England and Ireland emerged as front runners on the opening day of the R&A Men’s Home Internationals at Hankley Common, with defending champions England holding the edge thanks to a better matches won record in the round robin tournament.
Both teams have a point a piece after England defeated Wales 10½-4½, while Ireland prevailed over Scotland in a closer contest which finished 8½-6½ for the men in green.
England now play Scotland, while Ireland face Wales.
Expectations on defending champions
As the strongest team in the contest, the 11-man English side was expected to get the better of Wales. However, England captain Gareth Jenkins admitted to feeling trepidation at the start of the day.
“We’re obviously favourites because we’re playing at home and defending champions,” Jenkins said. “Everyone probably expects us to beat Wales on paper but it’s never as easy as that. The Welsh have some good players and there were a lot of tight matches.
“We’ve got off to a great start, and I’m really pleased with the lads, especially when you think it’s their first Home Internationals, all 11 of them.”
Jenkins was victorious captain two years ago at Lahinch Golf Club, but couldn’t skipper the side last year when Covid-19 meant cancellation of a contest that dates back to 1932. He’s had to hand caps to 11 newcomers.
“I’ve never captained any of these lads in competitive action. But we’ve managed to have some good squad training sessions with the boys and men’s teams and we’ve had a good chance to put some strong pairings together as a result. There’s a fabulous team spirit among the boys, and it showed today.”
Strong showing in foursomes
Jenkins couldn’t have asked for a better start as his side got off to a 4-1 start in the morning foursomes. The junior team of Josh Hill and reigning Boys’ Amateur champion Jack Bigham was the only losing duo, going down two holes to Welsh pair Matt Roberts and Aled Greville.
Jenkins side then won the singles 6½-3½ to move top of the points table. Amateur champion Laird Shepherd, Brabazon Trophy winner Sam Bairstow, English Amateur champion John Gough, Olly Huggins and recent South East of England Links champion Zachary Chegwidden all emerged with perfect records from their two starts.
“The message to the lads is to keep it going, keep it on the short stuff, stay out of the heather, 100 percent commitment and play for each other,” Jenkins said.
Irish side prevails
The Ireland-Scotland match featured two big wins for either team in the foursomes.
Robert Moran and Alex Maguire got the Irish off to flying start with an 8&6 win over Angus Carrick and Connor Wilson. Scotland hit back almost immediately when Scottish captain Matthew Clark and Darren Howie, out in the third match, won 6&5 over Hugh Foley and Alan Fahy.
With matches two and four going to either side, it was left to the fifth contest to see who would take pole position into the singles. Experienced Irish player Caolan Rafferty and Marc Boucher ensured the Irish took the momentum into the singles by defeating Andrew Ni and George Burns 2&1.
The teams split the first six singles before Ireland took the seventh and eighth matches. However, Rafferty, who played in the 2019 Walker Cup, suffered a 7&6 defeat to Ni before Matt McClean and George Burn finished all square in the final singles.
“I’m absolutely delighted to come through that with a win because it was a tight match,” Irish captain John Carroll said. “We looked comfortable when we won the first and second singles matches but the Scots came back at us as we knew they would. There was a lot of good golf and the result could have gone either way.”
England is looking for its third consecutive victory to with 43 other wins. Scotland, second two years ago, is seeking a 27th win. Ireland its 19th triumph, while Wales has only one win in the annual contest.Leaderboard can been found here.