Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Scottish Championships - the first courses

Do you remember Tom Brewster's speech that he gave after losing the final of the Bruadar Scottish Men's Curling Championship last year? It had been a great final. Team Murdoch had won, and Tom used the opportunity to make the point that it was hard for an 'amateur' team to compete against the professional side with all its training, competition experience and financial and other support. Murdoch went on to win the Worlds in great style of course, and now Team GB is poised for the Winter Olympics, arguably as well prepared as any team has even been. There is the small matter though of this season's Bruadar competition, the next chapter of which gets underway tomorrow (Wednesday).

Ten teams are involved and they will play a round robin over the next few days at the Dewar's Centre in Perth to find the top four. This will be the first time that Murdoch has faced the others, having been given a bye through the qualifying rounds. The other competing teams are skipped by Graeme Black, Tom Brewster, Scott Hamilton, Neil Joss, Pete Loudon, Hammy McMillan, Glen Muirhead, Sandy Reid and Warwick Smith. The draw is here and the results here.

Should Glen's team or Graeme's team reach the last four, and if either wins the Scottish Junior Championship next week, then they will not be available to take part in the final knockout stages of the competition which will not be held until after the Olympics, on March 5-7. Then, in both the Page 1-2, and in the Page 3-4, the teams will play a best of three games. The semi (the loser of the Page 1-2 v the winner of the Page 3-4) will be a single game as normal, as will be the final.

Of course, there are those who think that the Scottish Championship should not have been disrupted in this way to accommodate the Olympics. The Swiss have taken this approach. However, there is a compelling argument which says that to hold a Scottish Championship without the Olympic representatives would make a mockery of the title.

I know only that this week's games, however exciting they are, will leave me still hungry come Sunday. It will be like sitting down for a meal and only being served the appetisers, and having to wait five weeks for the main course!

The women decide their champion team in a different way to the men. One perhaps has to ask why. Surely the 'Gold League' concept has run its course, and our men's and women's champions should be decided the same way. This season the eight women's teams are already halfway through a double round robin. After the first games at Curl-Aberdeen, Anna Sloan, Gail Munro and Eve Muirhead share the lead with five wins. Lauren Gray and Gillian Howard (aka Kay Adams) are on four wins. Claire Milne is on three, Sarah Reid on two, and Hannah Fleming has yet to post a victory.

Now, in past years, it was the top three teams after the double round robin which qualified for the playoff stages. This season, it's the top FOUR teams. It's all to do with the fact that it's an Olympic year, and there's five weeks before the final games. Colin Hamilton explains, "The change has been put in because of the five week gap between round robin and knockout. It was felt it was unfair for a team to turn up five weeks later to play only one game, so we have made it a best of three in a Page 1 v 2 and in a 3 v 4, ie two lives each."

I must admit that I did not see at first why it had been necessary to go to four teams, rather than three, in the playoffs. With three teams, the Page 1-2 would have been the best of three, with the winner sitting out, while the loser played a best of three with the third placed round robin team. Perhaps after three more games the winner would then meet the winner of the Page 1-2 for the title. This is indeed somewhat convoluted. I can see how this might be considered a little unfair on both the winner of the Page 1-2 (having to sit out while their opposition plays three more games), and on the 3rd placed team (which has to meet a team that may already have played three games).

In any case, the competitions' committee has elected to run the playoffs in a similar fashion to the men. It will be the top four after the second round robin this week who will go forward to the Pages in March. Except of course if the top four contains any of the three junior teams, and one of these wins the Junior Championship next week, then their place will be taken by the fifth placed team.

Now, have you followed all that? All I know is that I'm going to be still hungry come Sunday! The draw for the remaining games of the Columba Cream double round robin is here. The first matches are at 09.00 on Thursday and the results will be here.

My photo of Tom Brewster is from last season's Bruadar Scottish.