Australia versus New Zealand is one of the strongest sporting rivalries in the world. Both Antipodean nations are fierce competitors: cricket, rugby… and in Scrabble, it is no different.
The Trans Tasman Challenge is a biennial event, held this time in New Zealand where the Otago Bridge Club plays host. This edition will be the twelfth event and New Zealand will be looking to make it their fourth team victory, having last won in 2010.
Going back to its humble beginnings and, in 1996, an inner city hotel in Sydney was the venue. The rooms, it was stated at the time, may not have been ideal (as Bob Jackman reported, some of them were “well below standard, being minus TV, phone and wardrobe, and occasionally windows.” )
It was an event that celebrated 20 years of competition in Australia - Mattel donated a Franklin Mint deluxe gold Scrabble set and journalist/radio announcer (and Scrabble author) Derryn Hinch on hand to present the prizes.
In relative terms, Australia was less experienced with the double dictionary at the time but still managed to overcome said inexperience and “dingle” challenge (one free then penalties apply) to win the inaugural event 75-69. Bob Jackman was victorious in the individual honors as green and gold reigned supreme.
New Zealand would exact revenge when they first hosted the event in 1998. They were fantastic hosts, ensuring their opposition received a gift pack which included a personalized tile bag, a special Trans-Tasman key ring and heaps of other goodies. This event was the first - and only - time that Nigel Richards took part. He won 17.5 wins and despite the highest spread of any player, his drawn game against Angela Van Niekerk prevented him from winning the individual honor at his first attempt.
They Kiwis would retain the Trans Tasman title in 2000 on the away leg in Melbourne with Australia regaining the title in 2002. Their grip on the title remained through the noughties until NZ won for the third time in 2010.
From a words perspective, the event has always provided entertaining wordplay. From 1998, Patrick Carter's PLAGUIEST, wrapped around a GU already on the board, Nigel Richards CASUISTIC, wrapped around ST, and David Lloyd's SUBROUTINE by placing the SUB in front of ROUTINE all were highlights. The Naween Fernando v Jack Dymond board featuring a vertical OBEDIENT double (pictured) from 2004 (a tournament that included EQUIPAGES played by Esther Perrins and a high game of 637, also pictured) ensured some great board photos came out of the event. In later years PRYTANEA (played in 2012) showed that when the competition was at its fiercest, the top words would inevitably find their way to the board.
High game from TT2004
So, what are the team line ups this time around?
For the host nation, there are Howard Warner, Joanne Craig, Dylan Early, Peter Sinton, Patrick Carter, Andrew Bradley, Lawson Sue, John Foster, Lynne Butler, Cicely Bruce, Scott Chaput and Glenda Foster. (Note two time individual winner Alastair Richards, playing then for Australia, now resides in NZ though is not playing here).
Aiming to keep the Australian winning streak going is John Holgate, Tony Hunt, Ryan
Sutton, Graeme Lock Lee, Victor Tung, Rod Talbot, Bob Jackman, Ron Baginski, Karen Richards, Adam Kretschmer (2014 Individual winner), David Vanzyl and Dianne Brumby.
The players’ moods are buoyant in the leadup to this year’s event. As Bob Jackman puts it “The honour of representing your country. The discovery of new destinations. The camaraderie of team play. The competing against new faces. The thrill of a close finish. That's what the Trans-Tasman Challenge can be about.”.
Karen Richards notes “At this time, Kiwis become temporary frenemies.. I hope they don't do the HAKA, because it unnerves me - please give us a wonderful HAEREMAI with a POWHIRI/POHIRI instead”
Tony Hunt went further “Looking forward to the Scrabble, the excitement of visiting a part of NZ I haven’t been to before, anticipating a ride out to see the albatrosses but what I like most of all - that quirky kiwi accent”.
The last word on this “friendly” rivalry, however, comes from the host nation and Lynne Butler.
“Kia ora! Looking forward to welcoming our opponents from the West Island for another Trans Tasman tussle.”
The weather is expected to be rainy and cool… something the Scrabble could never be described as.