On completion of the selection process used by the WPA to decide the teams that would represent Wales in both the Veterans and Men’s European championships in Bulgaria, the Welsh squad was formed of the following:
• The Veterans Team was comprised Peter Westall (Maesteg PC), Len Field (Maesteg PC), Derek Jones (Pontyclun PC) and Stewart Spencer (Pontyclun PC); the selected Coach was Jean-Yves Robic (Penarth PC).
• The Men’s Team comprised largely of the same players for the Veteran’s but with Stewart Spencer giving way to Peter Beresford (Pontyclun PC).
During the months immediately before the European Championships, the squad attended weekly training sessions and took part in a number of WPA and Club events, culminating in the Men’s team winning the Welsh National Triples title.
The news of the sudden passing of Peter Westall only a few days before the start of the Veterans European Championships left the squad in a state of shock, but resolute to play the best they could to honour his memory.
The squad also decided that Wales would not take part in the EC Precision Shooting Championship as it was to be Peter’s individual event.
With the agreement of the CEP, Wales was able to register Peter Beresford in the Veterans team to replace Peter. The support of the CEP extended again at the start of the Veterans Championship, when a minute silence was held by all the countries present in respect of Peter and other pétanque players that had died recently.
EC Triples: Veterans
The first phase of the championship was the qualification, which comprised a 5 round Swiss System that saw Wales drawn against Finland, always a difficult opponent. Finland took a 2 points lead in the first end, but Wales came back and a tight game developed until the end of normal time where the teams were even at 10-10. The first extra end was enough for Wales to clinch their first victory 13-10.
The second game was more complicated for the 3-man Welsh team as they were facing the Netherlands, the current European Champions. The Netherlands built a rapid 0-10 lead after 5 ends but Wales started to fight back and reduced the score to 02-10. Unfortunately, the Netherlands had regrouped and secured a 13-3 victory in the 10th end.
The 3rd round draw was again not easy one for Wales against Poland. The game started the same away as the encounter against the Netherlands, with Poland racing ahead 10-0 after the 6th end. But, after a swap in play position between Derek and Stewart, Wales scored 4 points in the 7th end then 3 points in the next, reducing the score to 10-7. Again, this would not be enough and Poland extended their lead to 11-7 and then sealed their victory 13-7 in the 10th end.
Jersey was Wales next opponent in the 4th round and this was to be an interesting contest as Jersey was keen to take the fight to the Welsh. The game was tight and at the end of normal time, Wales was only leading 10-8 with two extra ends to play. Wales, helped by good pointing by Derek and Stewart, took the game to its conclusion in the 1st extra end winning 13-8.
With 2 wins and 2 losses Wales sat in the middle of the ranking table before the last round. The final draw was eagerly awaited and it was Denmark, who had just lost to England. Denmark has always been a tough opponent and the game proved to be another difficult one. Wales, helped again by good shooting from Len (including a couple of welcome carreaux) found themselves 4-4 after three ends and therefore still in contention. Denmark upped their game and started to pull away rapidly to finish the game worthy winners 13-4.
Wales finished the qualification round with 2 wins and 3 losses, but having played strong teams (Inflicting the only defeat to Finland) had a chance to be one of the top 16 teams. The final ranking was produced and Wales (16th) had succeeded to be one of the top 16 teams for the first time using this Championship format.
The drawback of finishing 16th was that Wales would be in the same pool as the team ranked 1st. This year it was France with their first participation in the Championship. France’s 2019 squad included two legends of the sport FIPJP Player of the 20th century Christian Fazzino and other Marco Foyot. France had topped the ranking table with a perfect 5 wins out of 5.
Along with France and Wales in Poule A was England, ranked 8th and the Netherlands, ranked 9th. The first game of the pool was against France and the players thought that it was a fitting tribute to Peter to have to play the top pétanque playing nation in the world. Wales was expected out-classed by the French who had a near perfect game, shooting 5 carreaux out of 7 shots and not missing a single point, they only needed 3 ends to inflict a 13-0 defeat.
Wales was now waiting for the outcome of the game between England and the Netherlands, who proved to be too strong for England, convincingly winning 13-4 and setting-up a Wales-England confrontation for the second pool game. Facing an England team lead by Simon Bird seemed like another daunting task for Wales, but the arrival of Peter Beresford provided the team a welcome boost. Despite some early apprehensions, the game was balanced and after 7 ends the score was level at 7-7. England took a 2 points lead over the next couples of ends but accurate pointing by Peter Beresford kept Wales in the game and after the 12th end Wales had a 2 points advantage leading 11-9. Two excellent points by Peter put the England shooters under pressure and gave the final 13-9 victory to Wales. This win eliminated England from the Championship and sent Wales in to the barrage against the Netherlands, who had lost 13-9 against France.
This game was a must win for Wales if they wanted to progress to the quarter-finals, but again the Netherlands proved to be too strong and inflicted another severe defeat 13-2 to the Welsh team. Despite losing this last game, the general atmosphere in the team was good, having achieved a 13th place overall; the best of any of the Home Nations teams and having played against some of the best teams in Europe. France went on to beat Sweden 13-4 in the Final and win their first Veterans European Championship title.
After a colour full and entertaining gala dinner on the Wednesday evening, Thursday was the start of the Men’s European Championship. Having decided not to field a competitor in the European Precision Shooting Championship, the team used the day to practice on the numerous outdoor pistes close to the hotel and prepared for the start of the qualifying rounds on the Friday morning.
EC Triples: Men
The draw for the 1st round of the Swiss System had been made and Wales was facing the Ukraine. Despite building an 8-5 lead after 5 ends, Wales could not keep up the momentum and allowed a skill full Ukrainian team to come back and take a 11-8 lead in the 8th end. Wales could not stop Ukraine achieving a 13-10 win.
The second game for Wales was against another of the rapidly improving Eastern European teams, Hungary. The start of the game was similar to the previous game with Wales ahead 6-2 after 5 ends. Again, Wales’ momentum was stopped and Hungary made up their deficit by the 7th end and were leading 11-8 in the 8th end. By the end of normal time, the teams were tied at 11-11, but the Welsh team had found their form again and won the game 13-11.
The third round provided another Home Nation encounter with Jersey. This was was to be a difficult game for Wales, as the Jersey team had shown their qualities at the Home Nations held in Wales during the summer. As expected Jersey took an early lead 4-0 after 3 ends, but Wales took the initiative and levelled the game 5-5 after the 5th end. Wales played well and were leading 11-6 after the 9th end. However, Jersey scored 5 points in the next end and were then level with Wales at 11-11. Normal time was called during the 11th end and Wales was left with 4 boules in hand to win the game. After a taking the wrong tactical decision, Wales gave the game to Jersey.
With only 1 win out of 3 games, the fourth round was a must win for Wales to stay in the top half of the ranking table. The 4th round provided another Home Nations contest against Ireland. Wales had recovered from their disappointing loss against Jersey and were keen to change their fortunes. The game was one-sided and after 5 ends Wales was winning 12-0 and very quickly took the game 13-0. Wales was back on track, winning the last game of the Swiss System was crucial if Wales wanted to finish in the Top 16, which would be the first time in the history of the Championship.
The last opponent for Wales was Russia, this turned out to be a slow and frustrating game. Wales built-up a healthy 6-2 lead after the 5th end, and at the end of normal time were 11-3 in front. Wales was controlling the game and its tactical play only allowed Russia to score two more points in the extra ends, finally securing a 11-5 win, the 3rd for Wales.
With the 3 wins Wales had a chance of finishing in the top 16. After a long nervous wait the final ranking was confirmed and Wales had indeed finished in 16th place just ahead of England and Scotland, who were both relegated to the Nations Cup. The 16th place for Wales gave them an automatic qualification to the 49th World Championships that will take place in Lausanne, Switzerland, in July 2020.
The next phase of the competition saw Wales in the same pool as France, the current European and World champions, along with Sweden and Poland. The first game against France was another short encounter, but this time it took France 5 ends to beat Wales 13-1 in just over 20 minutes.
The second game was against Sweden, a surprising loser against Poland. Again, the opposition proved to be too strong for Wales who were outplayed in all departments and Sweden recorded a convincing 13-1 win in 7 ends. The loss against Sweden ended Wales’ Championship, but the direct qualification for the next World Championship was a superb result and credit needs to be given to all the members of the Welsh Squad who have, in extremely difficult circumstances, always wore their Welsh shirts with pride and played to the best of their ability. I think Peter Westall would have been proud of them and their achievements in both European Championships.