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Given that much of the attention of Roses may have been on other sports you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were the main event. However if you had arrived in the Great Hall on Saturday you would probably have reached a very different conclusion. The men’s darts held on the stage where people only use for graduations and exams was given a greater sense of purpose as it hosted the darts for the first time in Roses history. Enjoying the bar, the party atmosphere and the entertaining announcer the crowd created a cauldron of excitement and support for the home side not matched at any sport this weekend. Watching the darts it is hard to think of a greater contrast to the rowing competition which the vice-chancellors of York and Lancaster envisaged when creating Roses. However it is hard to imagine the tournament without the Saturday night entertainment and Saturday night’s match confirmed the Darts as one of the showpieces of the Roses weekend.
Jonny Slater set the tone for Lancaster sumptuously scoring 100 with the first three darts of the night and after his opponent Tomas Kryzius, who seemed distracted by the raucous Lancaster home support, failed to hit his double Slater capitalised winning the first leg. The second leg proved another close scoring affair, however Slater stopped any notion of a York fight back checking out on 74 and putting Lancaster on the path to victory.
After him followed Lancaster’s Michael Gladstone who dispatched his opponent, Sam Heald confidently. Gladstone took an early lead in the first leg which gave him enough time to hit his double to seal the first leg. The second leg was a brief affair as the Lancaster player registered scores of 137 and 121 to leave him a check of 69, which he duly finished, while his opponent still had 260 left. Gladstone’s matches proved one of the shortest of the night.
By this point many assumed Lancaster might run away with the win however this notion was halted as York won their first match with Fred Evans beating James Stone 2-1. Evans made a promising start in the first leg while Stone struggled to consistently score high. Stone’s play in the second leg was a stark contrast to the first leg as he hit a ton and coolly hit his double at the first time of asking. Evans however fought back in the third hitting 140 and 121, which led to him furiously wagging his finger at the opposing Lancastrian crowd. The York player then checked 88 and won the team their first point of the night.
Jonny Clayton was next up for Lancaster and after steady scoring in the first leg he checked 48 comfortably to win the first leg. He then streaked ahead in the second leg hitting 140, narrowly missing a 180 (the closest anyone came in the night) and finished the match confidently, typifying his performance.
Just as Lancaster threatened to run away again York hit back in unlikely circumstances. Nathan Cooper of Lancaster raced into the lead in the first leg scoring 95 and 100 and hitting his double while his opponent Dylan Chambers was marooned on 5. Chambers however scored well in the second and third legs and after many times of asking in the third leg he hit his double to give York their second win of the night.
Tensions mounted as both teams were now edging closer to the winning total of 5 games what Alex Ferguson called ‘squeaky bum time’ became a reality. What Lancaster needed was experience and that is what they got in abundance in the form of Andrew Parker, playing his third Roses after his previous appearances in 2006 and 2010. Every time Parker’s opponent Anthony Free appeared to gain an advantage Parker hit back and after an important 135 the veteran hit double 16 to win the first leg. The second leg too proved a close affair but was won by Parker again, pushing Lancaster to within one match of victory.
As recognition as the importance of the match, up stepped both captains, Gaz Houghton for Lancaster and Harry Smith for York. Both scored highly in the first leg however as Smith ended up on the dreaded double 1 Houghton finished the leg hitting double 16. The second leg was again another close affair which was made tenser as both players, seemingly sensing the importance of the match struggled to hit their doubles. However as Smith once again found himself on double 1 Houghton hit double 2 to send the Lancaster crowd into raptures, with a raucous rendition of “Gaz will tear you apart”.
With the pressure lifted somewhat Ollie Caswell came on for Lancaster and played confidently from the beginning. Hitting 121 and finishing on double 15, it appeared Caswelll was going to increase Lancaster’s lead in a few minutes. His opponent though, Harvey Wilkes, won the second leg taking advantage of Caswell needing double 1 to win the match. Caswell did not struggle in the third leg however hitting double 1 first time and winning the match further increasing Lancaster’s lead.
The last player to enter was Jordan Robson of Fylde College who played with a skill that fully confirmed his reputation as the best darts player on campus. Robson didn’t give York’s Aaron Sutton much of a chance as hit back-to-back tons and his double 18 at the first time of asking. Robson, after hitting a 140, then showboated for the crowd attempting to finish the match with a Bullseye, though he narrowly missed he completed the leg shortly after.
Though Robson was centimetres away from a champagne finish it didn’t seem to matter to the crowd who had been serenading the players all night, which the Lancastrians had more than earned after a night of imposing winning arrows.