Best friends ready to take on the World for Wales

Like most sporting communities, the world of competition woolhandling is a small one where everyone knows everyone else. Want proof? Let's take a look at the Welsh team selected to contest the 2017 World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships in Invercargill, New Zealand in February.

For starters, the woolhandling duo are best friends. Robyn Charlton and Ffion Jones (nee Davies) met each other when the pair took up competition woolhandling around ten years ago. Their families have been close for years. Charlton's mother Anita Jones represented Wales the last time the World Championships were in New Zealand in 2012, while Jones' father John T.L. Davies made the 1988 World Shearing Final.

And if you're struggling to keep up, now add the fact that Jones married 2014 World Championship Welsh shearer Richard Jones in August and that Ian Jones (no relation) is in the 2017 Wales World Championship team after winning the Champion Shearer of Wales competition at July's Royal Welsh Show.

See what I mean about it being a small world?

The above connections and their close friendship mean Charlton and Jones couldn't be happier as they get set to share their first World Championship experience together.

"I wouldn't want to be on the team with anybody else and I'm so chuffed that it's with Ffion," Charlton said. "Our team manager keeps saying we're going to be danger together," she said laughing. "I am very nervous but it should be good fun."

The pair will be able to call on Charlton's kiwi experience. The 24-year-old from Walton, Presteigne in the heart of the Welsh countryside has been travelling to New Zealand for the last four seasons, basing herself in the central Southland town of Winton while working for McConachie Shearing Limited.

Her annual pilgrimage has, among other things, gained Charlton experience that will be invaluable ahead of February's World Championships.

"I'm hoping it is an advantage. It has been when the Champs have been over here before. Woolhandling is both Ffion and my fulltime jobs and she's coming over early in January so we should have a bit more practice than some of the other teams," she said.

"There is a massive difference between what happens here and the wool we handle back home in Wales. At home, everything is shorn as full wool. Then we just take the dags out, slip both sides in, roll it up and make a hole to tuck the neck in. That's how you place it in the wool bags. It's a lot different to over here and not technical at all," she said.

There is also the small matter of her fiancé, Winton butchery owner Nathan Kean, that keeps her coming back down under year after year.

"I met him the first year I came over and we've been together a couple of years. It's been a long-distance relationship for a lot of the time but there should be less of that now," Charlton said.

Charlton arrived in Southland at the start of September, three months earlier than normal, to maximise her preparations for February. But, she remains coy when asked about her World Championship expectations.

"Obviously, everybody wants to make the final. That would be ideal. I don't know if I've got what it takes to be World Champion, but I'd love to make the final and then who knows," she said.

Charlton intends to get in as much practice as she can during the southern competition circuit by entering the Northern Southland, Southland and Otago Shears' woolhandling events when they commence in late January. There, she expects to get a good indication of the form of the leading contenders.

"New Zealand (Joel Henare and Mary Anne Baty) are obviously the major threat. It's in their back yard and they know exactly what to do. Australia (Sophie Huf and Mel Morris) will also be strong because their style is a lot similar to New Zealand and I've always thought Johnathan (Haakull) from Norway does really well," she said.

Regardless of outcome, one thing is certain. There won't be too many closer-knit teams than the Welsh, when the world arrives in Invercargill in February.

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 at ILT Stadium Southland in Invercargill from 8 to 11 February. Tickets and event information can be found at www.worldshearingchamps.com.
Ffion Jones (nee Davies) - photo courtesy of England Shearing


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