This much anticipated weekend saw some 900 players competing in the English Petanque Association’s (EPA) premier event of the year at Hayling Island. The Inter-Regional Championships and Challenge Tournament brought together triples teams from all the 16 English regions and the Welsh PA, to compete against each other in two divisions. This being Mercia’s first entry, we started off in division two.
The weather hit Hayling Island with a vengeance on the Saturday with heavy rain making conditions very difficult for the players and the playing surface, usually a hard, dry gravel base, swiftly becoming a muddy morass and in some areas completely flooded! Sunday’s sunshine reversed these conditions and instead produced pistes similar to the underside of baked tiles, on which it became extremely difficult to stop a running boule on the sloping surfaces.
Despite all this, the Mercia players battled on gamely, but ended the two-day event in last position of the second division. Nevertheless we can be very proud of our new region. Mercia were hot on the heels of regions that are much more established and with more experience.
Of course finishing above any one of the regions would have been the icing on the cake and with 37 wins I think we were unlucky not to do so. In other years I am sure that wouldn’t have put us bottom, but that’s just the way things work out sometimes with leagues in any sport.
Having a close look at the final tables, what stands out was the progress Mercia made on Day 2. We all grew into the event when our pre-event nerves were no longer a factor and it can be considered that Day 2 was a more accurate indication of our general performance level. It is remarkable that we finished only 6 wins behind the Welsh PA who have a lot of players who have played at the Home Nations International level. All of our teams played 12 matches, with three of our teams finishing on 7 wins each and another on 6 wins. So, 27 wins from four teams across 48 games is greater than 50% and this has to be looked upon as the target for all of our teams next year. When this is achieved, Mercia will be promoted to the top division. The gap between us and the regions immediately above us is very small and, if we set our minds to it, can be quickly closed. Even the gap to those at the top isn’t too large. We were anticipating that the standard of play in the second division could have been well above our current level, but that proved not to be so. Against the Isle of Wight, Anglia and the Welsh in particular, it was thought we were going to be blown off the piste, but it wasn’t like that at all. Eastern won the division with 60 wins but some of us managed to beat Eastern teams. We were all able to compete.
The final count in Div 1 was close! Southern Region topped the table, the runners-up were Chiltern Region and third were Kent. Our congratulations go to them.
Special thanks go to Jim and Judy Alsop for managing Mercia’s squad and to June & Mike Ricketts for all their help with accommodation, transport and club kit.