John-Paul Moberly won the GC First Eight
John-Paul Moberly won GC's First Eight for the Ricki Savage Memorial Trophy
Sussex County Croquet Club hosted both Golf Croquet eights over the Bank Holiday weekend from 29-31 August. The courts were in excellent condition for the end of summer and the use of firmly-set Atkins hoops demanded accurate hoop strokes. Jump shots, especially the angled type, were a challenge for everyone.
Youth was in the majority. Richard Bilton, Euan Burridge, James Galpin, Rachel Gee and John-Paul Moberly are all under thirty and were joined by Ian Burridge, Stephen Mulliner and Lionel Tibble who represented the older generation. Indeed, if Tobi Savage had not had to withdraw, the majority would have been even more representative of the current healthy state of affairs in top English GC.
The first two days of block play produced a mixed bag of results with the stand-out performance being produced by Euan Burridge, at 18 the youngest player in the field. He lost his opening match to his father and then rattled off five wins. Moberly and Ian Burridge were next with 4/6 and the last qualifying place was up for grabs between Mulliner and Tibble who were both on 3/6 and had to play each other in the final round on Monday morning. Tibble had showed much improved form and led the field after day 1 with 3/3.
Mulliner, the top seed, had had the odd experience of beating the next three seeds (Moberly, Ian Burridge and Gee) but losing to the next three seeds (Bilton, Galpin and Euan Burridge). The Round 7 game against Tibble pitched top seed against eighth seed and should, on paper, have been an easy win for Mulliner. However, Mulliner/Tibble matches are always close and this one, as usual, finished at hoop 13 in game 3 with Mulliner progressing. Moberly beat Euan Burridge and took first place with better net points. Mulliner was third with one more net game than Ian Burridge.
Euan Burridge gave a very impressive display of powerful and accurate clearing and hooping in the first semi-final against Mulliner. Armed with a Solomon grip and the fearlessness of youth, no hoop was safe from him either on the ground or in the air and Mulliner's only defence was to block as often as he could and take every reasonable hoop opportunity. Burridge was dominant in the first game and sealed it by running 11 cleanly from the north boundary. Mulliner dug in and managed to win the second 7-5 and was undoubtedly favoured by the "run of the balls" in game 3. He made the most of it and took that game 7-5 as well to progress to the final.
Moberly and Ian Burridge had a close first game in which Burridge held the advantage in the later stages but Moberly managed to snatch a 7-6 win. The second game was a more straightforward 7-4 win for Moberly which thereby set up a repeat of the 2019 final.
Mulliner started the final strongly and Moberly was initially a little "off" with the result that the game 1 score soon reached 6-1 to Mulliner. Moberly then took three hoops on the trot to reach 6-4 but failed an angled 11 to hand the game to his opponent. Mulliner also started well in game 2, reaching 3-1 before Moberly was able to take hoops 5 and 6. The tactical situation at hoop 7 was a good example of GC risk calculation. Moberly's K was on the north boundary 5 yards east of C2 and B was south of 7 and wired from R which could jaws next time. He played a gentle shot with B on Y to send Y to a yard short and four yards east of K (and thus easily clearable by K to the east) and left B four yards north and a yard east of 7. What should Mulliner do? Move B with R and leave K a shot at the hoop or jaws with R and risk the jump by B? He chose to jaws and Y was duly cleared. Mulliner was a shade unlucky that his counter-clearance from 20 yards nicked B into straighter position and Moberly demonstrated his impressive jump technique to take the lead and run down to 8. The score was soon 5-3 and then 7-4 to Moberly.
The third game saw Moberly in his best form with powerful clearing and long hooping. There were some lengthy duels but he ran out a very worthy winner by 4-7, 7-4, 7-3.
In the Consolation Event, Richard Bilton beat Lionel Tibble 10-9 while James Galpin had a walk-over against Rachel Gee and then emerged a narrow winner against Bilton by 7-5, 5-7, 7-6.