Alan Shillitoe and Michael Byrne have been updates from the European Youth Team Championships in Slovakia. These are below - Alan first, and then Michael.
by Alan Shillitoe, U26 NPC
So, here we are in a state of the art sports complex on the banks of the Danube, just outside Bratislava in Slovakia. Hungary is on the opposite side of the river and Austria only a few miles upstream. There is a record entry for the championships - 27 countries in the U26 event and 29 in total across all the categories. Although we aren't the only sports teams here - the Slovak swimmers and gymnasts have been having a training camp and we have also been joined by the Galatasaray football squad - no Wesley Sneijder, but the French team were getting selfies with former Swansea striker Bafetimbi Gomis!
This sporty attitude seems to have rubbed off on the England teams. A few of us have been taking advantage of the facilities - the gym, pool and running training sessions have been a great counterpoint to the mental exertions. Who said we weren't athletes?!?!
Anyway, I know it's the Bridge you're interested in and Day 1 really couldn't have been much better. All teams played well and racked up the wins - of the 17 we played, we had 15 victories. In the U26s, against teams expected to finish in the midfield, we notched up just shy of 70 out of a possible 80 VPs to lead the table. Today is a tough day with three strong sides to play - Italy, Netherlands and Denmark - sandwiching a less experienced Portugal. All three will be on BBO VG so come along and watch the team in action.
The women also had 4 wins. A newly constructed side is neck and neck with the red-hot Dutch favourites at the top of the table. They finished off with a come from behind win against the tough Poles. They play a triple round-robin so there will be a few more bruising enounters.
The U16s also won 3 out of 4 but then suffered a reverse against the weakest team they played. Having beaten the strong French side, they struggled against Bulgaria - if you suffer a swing early it can be difficult to come back on a flat set of deals. But they can also be very encouraged with the way they played.
After the initial excitement of the first day, all the teams have settled into the rhythm of playing a long event. While a good start is great for morale, playing 20 or 30-something matches means there's a long slog to work through. The table normally takes a few days to form up and only then can you see whether teams are playing to expectations. Even then, the vagaries of the schedule can hide who has had a harder or easier schedule.
The U26s have continued playing well, avoiding big losses but putting teams away when given the chance. Over a 14 board match, most teams can beat anyone else and every team will have one or two unexpected reverses.
The women struggled on days 2 and 3. They suffered with more ill-fortune than the other sides and are now in a big cluster of teams chasing the Dutch favourites.
The U16s are entering their final day. They are currently in 9th but have the bottom two teams to play in their last two matches. They are at the bottom of a group who are fighting over the world championship qualification places, but heavy scoring will give them an excellent chance.
We go into the last day with much still to play for. Keen followers of the championship will have already seen the U16s book their flights to China with an excellent 4th place finish. For the other teams, signs are encouraging but not fully clear.
The women are almost certain to finish in the top-6, but are heavily focused on trying to sneak a medal. Several teams will fancy their chances and Poland won't have given up hope of knocking the Dutch off top spot. England have one of the theoretically easier finishes so will be hoping to end in style.
The U26 Open had been grinding out a good sequence of results and seemed to be holding their own in 3rd place. Today proved difficult though. A match against Austria seemed to be another good shot at a win, but a combination of poor play and the Austrians walking on water on some deals lead to a heavy defeat. After a soft start 5VPs were salvaged off the Swedish leaders before a frustrating almost draw with Russia. This left a match against Israel and what looked like a healthy win dwindled to a smaller one by the finish. The team are now fifth with two hard and one theoretically easier one tomorrow to finish - Poland, Romania and France. They are 18VPs ahead of Denmark in 7th, who have Hungary, Poland and the ever consistent 'Bye' to face. We are still good favourites to qualify but to win a medal we would possibly have to win all three well to overtake Poland and the Dutch and to hold off Italy behind us who have an easier finish. We haven't seen a crazy set of boards in this championship yet, but I've a feeling that the last day might have something up its sleeve...
So the championship has ended and despite missing out on an elusive championship, it has been a very successful one for the England Juniors. Pride of place goes to the U21s and U26 Women who came away with well deserved bronze medals. MGB will tell the U21 story in his blog, but for the women, it was a confident performance on the final day. Once they had dispatched their main rivals for the bronze (Hungary) in the first match, two more wins sealed the medal. Congratulations to them, led by the unflappable Sally Brock, who now has an NPC medal to add to her vast collection of loot - although even she in the last set was beginning to understand which job in the championship was the most stressful.
For the U26 Open, a narrow defeat to Poland left them almost certain to qualify, but a thumping of Romania left no doubt. They finished off by romping through old rivals France in the last match, but couldn't quite stay on the coat tails of Italy and the Dutch and had to settle for 6th place.
What this has all meant is that England is the only European nation to automatically qualify all four teams for the world championship next year in China. This represents by far the best all-round performance we have achieved at this level. Congratulations to all the players who achieved this and thanks to all the coaches, captains and mentors who helped to develop and lead the players.
by Michael Byrne, U21 NPC
The U21s play a double round robin of 16 matches plus two byes, so 34 rounds in total, 5 a day for seven days (only four on the final day). There are a lot of experienced teams here and this is the first U21 Europeans for 4 of my team, so it won't be that easy. The top 6 qualify for the World Championships next Summer and the top 3 get medals.
England are off to a great start with 5 wins out of 5.
Our first match against Belgium was a portent of things to come, down 2 imps with 4 boards to go we picked up 11, 9, 15 and 15 to win by 48 - exactly the amount needed to win 20 - 0!
After that we beat Ireland, Slovakia, Sweden and Poland to end the day in first place.
We continued our run of good form today with wins over Hungary, Finland, Bulgaria and Norway, before having one of our worst results when we scored 12 out of 20 for a Bye.
Oh well, you can't win them all...unless you are England U21s who have gone two days in this tournament without losing a match.
Tomorrow we face the tougher teams so the matches will be more competitive.
After beating Turkey in the first match we had two losing draws to Germany and France and a our first loss to the Netherlands.
We recovered with a win against the Czech Republic which leaves us two points off the Gold medal.
We finished our first round robin against Italy and Israel, after a good win against Israel we lost to Italy in a well played match, where our only swings out were when they took actions that worked and we did reasonable things that might have been right on another day.
We ended the first round robin 4 Vps behind 1st place and then started again. The round robin was re-drawn so we faced the weak teams first, and we got the start we needed when we beat Belgium 19.44 - 0.56, Hungary 20-0 and Slovakia 19.96 - 0.04. (It seemed wrong to nil the host nation).
We are now 10 VPs clear at the top but we have all the crucial matches to go. Tomorrow (Thurs) we play 4 weak teams and have a bye so it will be a good chance to consolidate our position.
Our first match is on BBO at 10am (9am EBU time) so if you're reading this early enough - get watching!!
Another 5 matches gone and the team showed great character today.
We started against the Czech Republic who rode their luck on a few hands and we lost narrowly when one of my players was taken ill. We recovered by crushing Ireland and then put in two solid performances against mid table Finland and Turkey.
We are now ten VPs clear of Germany and 14 ahead of the Netherlands and France. Tomorrow we have a much tougher day with Italy, Israel, Norway, Poland and then the Netherlands.
A tough first match against Italy on Vugraph was looking dicey but we pulled it back to a draw thanks to a good grand slam, bid and made, with a few boards to go. The next match against Israel saw us lose small and then after a big win against Norway, another small loss to Poland was followed by a bigger loss to the Netherlands.
We are now just 5.84 VPs off the lead and we start our campaign tomorrow against first placed Sweden (who we beat comfortably in the first round robin) before playing France, Bulgaria and Germany.
I hope everyone will be rooting for us to win a medal but whatever happens this has been a fantastic performance and I am incredibly proud of my team.
I am incredibly proud of my team of 6 players Ben Norton, Sam Behrens, Liam Sanderson, Daniel Winter, Jonathan Clark, Kripa Panchagnula and Bryony Youngs as Coach who showed nothing but true grit and strength of character in the final day to win the Bronze medal.
They played their hearts out and never gave up even when bad luck and illness threatened to ruin our success. They were all fantastic team players who gave their heart and soul to represent their country, and I am proud to stand alongside them as we collect our medal.