LATE RUN: Gavin Mutch celebrates his world championship title in Masterton last year.PHOTO/FILE
World champion Taranaki-based Scottish shearer Gavin Mutch has leapt into PGG Wrightson National Circuit contention with an 11th-hour qualifying performance at the weekend.
Mutch scored the maximum possible 12 points in the final qualifying round at Pahiatua on Sunday, leaping from a lowly 22nd place to 11th on the list of 12 qualifiers.
He will now join fellow Scottish world champion, South Island-based Tom Wilson in pursuit of New Zealand's second-most important title at the Golden Shears starting in Masterton tomorrow and ending with the big finals on Saturday.
The qualifiers will shear a semifinal on Saturday morning, seeking a place in the evening's six-man final over 15 sheep, where they will be confronted by three fine-wooled merinos, three strong-wooled full fleece, three coarse-wooled Corriedales, three lambs and three second-shear ewes.
Mutch, who won his world title during last year's Golden Shears, is also a strong contender for the Golden Shears Open, the heats for which will be held on Friday, with about 60 shearers looking for places in the six-man open final, regarded as the Wimbledon of Shearing. Those finalists will shear 20 second-shear sheep, also on Saturday night.
A win by Mutch in either event might pose a dilemma for officials, with the winners of each of the two big events claiming places in the New Zealand team for two tests against Australia next summer.
The TAB is, however, keeping the affable Scotsman at arm's length, preferring other options for the 40th anniversary PGG Wrightson National, having Mutch on the sixth line at $15 to win. The favourite is three-times National Circuit winner Tony Coster, of Rakaia, paying $2.75, followed next by Invercargill shearer Nathan Stratford.
Seven other South Island shearers have made the cut, including second Southland shearer Darin Forde, who won in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2004, and defending champion Angus Moore, from Marlborough but now based in South Otago.
Golden Shears Open champion John Kirkpatrick, of Napier, is the most-favoured of three other North Island shearers in the top 12, the others being Axle Reid, of Taihape, and a Dannevirke shearer with Wairarapa connections, Paerata Abraham, who also qualified late.
Incorporating the McSkimming Memorial Triple Crown, first presented in 1973, the series started at the New Zealand Merino championships in Alexandra and the long strong-wool sheep of the Spring Shears in Waimate in October. Then followed the national Corriedale championships at the Canterbury Show in November, the national lambshearing championships in Raglan last month, and Sunday's event in northern Wairarapa.
Qualifying points were based on placings in the heats of each event, but points in the final stages will be based on the shearing and quality points system common to shearing competitions throughout the country.
TAB odds to win: $2.75 Tony Coster; $4 Nathan Stratford; $6 Darin Forde, Angus Moore; $8 John Kirkpatrick; $15 Gavin Mutch; $20 Grant Smith; $30 Gavin Rowland, Paerata Abraham; Tony Nott, Tom Wilson, Axle Reid.