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A woolhandler’s wait

A woolhandler’s wait

Allflex New Zealand Shearing and Woolhandling Team woolhandler and former World champion Sheree Alabaster wasn’t losing any sleep as she awaited the result of her final at the Lochearnhead Shears in Scotland on Saturday.

Heading for the 2019 World shearing and woolhandling championships starting on Thursday in Central France village Le Dorat, 2008 winner Alabaster faced a field of just 8 and reached the final four on Friday.

But the outcome of the 26th Lochearnhead Shears’ only opening-day event was not revealed until a prizegiving ceremony more than 24 hours later, after the second day’s shearing events.

Alabaster knew she hadn’t done enough to claim the major prizes, the win going to first-time Scotland World championships representative and Lochearnhead local Rosie Keenan.

The runner-up was Australia-based New Zealand woolhandler Nikki Jane Gore, from Golden Bay, third went Scotland international Stacey Mundell, and Alabaster had to settle for 4th place.

Second Scotland championships hope Audrey Lamb was eliminated in the heats.

Alabaster, a school teacher based three-days a week at Mataroa, near home town Taihape, wasn’t expecting quite the same outcome as in 2010 when she won at Lochearnhead first-up in the UK building up to her ultimately unsuccessful Royal Welsh Show defence of the World title she won in Norway two years earlier.

But she was pleased to have had about 6 days’ work and practice and in the last week competitions at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh and Lochearnhead.

“This is really about getting-up the show experience and exposure to the conditions and environment before we get to France,” she said, three weeks into her trip north with mother Libby, 7-year-old daughter Tayla-Ray and aunt Kay.

With her at the Lochearnhead Shears were Allflex New Zealand teammates and Hawke’s Bay machine shearers Rowland Smith and Cam Ferguson, and Canterbury blades shearer Allan Oldfield.

Along with team manager Ken Payne, of Balclutha, they arrive in France on Sunday to complete the team assembly with Central Otago woolhandler Pagan Karauria and Canterbury farmer and blades shearer Tony Dobbs.

Alabaster was confident she was getting to master the unique Northern Hemisphere competition factor of rolling and tieing of the fleeces.

But there is still some learning to do, including a training day in France on Tuesday where competitors will familiarise themselves with the “country specifics” which are a unique and varying factor of international woolhandling competition arising from different sheep, wool types and conditions throughout the World.

She said that over the 11 years since her 2008 triumph she’s seen considerable improvement in Northern Hemisphere competition, much of it learned from visits to New Zealand.

Keenan is a regular in New Zealand each summer and stayed with Alabaster from December to March this year while working in woolsheds in the Taihape and King Country area.

“They have adapted to our way of woolhandling,” Alabaster said. “They have picked-up on our patterns, and now it’s wide open.”

In France Alabaster and Karauria will be out to stop a third-consecutive UK win in woolhandling individual finals at World championships in the Northern Hemisphere, the 2010 event in Wales having been a triumph for home-country representative Bronwen Tango, and Hillary Bond, of England, having won in Ireland in 2014.

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