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Neal and Piketh settle for silver after epic encounter

Nicolene Neal

Long after the players had left the rink and the workforce were getting ready to start packing up on the final day of the bowls competition at Broadbeach, people were still talking about the Women’s Pairs final, writes GARY LEMKE on Australia’s Gold Coast.

And rightly so. They had been treated to an epic encounter, one in which Malaysia came from behind, 13-5 behind it has to be said, to edge South Africa’s Nicolene Neal and Colleen Piketh in the final. It even came down to the final delivery, with SA lying one shot behind, needing one more to tie things up. It never happened and the scoreboard will forever reflect Malaysia 15, South Africa 14.

Few could have predicted the drama about to unfold earlier on as Neal and Piketh raced into a 7-0 lead after three of the 18 ends. That lead became 11-3 halfway through the match and stretched to a nine-point lead (12-3) after 10 ends. And with the score 13-5 after 13 ends, you could have been forgiven those already ticking off another gold to Team South Africa at these Commonwealth Games.

But this is sport. Bloody hell, as Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson once said.

That 13-5 advantage became 13-7 after 14 ends, still a comfortable gap with four remaining. Then 13-11 with three to go. Then 13-12 with two left. Squeaky bum time, to reference Sir Alex once again. Then Malaysia took the lead for the first time, drawing three shots on the penultimate end to go 15-13 up before holding on for the gold 15-14.

One of the beauties of this final is that it was played at a high intensity where both pairs teams refused to back down. One good delivery was countered by a better one; the dynamic of the game and the effect it would have on the scoreboard was changing with virtually every delivery. It will go down as one of the game’s most dramatic comebacks and South Africa played a full part in it.

Both Neal and Piketh were earning their second medal of these Games, with Neal making it two silvers after her role in the women’s fours, while Piketh added the silver to her singles’ bronze. She was also the defending pairs champion from Glasgow 2014.

‘We started off well, but then things changed slightly pace-wise and they started putting it closer. We had the chance to draw for two, but they won. Congratulations to them,’ said Piketh when asked to sum up the match. However, there’s much more to it than that.

Coming off the rink, the South Africans wiped a tear or two from their eyes. ‘It was the emotions,’ explained Neal. ‘The high and then suddenly … this has been a tough week, we’ve played every day. You have to stay focused and, well … women are very emotional,’ she laughed.

At 13-5 up it looked game over, given the manner in which South Africa were going about their business in such a ruthless manner. But the vastly experienced Piketh said that at no stage did they take things for granted that they’d go on to win the gold. ‘Bowls is very unpredictable,’ she said. ‘You can never be over-confident. You just have to keep doing what you have been doing. It ultimately came down to one or two ends when they played very well, they’re very good opponents. Each end was very important. We definitely didn’t relax … they just upped their game a little bit.’

As Malaysia started creeping ever closer in the last couple of ends, the tension was palpable. What was unfolding became a positive advert for the sport of bowls. By the end, the neutral would not have wanted there to have been a winner. Because there weren’t any losers in this final.

‘It definitely was tense, but experience helps getting through it,’ said Piketh. ‘Back home they say “breathe”. My new slogan is “believe and breathe”. I had to put some lipstick on and needed a drink to wet my lips, they were so dry,’ she confessed.

The Malaysians have been on the Gold Coast since February, getting themselves familiar with the Broadbeach rinks, which were all different. ‘It’s all a matter of rolling,’ said Piketh. ‘The more you roll, the better. Every rink is different, on the day you’ve just got to adjust. We’ve gone from a lightning fast rink to a nicer pace. You have to orientate yourself to know what to expect, so maybe them being here for a long time was a bit of an advantage.’

What lies ahead for Neal and Piketh? For the latter, the immediate future is simple. It sees her going from the greens to the sand. ‘I just want to get to the beach!’ she said.

Photo: Nicolene Neal in final’s action. By Jono Searly/Getty Images


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