Day 22 - Protea Match and State President's Final

The day of the Protea Match dawned, somewhat grey and overcast, and with what looks like a significant chance of rain, and much colder than we have had all week - perfect UK conditions! Great Britain headed out to the ranges for an expected start time of 8:15 at 300m, then falling back to 600 and 900 as the morning progressed.

Before the start of the match however, was the announcement of the cutoff for the State Presidents final - nine off or better being required to shoot in the afternoon.

The match commenced without too much delay, with not much going on with the wind at 300m, as least for the first firers - a situation that was not set to continue throughout the day...

300m proved to be a bit of a nervy range for GB, with some people putting in possible scores, but other dropping a point or two more than might be expected, with the result that we were 16 points off going back to 600m.

Towards the end of the 300m shoots, the wind started to pick up, and some rain started coming down. By the time we got back to 600m, the wind was streaming straight down the range into our faces, and the rain had picked up, with the ominous grey clouds over the end of the range indicating the likelihood of more to come. We hadn't needed the full time allocation at 300m, and so waited (huddled in vans with the heaters going by this point) at the start of the 600m detail to see if conditions would improve with a slightly later start.

When it didn't look like this was going to be the case, we accepted our fate and rejoined the battle, with 'battle' definitely being the operative word, the wind by this point buffeting the firers to the extent that there was extreme difficulty with actually keeping the rifle pointing at the target for long enough to take a shot. This, combined with a problem with one of the firers meant that the first couple of people down on each target took longer to fire shots than they usually would (something that is definitely not what we would have chosen in very fast changing wind conditions) searching in vain for a decent, stable shot. As the time allocated for the range ticked on, it became obvious that we would need to shuffle firers around in order to get everyone through before time ran out - which we succeeded in doing, but with people firing somewhat faster than they would have liked, and with a margin of time remaining a little too close for comfort.

Moving back to 900m only served to compound the issue with the wind which was still extremely strong, and coming straight down the range, with the angle changes now causing one, two and three minute wind changes in the blink of an eye. At least the firers now knew what to expect, and time proved not to be an issue at this range. Sadly, this didn't help us, and at the close of what was an extremely challenging match, GB were defeated by South Africa.

With only the State Presidents and the Championship (overall aggregate) remaining to be decided, we proceeded to the afternoon shooting of 2 and 15 at 800 and 900m for the State Presidents Final. The experience of having shot in the morning proved to be of little benefit for most, with many people attempting to cut the target in half by forming a very flat group across most of the width of the target face - a grouping which didn't include at least one magpie being relatively rare.

Jon Underwood shot very well at both the long distances, and at the close was narrowly pipped to the State Presidents Prize by a scant couple of V bulls. However, his third position in the Grand aggregate meant that he had won the overall Championship, so congratulations to Jon for a fantastic shoot.

After a long day's shooting (70 rounds if you had shot both the morning and afternoon) the team retired to the bar (out of the wind!) to recount many tales of shots being blown from one side of the target to the other, and nurse some feeling back into cold hands and windblown faces. Our last act on Bloemfontein range was to attend the prizegiving and applaud all those people who had been successful during the last week. Due to the length of prizegiving, some sustenance was definitely required, so it's unfortunate that we sent Simon to the supermarket for some tonic water for the team gin, coming back as he did with Soda water - Gin and Soda anyone?

After a very quick shower the team headed out to dinner, and a bit of post dinner dancing for those who had any energy left after the exertion of the day.

Quote of the day goes to non other than the team captain for "Gareth, if you could find another way not to get it up." I should probably point out that Gareth is the team flag raiser...