for travel, accommodation and all the other associated costs.

While England women raised cash through crowdfunding (read more about that here), the men covered their own costs – aside from those (their car and house for the week) provided for by the English Curling Association.

Their Welsh counterparts are, says Fletcher, ‘about 98 per cent self-funded’ – with a few donations coming from people within Welsh Curling, suppliers and friends.

“No lottery funding, government funding – it’s all us,” Fletcher adds.

The problems didn’t even stop once the teams had arrived in Esbjerg either, as #broomgate made its presence felt on the teams as several brush heads were banned at short notice.

England women found they could not use any of their shipment of Goldline pads, and Anna Fowler added: “It’s been a bit of a pain because we’ve been training with the IcePad.

“We knew it might be banned, so we were only using one, but it’s been frustrating.

“We got the email when we were already here, and [England men] were on the plane when they got the first email, which is a little ridiculous.”

However, at a time when the ‘spirit of curling’ seems to be losing its way, an Olympian gave proof that it still exists – Norwegian skip Thomas Ulsrud giving England women four new broom heads.

“I don’t know how we knew that we’d had so many banned, but he came up and gave us four Norway ones, which was really nice,” says Fowler.

But it seems that the practice, funding and equipment issues are worth it for the Europeans experience.

Fletcher said this was his first Europeans, but his team-mates had all been to at least one before – and as well as the ice, food and lounge facilities being good, the biggest bonus is that the A and B-Division arenas are both on one site, which hasn’t always been the case.

As well as allowing the English and Welsh teams to go watch A-Division games between their own, it’s meant that the B-Division has been less of an ‘afterthought’, shunted off to the middle of nowhere and attracting very few spectators – the B-Division viewing area was packed four rows deep on several occasions I attended games.

On the ice, both English teams were disappointed not to achieve promotion to the A-Division, while the Welsh struggled in their group but ultimately secured B-Division status again for 2016.

England men gave themselves a shot at making the playoffs by edging into a tiebreaker with Israel, but came up short in that match.

Ben Fowler reflects: “Considering our lack of preparation this year and the tough group we were in, we did really well!

“Our goal was to get to the A division for Braehead next year. Unfortunately we didn’t manage our goal, but we did avoid relegation.”

England women played well throughout the week and reached a semi final against Italy. The game was 3-3 into end 10 and the Italian skip’s last stone picked – only to make an unbelievable raise takeout that won her side the game.

Italy went on to defeat Norway to qualify for the 2016 World Women’s Championships so England, who lost to Latvia in their bronze medal match, did well to push them so agonisingly close.

Wales finished W2 L5 in their group, but defeated Croatia 10-4 in a relegation playoff to ensure they will be alongside both England teams at Braehead in 2016.

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Wales men – photo: worldcurling.org/ecc2015

Before then, the seasons continue for these sides to varying degrees.

England men will play in the Aberdeen City Open and the Haggis Bonspiel in preparation for the English Championships in February.

For England women, Ward says, “A couple of smaller competitions in Scotland – like the Aberdeen City Open and hopefully Perth Ladies, just to keep us together as a team and keep on practising.

“But this is our major competition of the season, so it’s a shame it’s so early on in the season.”

As for Wales, Fletcher said: “We go back into our normal league playing on Monday nights. We’ve got Welsh Championships coming up in early March, so we’ll be going to that together as a team.

“But that’s it really – we don’t have any competitions lined up over the next couple of months.

“We’ve been going really, really hard in the run-up to this, probably spending more weekends in Scotland than we have at home, so we need to get back into our normal lives a little bit.”

***

For more information on English Curling, see their website here.

You can also read the England women’s team blog here, or follow them on Twitter @lovecurling.

For more on Welsh Curling, see the site here – or for more on James Pougher’s rink, read their blog here or follow @TeamPougher.

Esbjerg Daily: European Curling Championships 2015 – Day 9

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Scotland supporters had the flags flying early, only for Russia to spoil the final party

Scotland women won European Curling Championship silver, beaten in the final by Russia, while Sweden won gold in the men’s event.

The Scots (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid) had been edged out by Anna Sidorova’s Russia in the round robin, and that was to prove the case today too.

Russia scored two in end two, but Scotland instantly responded with two of their own and the game was 3-3 at the fifth end break.

The crucial end was the eighth, as Sidorova played a superb couple of shots to prevent Scotland scoring a big end – and instead come away with a steal of one.

That put Russia 5-3 in the lead and they held firm to win the game 6-4, after an incredibly tense, tight match that swung decisively late on.

Coach David Hay said: “It was the best performance of the week from us.

“We had a couple of chances, a big chance in the eighth end – Eve makes a double takeout there and we pick up three.

“Instead we lost a steal of one – a four-shot turnaround. That was maybe the changing point in the game.

“Both teams are very good, it’s one shot here, one shot there, and this time it didn’t go for us.

“Next Saturday we’re back out to Canada for the Grand Slam of Curling event in Yorkton in 10 days’ time, so a bit of rest before then.

“We’ve had a good season so far, we keep rolling on and hope to go one better next time.”

***

Earlier in the day, Sweden, skipped by Niklas Edin, retained the men’s title they won last year, seeing off Switzerland in the extra end.

The Swedes had struggled in the group stage before knocking out Norway in yesterday’s semi finals, and started slowly here as well – Peter De Cruz’s Switzerland scoring two in the first end.

But Sweden then got into the groove that has seen them hold both European and World titles, scoring two in end four and taking the lead with another two in end six.

Switzerland, though, were not for giving up, and they scored two in end 10 to force an extra with the scores at 6-6.

However, the Swedes – holding hammer – were not unduly troubled there, Edin making a simple draw to the four foot to score one and win the title.

***

In the other games played on the final day, Denmark men beat Italy 4-2 to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in their World Challenger series – so the Danes will play at the World Men’s Championship in Basel, Switzerland, in April 2016.

The qualifier for the World Women’s Championship in Swift Current, Canada, in March 2016 were Italy. Norway tied the series 1-1 with an 8-6 win in the second game, but the Italians won the decider 8-2.

And Belgium retained their B-Division status for next year with a 10-8 win over Croatia, who drop to the C-Division.

***

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Teams lined up at the closing ceremony

The European Curling Championships 2015 has been a superb event to attend as fan-turned-journalist, with Esbjerg fine hosts and the organisation behind the event doing a great job.

More spectators would have been a bonus, but teams had vocal support from their country’s supporters throughout the week.

From a Scotland point of view, the way that the men (Team Smith) came back from a very low ebb to make a playoff tiebreaker was incredibly encouraging for their future – and in the end they only went out by a single point to eventual winners Sweden.

As for Muirhead’s women, they played well throughout the week, made an extraordinary comeback in their semi final and their silver medals represent a step up from last year – not just on the podium, but as a sign that their performances are improving.

Tak (thank you) Esbjerg!

Esbjerg Daily: European Curling Championships 2015 – Day 8

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Edin edged Ulsrud – again. Photo: World Curling Federation/Laura Godenzi

It was a Scotland-free day on Friday, but there was still plenty of action – with semi final and medal games, including England women’s shot at bronze that saw them fall just short.

In the A-Division men’s semi finals, there was a clash between last season’s World Championship finalists, Norway and Sweden.

Norway had won nine and lost none of their round robin games, whereas Sweden lost four and needed a tiebreaker win over Scotland to make the semis, but it was Niklas Edin’s Swedes who came out on top, just as they had to win the Worlds title.

Norway, skipped by Thomas Ulsrud, scored two in end two but Sweden then scored three and took two steals of one to lead 5-2 after five ends.

Ulsrud’s rink came back with a three in end seven and two in end 10 to force an extra end, but Edin made the nose hit for one and an 8-7 win.

In the other semi, Peter De Cruz’s Switzerland topped the Finnish rink of Aku Kauste. scoring threes in ends three, six and eight for a 10-4 victory.

In the bronze medal games, Lene Nielsen’s Denmark suffered their fifth defeat in a row as Finland, skipped by Oona Kauste, claimed third spot on the podium – a historic first medal for Finnish women’s curlers.

That was in large part down to a four in end five, and although Denmark scored three in end nine, the Finns held on to win 10-8.

Norway, meanwhile, won men’s bronze, shaking off the disappointment of their semi-final exit to steal two in end two and add another two in end four on their way to a smooth 7-4 win over Finland.

***

In the B-Division, survival was at stake for James Pougher’s Wales men, who knew that a win over Croatia would allow them to stay in the B-Division for the 2016 championships in Braehead.

They got off to a flier, scoring four in end one, before adding a two in end five and three in end eight to win the match 10-4 and kill off relegation fears.

That was followed by England women, skipped by Anna Fowler, taking on Latvia for B-Division women’s bronze after their agonising loss to Italy on Thursday night.

Despite taking a 5-3 lead into the fifth end break, England gave up steals in ends seven, eight and nine – a two in end 10 was not enough as they lost 8-7 and had to settle for fourth place.

Skip Fowler said: “Over the tournament, I think we played very well – we played a lot better towards the end of the week.

“Today, it just took us a long time to figure out the ice; we just weren’t really good enough today to be honest.

“A couple of times we could’ve had big ends and it just didn’t go our way.”

On whether the team had achieved its objectives, she added: “No, I would say our real ambition was to make promotion, so our loss yesterday was the one we were so, so gutted about.

“It was such a close game and there wasn’t much more we could’ve done.

“We wanted to be [in the A-Division] in Braehead next year, but another year of experience and we should be there.”

Latvia men also took bronze, defeating Israel, while Denmark men beat Austria and Italy women saw off the Czech Republic for the B-Division golds, also putting them into the World Challenger matches.

Those games (which decide the last European qualifier for the World Men’s and Women’s Championships in 2016) saw both B-Division sides win their opening tie of the three-game series – Denmark men topping Italy 7-2 and Italy women beating Norway 7-4.

***

Tomorrow is finals day!

The men’s final, Sweden against Switzerland, is from 10.00 CET – Niklas Edin’s rink looking to retain their crown from last year.

The women’s final follows at 15.00 CET, with Eve Muirhead and Scotland looking to reclaim the title they last won in 2011, as they face Russia.

The day will also feature the second and (if needed) third World Challenger games between Denmark and Italy (men) and Italy and Norway (women), plus the game to decide who joins Estonia in dropping to the men’s C-Division for 2016 – Belgium versus Croatia.

You can get updates via @RoaringGameBlog on Twitter and Facebook, plus shot-by-shot coverage of the finals through CurlingGeek.

Eurosport and World Curling TV will televise both Sweden v Switzerland and Russia v Scotland.

For live scores from all the remaining games, see the event website, plus photo galleries here.

Esbjerg Daily: European Curling Championships 2015 – Day 7

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Down HOW MANY after three? FIVE?!? Photo: World Curling Federation

There was one almighty comeback and an oh-so-nearly game for Scotland on Thursday in Esbjerg, as the women won a remarkable semi final with Finland but the men were edged out in the playoff tiebreaker by Sweden.

Kyle Smith’s men’s team (who had to win to have a chance at making the last four) got the day off to a rip-roaring start against Alexander Baumann’s Germany, scoring two in end one, stealing two in end two and stealing three in end end for a rapid 7-0 lead!

After that, they took their ones with hammer, only gave up a couple of twos and then scored three in end nine to prompt handshakes at 12-5.

Skip Kyle Smith said: “We played a pretty good first end and then their skip, fortunately for us, missed a couple of draws and that really got us off to a big start.

“[Then] we made our peels and made sure I had a draw with my last one when we had the hammer and tried not to give them three when they had the hammer, and just kept it as clean as we could.

“It’s really pleasing to be on four wins in a row now – hopefully we can keep that going.”

Norway finished top of the men’s round robin standings with nine wins and no losses.

Switzerland beat the Netherlands to confirm their semi final place, while Finland’s extra-end win over Sweden meant they made the final four and forced Niklas Edin’s Sweden into the tiebreaker with Scotland.

A pulsating encounter saw the sides trade punches – twos and then threes – to see them tied at 5-5 at the fifth end break.

Sweden scored a two in end seven and Scotland just couldn’t get one back, so went down and out 8-7.

Skip Smith said: “We didn’t force them enough, they made some good twos. We had to do more to force or maybe steal. Disappointing in the end.”

On the competition as a whole, he added: “There’s been a lot of downs, but it’s kind of pleasing to come so close after the start to the week we had.”

Team coach Viktor Kjäll said: “They way they turned this round from being one win and four losses to being in the playoff tiebreaker, I’m really impressed with how they played the last four-five games.

“They should be really proud. It’s a great first experience and they’ll learn a lot from it to come back in future.”

***

With the men’s resolute effort over, it was down to Eve Muirhead’s women’s rink to keep the Scottish flag flying.

They faced Finland in the semi finals, a team they’d beaten 8-1 in the round robin – but couldn’t have imagined a worse start.

Oona Kauste’s Finns stole twos in ends one and two, then one in end three, to lead 5-0 – but, crucially, Scotland scored three in end four and stole one in end four.

From there the Scottish machine really kicked into gear, pulling the game back to 6-6 before a steal of two in end eight proved decisive – that put them 8-6 up and the match was won 9-7.

Skip Muirhead said: “It’s always going to be a tough comeback, but take away the first three ends and we played a fantastic seven ends.

“We knew that we could get our twos and force the ones – the three in the fourth end was a bonus.

“It just shows the fight in our team, that we stick together.

“Russia to come now; it should be a really good game and we’re looking forward to it.

“Tomorrow we have a day off, so a bit of practice in the morning and have a chilled afternoon – probably come watch the men’s semi finals – and then get ready for our final!”

Russia booked their place in the final with a 6-5 victory over hosts Denmark.

***

England men got the British teams’ day in the B-Division off to a good start, defeating Croatia 8-4 with twos in ends four and seven plus a three in end nine.

Spain did them a favour too, beating Israel to set up an England-Israel tiebreaker to make the promotion playoffs.

Alan MacDougall’s England weren’t able to capitalise on that, though, as the Israelis won 8-2.

Also in tiebreaker action were Anna Fowler’s England women, and they were successful in their game – needing a double takeout in end 10 against Turkey, Fowler made it, the win secured 8-7.

That set up a semi final with Italy in the evening – a tight game that was 3-3 after nine ends.

Italy had hammer in the final end; skip Federica Apollonio’s last stone picked, but incredibly managed a raise takeout that scored four and won the game 7-3.

The result means England miss out on A-Division promotion for next year, but they still have a match for bronze to come.

***

Tomorrow will start with Wales men facing Croatia in a relegation playoff from 09.00 CET – win that, and their place in the B-Division is secure. Lose, and they get a second chance to save themselves on Saturday.

England women play Latvia for B-Division bronze from 13.30 CET, the same time as the men’s A-Division semi finals – Norway v Sweden and Finland v Switzerland.

The A-Division men’s and women’s bronze medal matches then take place in the evening, from 19.00 CET.

You can get updates via @RoaringGameBlog on Twitter and Facebook, plus shot-by-shot coverage of several games through CurlingGeek.

Eurosport and World Curling TV will televise one of the men’s semi finals, and one of the bronze medal games.

For full fixtures and results, see the event website, plus photo galleries here.