Bowls champs ramp up as finals draw near
New Zealand's assault on the bowls world championships ramps up today when defending pairs champions Val Smith and Jo Edwards attempt to zero in on another gold medal in Adelaide.
The duo first need to eliminate Wendy King and Ellen Falkner, the English combination they conquered in the decider in Christchurch in 2008, and then survive a semi-final against Milagros Witheridge and Ainie Knight, the Filipinos that lead the way in pool two.
Smith is already through to the semi-final stage of the singles - her other success on home soil four years ago - but this is Edwards' only potential podium after the four she skipped were eliminated after a shock last-round loss to Botswana yesterday.
Two of New Zealand's most experienced competitors, Smith and Edwards hope to lay down a marker at the Lockleys club for a Black Jacks squad that still features in five of the eight title races.
The men's triple of Tony Grantham, Matt Gallop and Ali Forsyth underscored their title credentials by being the only combination from 24 nations spread across two groups to complete pool play undefeated.
Zimbabwe and Fiji yesterday rounded out their list of nine victims- Brunei and Jersey managed draws against the New Zealanders but won't torment them again as they failed to advance.
Scotland, the pacesetters in the other pool, can sit back with the Kiwis and watch Australia, China, Ireland and Japan battle it out on Thursday before taking on the winners in the afternoon for a spot in Saturday's final.
Smith topped her singles pool despite dropping her last match to Witheridge in a cliff hanger 21-19 but an earlier 21-5 drubbing of China's Yu Xiao Yan allowed her to hold pole position on points differential.
Although under pressure today Smith has the luxury of progressing straight through to Friday's semi-finals where she will meet either Ireland's Cliodhan Eadie or a rematch with Kelly McKerihan, the Canadian who pipped her 21-18 in round two of pool play.
Shannon McIlroy qualified for the singles quarter-finals last week and takes on Jersey's Malcolm De Souza tomorrow for another shot at Australia's Leif Selby, who beat the New Zealander in their opening clash on November 24.
Lisa White, Jan Khan and Mandy Boyd resume their triple campaign against Hong Kong on Thursday to earn the right to take on Scotland in the semi-finals later in the day - compensation after they joined Edwards in crashing out of the fours.
Gifted third place heading into the final round thanks to beating Canada and Scotland's defeat of the Philippines, the quartet only needed to beat lowly Botswana but suffered and agonising 15-14 loss.
The Africans had only won three of their previous 10 matches before sabotaging the Kiwis with a classy finish.
While the fours' exit was a surprise, the men's pair of McIlroy and Richard Girvan were put out of their misery before their final round encounter.
Back-to-back losses to Wales and Jersey last Friday meant they had to rely on other results to fall their way and when England beat Hong Kong 17-10 in yesterday's morning session their challenge was over.
England then defeated them 17-12 to end a disappointing tournament for Girvan, who also skipped the unsuccessful fours combination.