Darby, Bruce prove slick combination

Tayla Bruce and Keanu Darby have every reason to smile after winning the inaugural North East...
Tayla Bruce and Keanu Darby have every reason to smile after winning the inaugural North East Valley invitational mixed pairs bowls tournament held over the long weekend. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
The youth of New Zealand bowls prevailed when local champion Keanu Darby, 27, combined with world champion Tayla Bruce, 28, of Christchurch, to win the inaugural North East Valley invitational mixed pairs yesterday.

The three-day tournament began with section play on Saturday morning. It combined the annual invitational women’s pairs and invitational men’s singles events into one major tournament.

The new format attracted many of the country’s top-ranked bowlers, a number of whom competed in the recent world championship of bowls that is held every four years.

Bruce, the newly crowned women’s singles champion, showed little had changed since becoming world champion and was in superb touch. She teamed superbly with Darby, making a combination that would not be out of place on the world stage. They were the only team to go through the tournament undefeated.

After scoring a number of convincing victories on their path to the final, Darby and Bruce continued to dominate most facets of play in the final. Their communication and exchanges on the green served to lift each other and offer confidence and belief.

Their opponents in the final, Sean O’Neill (Kia Toa, Timaru) and Sandra Keith (Allenton, Ashburton) held their own for the first eight ends of the 16-end encounter.

At the midway stage, scores were locked up at 5-5, O’Neill and Keith keeping a level pegging, due in part to a three they scored on the sixth end that put them back in the game after Darby and Bruce dominated the early encounters. But that was to be a close as it got.

A four on the ninth end handed a 9-5 lead to Darby and Bruce. And for the remaining seven ends, they remained masters of their own destiny, winning 16-9

The importance of winning the inaugural invitational mixed pairs containing many of the country’s top bowlers was not lost on Darby.

"It’s special. It’s a good feeling. And good to come away knowing we were consistent throughout," Darby said afterwards, adding that going through unbeaten was a "bonus".

After a tight start it was good to pull away in the second half, he said.

Bruce was "stoked" with her first victory on New Zealand soil following her world cup victory in early last month and was impressed with Darby’s game.

"He [Darby] managed the conditions well and made for a really exciting weekend."

The two first played together in the world youth tournament on the Gold Coast 10 years ago. They gave the appearance of knowing each other’s game, leaving nothing to chance.

Bruce will now partner with former Blackjack Amy McIlroy for the women’s Stoke pairs next weekend, while Darby teams with McGuigan for the men’s pairs in two weeks’ time.

Earlier in the day the Central Otago pair of Bill Clements and Lynley O’Callaghan claimed a major scalp when they knocked the Blackjack pair of Sheldon Bagrie-Howley and Val Smith out at the quarterfinal stage with a 14-6 victory.

Clement’s rink-side dog Sisco, a schnauzer-poodle cross, had seemingly proved somewhat of a lucky charm for the pair. But this charm eluded them when drawn to play Darby and Bruce in the semifinal, the latter winning 17-8.

On the other side of the draw, Finbar McGuigan (Stokes Valley) and Dunedin champion Sarah Scott were kept under the pump by O’Neill and Keith in their s emifinal. With the game locked up at 11-11 going into the 16th and final end, O’Neill and Keith, both former Blackjacks, dug deep to score a two and win 13-11 to cement their place in the final.