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5 Nations 2016 - Captains Report

This year’s Senior 5 Nations competition was hosted by England at the Manchester Fencing Centre on 5th November. This was my first visit to the venue and I was hugely impressed to see a dedicated fencing venue with 16 permanent metallic pistes, in a Victorian cotton mill that was completely unused only a year ago. This has been set up entirely by 3 local coaches with no central funding – a really inspiring story.

The competition ran very smoothly with independent referees and the “competitive but friendly” atmosphere that typifies this event. The match scores were much closer than usual, and there was a genuine feeling that the results could have gone any which way. However, at the end of a long and exhilarating day, Wales yet again finished a creditable third overall, losing to England and Scotland and beating Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Every single member of the team contributed to the overall result, and it was a real pleasure seeing so many new caps stepping up to the mark at Senior level. In a day where the team scored a total of 991 hits, an extra 19 hits in the right places would have seen us beat both England and Scotland. It was that close.

Weapon Results below are presented in order of successfulness (number of matches won), but every team and every fencer gave the “at least 100%” effort that Peter Stewart had asked of them, so all deserve equal credit.

Men’s Foil (Rhys Melia, Chris Wild and Ethan Ridsdale) fenced brilliantly all day, with a thrilling 45-44 win over England being my highlight of the day! Impressive wins over Scotland (45-31) and Republic of Ireland (45-29) were sadly followed by a very tense 45-41 defeat to Northern Ireland in the final match of the day, denying us the Men’s Foil trophy.

Men’s Epee (Tom Edwards, Alex Edwards, Will Sturgeon and George Morris) were also very impressive. They had a tough start to the day against a very strong England team and despite taking an early lead we sadly ended up losing 45-40. After that they looked firmly in control of all their matches, and the score lines don’t really do them proper credit, with wins against Scotland (45-37), Ireland (45-40) and Northern Ireland (45-36). George and Will both fenced very well on their Senior debut, and it is really encouraging to see the amount of strength in depth Wales has in this weapon.

Men’s Sabre (James Potter, Nathan Potter, Joe Nickel) also had England first, and were leading for much of the match, but England’s anchor man was just too strong on the final leg, with the final score 45-42 against us. Some of the disappointment from that loss seemed to carry over into their next match against Scotland, and despite some excellent individual legs it was another narrow defeat (45-41). The tide turned with a dramatic 45-44 win over a very much improved Ireland team, and a comfortable 45-31 win over Northern Ireland to finish the day on a higher note.

Women’s Sabre (Emma Waller, Megan Ware, Fran Whalley and Libby Jones) got off to an excellent start against Scotland, fencing with real belief and leading into the last fight, but Scotland’s strongest fencer (currently number 4 in UK rankings) managed to overhaul the deficit, with the final score 45-42 in their favour. The match against England was always going to be tough, with all 4 English fencers ranked in UK top 10, and the final score of 45-29 reflects some pretty good fencing from our team of underdogs! A 45-0 walkover against the non-existent Ireland team was very welcome in terms of the overall results, and the final match saw a 45-35 defeat to Northern Ireland.

Women’s Epee (Stella Lancey, Abi Watkins, Louise Sadler and Alys Edwards) had 3 young fencers making their Senior International debut up against some pretty experienced opposition. Stella did an excellent job as captain and anchor-woman, and all 3 of the new caps did themselves justice. Their first match, against Scotland, was fiercely contested but eventually Scotland pulled ahead to a 45-36 win. England were a lot tougher (45-28) and Ireland were also too strong (45-31). Northern Ireland didn’t field a team, giving us another welcome 45-0 win!

Women’s Foil (Abi Difford, Heulwen Hill and Eleanor Regnart-Butler) gelled really well as a team and gave 110% in every match. It seems so unfair that they came away without a win, after pushing every team so close, losing 45-43 to Ireland, 45-42 to England, 45-36 against Northern Ireland and 45-35 to Scotland.

The evening dinner in the impressive surroundings of Chadderton Town Hall was a very enjoyable affair, and particular credit goes to Libby Jones for winning the New Caps’ leek challenge, and to Jayne Ware for joining in the leek challenge on her debut as a Senior team official.

It was an honour to captain such a fantastic team and to see everyone not only fencing so well but supporting their team mates throughout the day. I am immensely grateful to all the fencers, particularly the Weapon Captains, and to all the parents who came to support the team. Thanks also to Welsh Fencing for subsidising the event and to Peter Stewart, David ap Rees and Mark Ridsdale for their behind-the-scenes work in the run-up to the event. Above all, thanks to Jayne Ware for taking on the unenviable task of being responsible for the under-18 girls on the team as female chaperone!

A slide show of photos taken at the event can be found at https://youtu.be/lW48G5fhsVA

The next Senior Commonwealth Championships are less than 2 years away now, and selections are probably only just over a year away. It is great to see some talented younger fencers stepping into the picture for selection at this stage, and I am hoping to see some of the “old guard” (you know who you are...) shooting back up the rankings over the next twelve months as well.

Jim Crawfurd

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