11/10 Australia Match

Saffers, Yanks and hosts knocked on the door
But our 3 and 10 were record scores
Lucky put them all in
And we reined them all in
Coming back from third to win by four

Today was Australia Match day and the first real test of the team’s capabilities in match conditions. 

Reflecting the different tasks allocated to each team member in pursuit of our common goal, departure times for the buses to leave the hotel were staggered.  Those lucky enough to be shooting, coaching or otherwise actively engaged in points accumulation left in time for the briefing and warm up around 7 a.m..  Those whose duties revolved more around counting the points accumulated, providing shade, water and victuals left a little later (accompanied by some particularly fine ‘old school tunes’) but, of course, in time to arrive for setting up the encampment behind the point.

On the range the old school tunes were, perhaps unsurprisingly, replaced by some good old fashioned pre-match tension.  As the points-accumulators went through their familiar, sweaty-palmed pre-match routines, the rest of the team scurried to set up the multiple gazebos, large score board and other accessories.  Team GB were set.

So after the blow off period, there were six international teams on the mound all looking to accumulate 2000 points.  Fortunately the weather was warm and sunny. Unfortunately the wind was far from still.  300 yards was not, therefore, the usual millpond test of nerves but a cruel, ICFRA sized test of nerves accompanied by a ‘sneaky’ little tailwind that flicked back and forth.  Led by first man down Nigel Ball’s 50.9, GB finished the range just 1 point down and ahead of all the other competing nations.

600 yards brought an increasingly difficult left wind that rolled in from over shoulder, changing in angle and strength.  This became more difficult as the morning wore on and we moved into the tricky period around lunchtime.  The shooting remained steady and the coaches worked hard to ensure that GB dropped just 6 points.  On the smallest bull’s-eye of all ranges and the hardest target draw this was no mean feat.  Clearly it required a lot of concentration from all involved, so much so that the main coach appeared to have forgotten that his left hand target coach was in fact Jane Messer not his wife Pearl.  The misplaced “thank you, Pearl” was perhaps the only moment of levity in the hurly-burly of headset exchanges.

At lunch time the points accumulators were fed to order by the bearded master chef and the Captain set out his thoughts on the story so far.  It had been, he said, a “good hit” but it was clear we did “not have much of an insurance policy”.  For the record GB were 7 points down after 600 yards with the Americans 2 behind on 9 off and the South Africans and Australians a little further back on 13 and 14 points off respectively.  Sandwiches and fluids on board, the points accumulators warmed up and moved out to tackle the frankly not-at-all-friendly early afternoon wind conditions.

The wind continued to come in from the left at 900 yards and it was almost immediately apparent that forays to the magpie ring were not only possible but easily made.  The slightest slip from a shooter coupled with the fickle wind was swiftly punished.  Despite the coaches’ efforts this initial episode was occasionally repeated before conditions began to calm.  The later finishing American and Australian teams were therefore able to make up ground.  After 900 yards the leading teams were ranked as follows: USA (19 off, 161 V-bulls), SA (19 off but with 158 V bulls), GB (20 off with 155 V-bulls) and Australia (23 off with 163 V-bulls).

With this narrow gap on at least the point counters’ minds, we prepared for 1000 yards.  Again, the gazebo bearers and hydration helpers were to the fore in setting up a little haven from the beating sun for the points accumulators.  But it was to the points accumulators that all eyes turned in this final range. 

For the casual observer, the wind conditions seemed to be easing at least a little. In truth, and certainly for those still in the coaching hot seats after a day’s work, this was not really the case.  Battle ebbed and flowed across the range as the point counters’ ranks swelled with runners keeping the Captain up to date with the leading teams’ relative positions.  South Africa set the pace as they shot through quickly.  The USA and Australia also remained threatening until almost their last firers.  It was, as a theoretically neutral observer put it, “turning in to quite a good match”. 

As the leading teams went shot for shot (and stop for stop when the wind really played up), the maths became increasingly complicated as it became apparent the result may well come down to V-bulls. It is worth noting that the point counters from the different nations were grateful for the spirit of cooperation and helpful data sharing on show. 

Ultimately, however, the combination of GB’s delayed start, superb coaching and some nerveless shooting prevailed.  Victory was ours by four points and 13 V-bulls.  South Africa were second, followed by USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.  Webbie’s first response was simply that, he can now look Hinchliffe in the eye. 

Congratulations must go to South Africa for going out and setting such a tough score and so putting such pressure on us and to Bryan Litz of the USA whose 200.26 both edged out one David Luckman’s 200.24 and equalled the match record.  Thanks to all the competing nations for what proved to be an enthralling match.

After such an exhausting and emotionally engaging day the team celebrated with the other competing nations at prize giving.  The excellent result for the USA in the Under 25 match sounded a cautionary note for the competition next week and indeed the future.  Commiserations to the GB U25 team.

Tomorrow is the start of the Australian Queen’s, so our next task is to come down from this high and get back to individual shooting and all the challenges that brings.