Protea Match

Alastair Haley

This morning saw the second of our two team matches, the Protea match, and is considered the most prestigious match in South Africa. GB Teams have competed in various international ‘test matches’ in South Africa from the first overseas tour to visit in 1921 but the first time a GB team competed in the Protea Match, as it is now named, was in 1998. This will be GB’s 15th appearance in the Protea match, and it is well known to be hard to win against South Africa on their home soil.

We awoke to a light drizzle and a gloomy sky. Not the most encouraging start, but we soldiered on, albeit with a slightly delayed breakfast due to the hotel’s weekend schedule. We nevertheless arrived on time at the range for our blow-off shots at 7am.

For the first time this trip, we weren’t starting at 300m, instead driving straight to 700m for the first range of the Protea. Having not shot any competitions at this range, the team was reliant on the one practice day we had at the very start of the tour for accurate sight settings.

With a fresh Easterly breeze blowing square across the range, our coaches set about observing the conditions. As it happened, with the cloud cover the conditions were fairly benign, a steady 2.5-4 minutes from the left. This was very much a shooters range with such steady conditions and a big target, but this is a big match and we were determined to win after our narrow second place in the RSA International a few days ago. The pressure was on.

By the end of 700m, GB had only dropped 2 points, finishing with 798 and 119 v-bulls, but our South African hosts, with their home range advantage, managed a perfect score of 800 with a slightly lower V-count of 107. England came in third, dropping 8 points, and the USA in 4th, with 11 points lost.

Moving to 800m, conditions were similar, but slightly more variable. A 2-4.5 minute bracket, but still very readable and fairly steady. South Africa once again scored 50 after 50, until 2 of their firers lost a point each, scoring 798. GB also lost a pair, finishing on an identical score, both teams with 103 V-bulls. South Africa retained a 2 point lead from GB with USA dropping 6 at this range, putting them into 3rd place ahead of England.

As we finished at 800m and started to walk back to 900m, the cloud cover broke and the sun came out. Immediately, we were faced with more typical conditions that we’ve faced over the past two weeks. A much more variable, fast changing, and fickle wind. The bracket was about 1-6 minutes left, with occasional hints of right mirage. Our coaches elected to stop firing if the wind was hinting to come from the right, leading to a few pauses in this fast-paced match. The challenging conditions were reflected in the scores, with rather more points being lost. GB and SA were fighting tooth and nail for the match, and each set of scores flipped the top positions. USA and England faring a little worse and falling further behind the leaders. As the scores came in, GB inched ahead, then SA retook the lead, only for GB to come back again in an incredibly tense final distance.

As the minutes ticked away, GB still had three firers on the point with 5 minutes remaining. Keeping incredibly cool under pressure (although not literally, in the heat of the morning sun) Rick, Jon, and Paul held steady until the final minute. Finishing with seconds to spare, the range collectively held its breath awaiting the final scores. GB was holding a sizeable lead but had three more scores to collect.

When all the shots were tallied, GB emerged victorious with just a single point lead over SA, USA in 3rd, and England 4th. Final scores:
GB : 2364 v 297
SA : 2363 v 263
USA : 2320 v 239
ENG : 2284 v 180

We had precious little time to enjoy our victory, as the afternoon was fast approaching and with it the State Presidents Final. 2 sighting shots and 15 scoring shots at each of 800 and 900m, the top 108 scores from the first and second stages qualifying to shoot.

Conditions for the final were punishing. Strong, fast changing winds persisted throughout the afternoon. The only GB squad member with a full 75 points at 800m was David Luckman, and a spread of scores down to 65, across the remainder.

At 900m, GB scores ranged from 60 up to Nigel Ball’s impressive 75, but none challenged the eventual winner. With an aggregate score across stage 2 and 3 of an incredible 300, South African Niels Jonck took the state presidents, as well as the SA Open Championship.

After a brief ceremony on the range, there was just time for a quick trip back to the hotel to change before prizegiving and team-dinner where we were finally able to celebrate our successes, both team and individual, over the last two fantastic weeks.