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Paxton edges past Welsh qualifier Salmon and Willgress beats bowls legend Thomson

PUBLISHED: 18:00 18 January 2018 | UPDATED: 21:57 18 January 2018

Rob Paxman in action against Dan Salmon. Picture: Mike Copestake Photography

Rob Paxman in action against Dan Salmon. Picture: Mike Copestake Photography

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According to spectators, yesterday’s first round match in the Just World Indoor Singles Championship at Potters Resort in which the number six seed Rob Paxton defeated Welsh PBA qualifier Daniel Salmon, 9-5, 6-7, 2-1, was the game of the round – and worthy of a final.

Rob Paxman during his game against Dan Salmon. Picture: Mike Copestake Photography Rob Paxman during his game against Dan Salmon. Picture: Mike Copestake Photography

Official confirmation is still awaited, but word in Cardiff suggests Salmon, who won the world outdoor under 25 singles title in Australia in 2017, will be entrusted with the Welsh singles berth in the forthcoming Commonwealth Games.

The 23-year-old Welshman rolled confidently into Potters to present a stiff challenge to the 39-year-old Paxton, who, if rumours are to be believed, will be England’s singles representative in Australia in April.

The game certainly lived up to its billing, Paxton dominating the first set, and Salmon, predictably, hitting back to pocket the second – but only by virtue of a splendid final delivery that broke a 6-6 deadlock, and earned him a tie-break.

The three tie-break ends produced unbelievable bowls that brought gasps of astonishment from the large crowd, with the shot changing hands in spectacular fashion.

Rob Paxman, red, and Dan Salmon shake hands after their match at Potters. Picture: Mike Copestake Photography Rob Paxman, red, and Dan Salmon shake hands after their match at Potters. Picture: Mike Copestake Photography

Take the first tie-break end: a front toucher from Paxton was promptly beaten by Salmon on a perfect draw, whereupon the England ace drove the jack to the back of the rink, and, after the Welshman had dropped short with his second bowl, drew what seemed to be the winner.

Paxton’s celebrations were short-lived. His shot, within a couple of inches of the jack, was beaten by an even more precise draw from Salmon, and suddenly, he was behind in the match, needing to win the next two ends to stay alive.

That, of course, is exactly what he did, and afterwards he was bubbling: “That’s exactly the sort of game you need in the first round. Seeded players normally hope to have an easy draw, but, as long as you win it, a hard first game sets you up nicely.”

After Alex Marshall’s shock exit on Wednesday, another seed looked in trouble when Stewart Anderson, the 2013 champion and seventh seed, lost the first set to 24-year-old newcomer to the portable rink, Perry Martin, but the Scot recovered to win 2-10, 9-5, 2-1.

Perry Martin during his game against Stewart Anderson. Picture: Mike Copestake Photography Perry Martin during his game against Stewart Anderson. Picture: Mike Copestake Photography

The late session on the portable rink at Potters had everything going for it – an intriguing clash between a young, local challenger, Wayne Willgress, and Andy Thomson, the sport’s elder statesman.

The 29-year-old Willgress, a wildcard entry, brought with him a busload of supporters from the Norfolk club in Norwich, while the Potters faithful in the spectators’ gallery were rooting for their suave leading man, 62-year-old Anglo Scot Thomson, who has won the world indoor singles title three times.

And, on the night, it was the tall and talented local man who came out on top with a dramatic 9-3, 3-12, 2-1 victory that sets him up for a second round encounter with seventh seed Stewart Anderson.

Stewart Anderson during his game against Perry Martin. Picture: Mike Copestake photography Stewart Anderson during his game against Perry Martin. Picture: Mike Copestake photography

Misguided media folk often make the mistake of starting reports with the world, “In the sedate game of bowls...” – but thanks to Willgress’ partisan fan club, who shouted every bowl up the rink on its way to the jack, there was nothing sedate about last night’s clash.

Willgress started by drawing all his bowls close to the jack, and could have opened his account with a full house, but Thomson denied him with a power-drive, and took the shot.

That could have set the pattern for the match, but the Norfolk man kept his head and outplayed Thomson in the first set, before the old soldier got his game together and dominated the second, taking the game into tie-break territory.

Willgress won the opening end, and played three perfect bowls on the second end, only to see the jack rebound several metres up the rink to give Thomson a free shot, so everything depended on a sudden-death third end.

With Thomson’s firing letting him down, Willgress was able to take the winning shot with a bowl around six inches from the jack, and turned to his delighted supporters with his arms raised in triumph.

Next October, Willgress will be marrying his fiancee and Norfolk clubmate Bex Field, who will be treading the boards at Potters on Friday morning, when she partners Darren Burnett against the defending champions Claire Johnston and Nick Brett in the quarter-finals of the Just World Indoor Mixed Pairs Matchplay championship.

On Friday afternoon, Norfolk-born Jamie Chestney teams up with Scotland’s Lesley Doig to face Janice Gower, from Blackpool and the legendary David Gourlay, who won the Scottish International Open in November.

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