2023 World Bowls Champion of Champions Preview - Darren Gualtieri & Natalie McWilliams Q&A
The annual World Bowls Champion of Champions singles event gets underway next week, taking place at Robina Bowling Club, Gold Coast, Australia from Monday 11th – Saturday 16th September.
Scotland will be represented by our 2022 national singles champions, Darren Gualtieri and Natalie McWilliams, who are both looking forward to taking on the rest of the world’s respective national singles winners.
There has been previous Scottish triumphs at the World Champion of Champions with Darren Burnett and Iain McLean both former champions in the men’s event. In the Women’s Singles, Scotland have one former winner in Lorna Smith, who clinched gold in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2014.
This will be both Darren and Natalie’s first time competing in the Southern Hemisphere, and we wish them well in their quest to bring home medals. Before they jet off, we caught up with both players to find out more about their bowls journeys and their aspirations for the competition.
How have you been preparing for the upcoming World Champion of Champions?
DG: “It has been a really busy season so far and I have had a lot of competitive games to fit in the calendar, especially in recent weeks, to help prepare me which has been great. Given the amount of competitions left to play I will likely be playing outdoor right up until I leave for Australia at the beginning of September. However, if I can I will try and get a few practice sessions indoor in the days before I leave to replicate as best I can the quicker conditions that we will likely face in Australia in comparison to our outdoor greens.
“A big change to prepare for aside from the Southern Hemisphere conditions will be the new scoring format which is new to me, and many will not have experienced before. 3 sets of 5 ends with a 1 end final set tie break if required is pretty ruthless and means literally every bowl and end will be vitally important. With this format you can never be comfortable in a set and likewise will never be out of a set and the levels of concentration that will be required will be huge as every set can be won or lost in the blink of an eye. I hope to get a few practice matches in utilising this format before the competition starts.”
NMcW: “I have been trying to play as many competitive games as possible before I go away, I know the greens will be very different but just trying to get games under my belt is the main prep. This season has provided me with a lot of singles games that I’ve been able to use in preparation.”
With the event being held in Australia, what challenges are you expecting to face competing in the South Hemisphere?
DG: “There will be many challenges to face in the unfamiliar conditions, firstly changing my bowls model to the Henselite Dreamline XG to suit the local conditions. It will be a steep learning curve to see how these new bowls react on the Australian greens in comparison to the bowls I use back home on our slower greens.
“Secondly although I know the pace will be much quicker than our outdoor greens and likely closer to our indoor greens speed which I am used to, I feel the big unknown factor for me will be playing in windy conditions and how the wind effects the bowls. The hot weather will also be a factor and making sure I stay protected from the sun and stay hydrated will be very important. It will be a challenge adapting to the unfamiliar conditions, but I am lucky I will have a few days to practice at Taren Point Bowling Club in Sydney who have been kind enough to give me access to their greens before I fly up to the Gold Coast where I will also get some practice sessions in at the host Club Robina at the practice day before the tournament starts.”
NMcW: “The greens alone will be a challenge and I’ve heard from other players it can be tricky with the wind. Having never played on them I’m looking forward to seeing how they are and getting to try them out for the first time. I’m excited for new experience.”
You have both had successful seasons representing Scotland in the 2023 British Isles Internationals and a test match against Ireland. What have you learned from these events that you can take into the Champion of Champions?
DG: “It was a great experience to be involved in these events and also the British Isles Championships, challenging myself against top quality international players. Every match I took part in was a learning experience both in victory and defeat and this experience will only help me for the upcoming tournament and also in the future. It is always a privilege to represent Scotland and these events are always great to be a part of.”
NMcW: “It was a great experience to play against other players at British level. I had a lot of positive points and some learnings to take out of the experience, especially in the British Isles Singles final, that I hope to use going into my games in Australia.”
How have Crookston BC/Hyndland BC supported you throughout your bowls journey and for this competition specifically?
DG: “Hyndland Bowling Club have been absolutely incredible and without their support I literally wouldn’t be able to participate in this event. The ongoing support they give me, and all our members is truly incredible and it really is a special club to be a part of.
“I also need to thank the clubs sponsors Taylor & Martin, the Hyndland members, the local and national bowling fraternity and my family and friends for all of their support in making this trip possible. To be able to compete on the world stage after qualifying through winning the National Championship is a dream come true and I cannot thank everyone enough who helped me get here and can’t wait to represent Scotland in such a prestigious event.”
NMcW: “Crookston Bowling Club and all the members have been a great support for the many years I have played there. Starting as junior at the age of 10 they have coached me from a young age and continue to support me throughout my bowling career. In addition to this the support I’ve received for the fundraising to get to me the Champion of Champions has been incredible. I’ve been overwhelmed with the amazing support from the members, family and friends as well as my sponsors Alarm Supplies Ltd and Call Robert Accident Repair."
What are your aims for the event?
DG: “My aim and dream is to win the World Champion of Champions title. I know that will be an incredibly difficult challenge given all the things I have spoken about and the calibre of players that will be participating. Whatever happens I will give it my absolute all as always and hope to make everyone proud.”
NMcW: “As always with every game, the aim is to go and win! I want to embrace the competition and gain from the experience that will hopefully prepare me for future visits to the Southern Hemisphere. I’m looking forward to the experience.”
More information on the World Bowls Champion of Champions, including the draw and schedule, can be found here: https://www.worldbowls.com/world-bowls-champion-of-champions-is-o/
We will keep everyone updated on Darren and Natalie’s progress throughout the event via our website and social media pages.