Kiwis miss WQE playoffs by millimetres

NZ Men v Denmark
NZ Men played the Netherlands in their final game. Photo © WCF / Clare Toia-Bailey

22 Jan 2019 – Korea, England and the Netherlands will contest the Men’s playoffs at the World Curling Qualification Event in Naseby tomorrow. The New Zealand hosts were eliminated by millimetres after a countback.

The winners of the two playoff games will complete the field for the 2019 Men’s World Curling Championship in Canada.

At the same time, Finland, China and Hungary will play off for the remaining two places in the lineup at the Women’s World Championship in Denmark.

The Women’s playoff contenders were known after their second-to-last round robin session, but it took both final sessions for the Men before the playoff lineup was known. England and Korea went into the morning session unbeaten, but they were beaten there by New Zealand and the Netherlands respectively, the other top-three contenders.

The lead changed hands six times in the clash between the English and the Kiwis before NZ stole the last two ends for a 7-5 win.

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“I’m glad that we got the ‘W’,” said New Zealand skip Scott Becker, “but it was a very, very rough ‘W’. Sometimes you’ve got those games that come down to the last rock and you’ve got to guts it out. A win is a win at the end of the day.”

The Netherlands led throughout their morning match against Korea, winning 9-6. Poland beat Australia 10-5, and Brazil's Men recorded their first international win, 11-5 over Denmark.

The main interest in the Women’s afternoon session was the clash between Finland and Hungary. Both teams had already qualified, but the winner would have two lives in the playoffs. The Finns ran Hungary out of stones in the last end to win 6-4.

China beat Brazil 9-1, and Estonia finished on a high when they beat Hong Kong 10-4.

The New Zealand Women were behind early against Poland, but a valiant fightback saw them come up just short of registering their first win, as Marta Pluta’s Poland scored two with the last shot of the game to win 10-9.

New Zealand’s Bridget Becker was philosophical about their week. “We’ve lost the last 4 or 5 games on those last rocks,” she said, “so it gets a little bit disappointing. But the girls played so well, considering as a team we haven’t had any games together [before this]. It’s been amazing, how well we’ve done. Just a shame we couldn’t get on that ‘winning’ side instead of the losing.”

In the Men’s session, the New Zealand vs Netherlands game was effectively a sudden death encounter. Unfortunately for the large local audience in the viewing lounge, the New Zealand team failed to fire against a very accurate Netherlands side who took a 9-2 win to claim the playoff spot.

Korea beat England 8-6 in the other top of the table clash, but these two teams still topped the standings. Australia had a consolation win over Brazil 12-2, and Poland beat Denmark 13-4.

Korea topped the round robin on 6 wins, followed by England, Netherlands and New Zealand on 5 wins. The three teams tied for second had a win and a loss against the other two, so the teams’ Draw Shot Challenge (averaged pre-game draw shot distances) were used to rank the sides.

England were best of the three teams with a DSC of 31.18 cm, Netherlands DSC was 34.12 cm, and New Zealand had a DSC of 34.74 cm.

“It was a good week, but disappointing to finish that way,” said Scott Becker. “Don’t get me wrong, the Netherlands played a very good game. They hardly missed a shot, they forced us to try and make hard shots – and we didn’t! To go out on the Draw Shot Challenge, that’s hard, especially when it’s so close. But that’s the way it is. Right now though, I definitely need to have a drink and pat my team on the back, because they played really well all week!”

The first playoff games will start at 9:00 am Wednesday. The Women’s game will see Finland take on China, and the Korean Men will play England. The winners will gain entry to their respective World Championships in March.

The losers have a second life and take on the third-ranked side in the second playoff games at 2:00 pm – the Hungarian Women and the Dutch Men. The winners of the second playoff will also earn entry to their World Championship.