This report first appeared in the XX isue of New Zealand Pétanque magine.
Late last year, having seen a report on the Australian Pétanque website about the Singapore International, I suggested to both Brian and Dirk that we should look at going to the next event. Having missed out on the automatic entry to the World Championship, Singapore offered an interesting alternative.
In June, PNZ asked for expressions of interest in competing in Singapore and a few weeks later the team of Ian Baker (Herne Bay), Michael Rocks and Dirk Winnie (Khandallah) were chosen. We had the option of taking a manager, but the three of us thought we could cope on our own. As it happened, we picked up Terry Lambert as the official (mascot).
The next few weeks were spent organising uniforms, flights and accommodation. In our spare time we all did some training. Iím not really sure what practising at night in 6 to 8 degree temperatures actually does when you end up playing in 30 plus degrees, but it helped fill in the time.
On the Tuesday evening, Dirk and I flew to Auckland and Michael Emerson took us to Herne Bay. We met up with Ian, had some pizza and then three games against the World Champs team. This was our first ever game together and we won 13-12.
Unfortunately, the next two were not quite so successful. On that note, we headed to bed. Next day we had breakfast at the Atomic Cafe and a few games on the famous piste. Michael dropped us off at the airport and away we went.
We arrived early in Singapore, and having told Terry (who had arrived the day before) not to meet us at the airport, caught a cab to the hotel. On arrival, the desk had no idea who we were. Terry phoned. He was at the airport with Eddie Lim (the just retired President of Sports Boules Singapore) looking for us. We told him where we were and waited for them to arrive. Meanwhile, the desk worked out who we were and we checked in.
We talked to Eddie for an hour or so and found out quite a lot about pétanque in the region. The Singapore competition has been going for about twenty years and was initially between Singapore and Thailand. Over the years it has grown and now it has about a dozen countries competing. New Zealand had been invited in the past, but this was the first time a team had come.
The Asian Federation has been in existence for about fifteen years and the Constitution is being changed to allow Australia and New Zealand to participate in the Asian Championship.
On the Thursday evening we spent some time at the piste. It was situated about 10-15 minutes away by taxi. The terrain is in a sports area (soccer/athletics field, swimming pool, basketball stadium, and I think the other building was used by either table tennis or badminton).
There were 10 terrains in 3 blocks of two (one covered), and a long one that probably doubled as the bocce court, which was divided into four. The surface was different in each of the areas. The covered terrains were dusty and the nearest to a lime terrain in NZ. The other two double pistes were stony (see Terry's picture), while the bocce court was pretty flat with some stones, a number of dead spots and large stones that were just below the surface.
On Friday we went down during the day to get used to playing in the heat. At least that was the plan, but it had been raining and the temperature was relatively cool! We had several games against the Singapore juniors and managed to avoid the Mauritius team, whose coach was quite keen to see how we would play. If we ended up playing them in the tournament we wanted the element of surprise!
In the evening the team officials met to discuss the format and do the draw for round one. After the Pan Pacific in Vietnam, Eddie had promised the Australians and New Zealanders that they would definitely get more games.
Nineteen teams from eleven countries had entered, so the format was four pools of 4 and one of 3. The first round was a barrage format. The top two teams in each pool would qualify for round 2, the bottom teams would have the rest of the day off!
After the draw, we headed out for some dinner and had an early night.
Up at 6:00am, breakfast etc, onto the coach and off to the terrain. I donít think the driver had been there before as we took a very curious route. We had some time on the piste and then the official welcome ceremony. We were introduced to our flag-bearer, scorekeeper and general minder, Jowie, and proceeded to march in. After the introductions, we were called upon to do a haka. Thankfully, I had sent Terry back to the hotel to collect our giveaway tossing coins, so there is no evidence of what a three-person haka looks like.
New Zealand was drawn in the same pool as the Philippines, Port Authority of Thailand (PAT), and Malaysia B.
In the first game we beat the Philippines 13-3 in 9 ends with one killed. We found out later that not only was this their first appearance at Singapore, but their first international competition. We can therefore claim to have inflicted the first international defeat on the Philippines.
In the second game we faced PAT, the defending champions. After five ends, we were 5-2 up. After the next three, we were 6-7 down. However, their pointer went off and we wrapped up the match 13-7.
We had qualified for the second round as top of our pool and had the luxury of watching some of the other matches.
Terry was sent up to do the draw and depending upon your point of view we either got the pool of death or the best draw we could get.
In the first game we played Thailand B, who were second in the Pan-Pacific Championships in Vietnam. The encounter was brief and possibly exciting for anyone that might have captured a glimpse of it. On the first end we scored 5, on the second we conceded 4. The third end we conceded 3, followed by another 3 on the fourth. Score 5-10. On the fifth end Ian shot twice and we were holding two. Their third boule was short, their last three points were all shot out and we pointed in for six. Score 11-10. Unfortunately, we couldn't repeat the effort on the next end and conceded 3, losing 11-13.
In game two we faced PAT again and there was no mucking about as they quickly raced to 10-1 after four ends. Over the next six ends we mixed aggression with good defence to claw back to 7-12. On the next end we were holding three (one in front, one at the rear and one to the left, with the dead boule line protecting the right) and they had one to play. Under the circumstances, you had to feel pretty confident that we would hold out their boule and probably pick up a couple of points. Unfortunately, it was not to be as their melieur pulled off an amazing point between the front boule and the boundary to take the game. A loss, 7-13.
In game three we played Thailand A, who like us had had two losses (12-13 to Cambodia and 3-13 to PAT). After eight ends it was 4-4 (two ends killed) and then the wheels fell off and three ends later it was all over.
We had the bye and watched a very passive Thailand B lose to Thailand A 1-13. That effectively put us out of the competition as all the other teams now had two wins.
In the final game we played Cambodia and we had our worst game of the day. Six games in 35-degree heat and high humidity finally took its toll and we lost 2-13 in five ends.
Talking to one of the Australians at the end of the day he commiserated with us on not qualifying for the top eight. He also stated that they had survived a tough draw.
Ian had the shooting competition to look forward to. It was the World Championship format played on the covered terrain. Ian was a little unlucky as two boules that he shot hit the back of the metal ring and stayed inside. Ian finished tenth and so we were finally finished for the day. After buying a fruit gelato we hailed a cab back to the hotel.
The eight qualifiers in the Championship were: Pool A - Thailand B, Cambodia, PAT and Thailand A; Pool B - Malaysia A, Mauritius, Australia A and Singapore B.
Australia B was the non-qualifier from Pool B.
In the Nations Cup, Terry went up again to do the draw and we ended up in Group B with Malaysia B, Australia B and Singapore C.
We played Singapore C (the junior team) in the first game and after a very long struggle on the back piste we finally won 13-10. This was a difficult game as the temperature was in the high thirties and the terrain surface was completely different to the ones we had played on the day before.
Game two was against Australia B. This was our first game under cover and the Australians had just beaten Malaysia B there. This was an odd game as we didn't really fire and succumbed 6-13 in eight ends.
Back outside, we faced Malaysia B in the barrage game. Unfortunately for us, this was their best game of the tournament. According to Ian, two of their players had been at last year's World Championships. In this game they could do little wrong and they romped away with the game in 6 ends. Even a thunderstorm and torrential rain was unable to help us over the last two ends. Dirk spent some time watching their other games and he couldn't believe how ordinary they were!
So for us the tournament was over. We huddled under the awnings while the rain pelted down, and ate our lunch.
In the final of the shooting competition, Thaleungkiat Phusa-Ad (Thailand A, melieur) beat Or Chandaren (Cambodia, pointer) 35-33 after shooting the cochonnet at 9 metres. Three weeks later Phusa-Ad was crowned World Champion. (He was a semi-finalist in 2004.)
In the play-off for third/fourth, Dumrong (PAT, melieur) beat Stephano Louis Sylvio (Mauritius, shooter) 40-28. Stephano is a dead ringer for Andre Noel, or maybe it is the other way around. Even the shooting styles are similar.
The rain eased, some plugs were removed from the centre pistes and the water drained away. When the semi-finals began, we were pleased to see that all four teams came from our second-round pool. Australia had a tough draw, yeah right!
In one semi-final, Thailand A beat Thailand B 13-5, while in the other Cambodia beat PAT 13-3. In the third/fourth play off, Thailand B beat PAT 13-11.
In the final match, Thailand A gained revenge for their previous day's loss, thumping Cambodia 15-2. The pointing by the Thai team was impressive. In Brussels, the team finished third at the World Championships.
Meanwhile, the Nations Cup was still plodding along. In fact the closing ceremony took place just as the final was starting. Just like home, day 2 always runs late!
As we boarded the coach to go back to the hotel (some 20 minutes after the scheduled start of the tournament dinner), news came in that Malaysia B had beaten Seychelles A in the Nations Cup final with Singapore A beating Australia B for third.
A buffet dinner was held at the Hollandse Club, where we shared a table with Mauritius and Arjan Singh, the Secretary of Sports Boules Singapore.
After dinner the Nations Cup presentations took place, there were various competitions for the players to win prizes and then we headed back to the hotel.
Dirk and I visited the Philippines team and swapped shirts. They had decided to stay awake until they left for the airport at 4:00 am. Their plan was to sleep on the flight back to Manila. We didn't see them off!
Organised pétanque is still very new in the Philippines. Probably, the greatest impetus to form a national body is the SE Asian games. Pétanque is one of the participating sports and the Philippines are hosting the event later this year. They have done well so far, having picked up a major sponsor (San Miguel Corporation) to the tune of US$50,000. I think it will be a case of, watch this space.
At breakfast we spent quite a bit of time with the Mauritius coach. I have adapted one of his training exercises (which you can download from the PNZ website).
We had the Monday to look around Singapore. Terry and Ian went to the Botanical Gardens and visited a friend from Auckland, Dirk and I went to Arab Street and the night safari in the evening. On Tuesday morning Terry flew on to Thailand, while the three of us had a look round Little India and Chinatown. That evening we flew home again.
This was my first visit to Singapore and I was impressed by how much green space there was and how easy it was to get around. Obviously, the fact that most people spoke English helped enormously.
The tournament was a great experience. Beating PAT was a highlight, but the opportunity to play against world-class players was priceless.
One of comments by the Mauritius coach struck a chord with our team. Are we playing the game to do well in New Zealand, or are we playing to do well internationally? (You could also substitute training for playing.)
Very few players get the opportunity to play in a World Championship, but events like the Singapore International, the Asian Championship and so on, provide an opportunity to see (and play) pétanque in a very different environment to our own.
As an aside the youngest competitor in Singapore was probably 14, the oldest 86. The number of women competitors was lower than a NZ tournament. There was one all-women team (Australia B) and, I think, four mixed teams (Singapore A had two women).
Finally, I would like to thank the PNZ Executive and the Selectors for providing us with the opportunity to take part.Michael Rocks
Thailand A 1;
Thailand B 3;
Port Authority of Thailand 4;
Malaysia A, Mauritius 5 equal;
Australia A, Singapore B 7 equal;
Australia B, New Zealand 9 equal.
Malaysia B 1;
Seychelles A 2;
Singapore A 3;
Australia B 4;
Philippines, Seychelles B 5 equal;
Japan, New Zealand, Singapore D 7 equal;
Madagascar, Singapore C 10 equal.