Gavin Mutch - World Champs wide open

The 2017 World Shearing title is a wide-open contest according to former champion Gavin Mutch.

The transplanted Scotsman, who farms in Taranaki, comes up with a long list of contenders when asked who will provide the biggest challenge in his attempt for a second individual title at the World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships in Invercargill, New Zealand in February. At the top of the list is his good kiwi mate.

"John Kirkpatrick and I travel to a lot of shows together. I know he's got unfinished business and wants to win it so he's going to be one to watch," he said. "It's really good stepping up there beside him. If he wins you're pleased for him but when you get up on stage you still want to beat him."

Then his list starts to lengthen.

"In the past year Ivan Scott (Ireland) has been concentrating on shows a lot more since setting his record." Scott shore a record 867 strong wool lambs in nine hours in Cornwall in July, breaking the previous record tally set by New Zealander Dion King in 2007. "Ivan's got the speed and the strength, so if the sheep are slightly bigger, he's got the extra strength you need to handle them," Mutch said. "But then Nathan (Stratford of Southland) is on his home ground so you can't underestimate him and a couple of the Welsh boys will be hard to beat as well."

Good luck picking a winner from that list. Mutch, being the humble man he is, plays down his own chances of repeating his feat of winning the World Individual title the last time the championships were held in New Zealand, in Masterton in 2012. He followed that up in Ireland at the last World Championships in 2014, winning the Teams title with next year's team mate Hamish Mitchell. He is looking towards February with personal redemption on his mind.

"In Ireland I took my eye off the ball. I went there having already won the individual and for some reason I probably put too much focus on the team event. I wanted that one as the next step for me but I let myself down with my preparation for the individual. Hopefully if I can get things running how I want it, I can have a go at the individual again," he said.

Mutch qualified for the 2017 World Champs with his win at the Royal Highland Show in June and he has taken a different approach to his preparation this year.

"I've only done one competition shear, last weekend in Waipukurau (Hawkes Bay), where I just missed the final. I purposefully decided not to do the early shows this year. It's bloody hard on you, trying to stay focused from the beginning of October right through until World Champs. It puts a lot of extra pressure on you," he said.

"You still have to go to competitions. Nothing beats the experience of a 20-sheep final. But I have found in the past it's a long time to stay focused and keep momentum going. I've scaled it back a bit and hopefully I can come into World Champs fresher and with a clearer mind," he said.

Mutch is also hoping for a smoother lead-up to February's event than the one he endured prior to his successful campaign in 2012.

"That build-up didn't go how I wanted. I dislocated my shoulder a month before the 2012 champs and I wasn't even sure if I was going to be able to shear. Things just seemed to happen on the day. I got more comfortable and I had a lot less pressure on me, so every time I got up there I was enjoying it. I like to attack so in the final it was just a case of grit your teeth to the end and survive it. There wasn't any great science behind it, it was just determination," he remembers.

Despite relinquishing his individual title in 2014, he remembers the Ireland World Champs fondly.

"Hamish (Mitchell) and I have been to five world champs as a team and we'd come close a couple of times, nearly beating the Kiwis in 2012. We'd also had a couple of runs where things didn't go our way. In Ireland, we sorted a lot of things out, worked as a team and it was a bloody good feeling winning the team title because it completed the package for me."

Like many competitors in next year's World Championships, Mutch faces the difficult task of juggling work and shearing commitments, meaning the Kohuratahi farm will go into hibernation for the next couple of months.

And just how does a Scotsman end up chasing Romney ewes and beef cows around Taranaki for a living?

"I did a degree in agriculture at home and my Dad had a shearing run. He had Kiwi guys shearing for him. I was just doing a little bit on the weekends and my spare time to help pay my way through college. They convinced me if I wanted to shear properly I had to come to New Zealand. I landed quite lucky. Stu Munro from Taihape made sure I did everything right to begin with and after the first six months of shows, that was it, I was hooked," he said.

Shearing has been in the Mutch family for generations. His grandfather started the family's shearing run in Scotland and between Gavin, his father and grandfather it was in the family for 55 years. "It was a big step walking away from that. I kept it going for quite a while when I was living here, but it just got a little too much," he said.

Proud of his family heritage, proud of his country. Despite overtures, Mutch has resisted swapping allegiance from his country of birth to his country of residence.

"When you're born in Scotland that's in your heart and you're never going to change that. Pulling the kilt on at the end of competition and walking up on stage means just as much for us as it does for the Kiwis having the black singlet on. There's no way you can ever walk away from that," he said.

You can't get more definitive than that. Which only leaves one question. Will we see the Mutch family tartan walk onstage in Invercargill when the 2017 World Champion is crowned?

The 2017 World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships will be held in the South Island of New Zealand for the first time in its 40-year history in Invercargill from 8 to 11 February. Tickets and event information can be found at www.worldshearingchamps.com.
Gavin Mutch with the spoils after winning the World Championship Machine Shearing title at the 2012 Champs held in Masterton, New Zealand.


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