The race is on for the country's leading blade shearers as they seek selection for the New Zealand team to contest the world championships in France next year.

Leading narrowly going into the Waimate Spring Shears this weekend is Fairlie's Tony Dobbs, with Geraldine father and son duo Phil and Allan Oldfield and Cave's Mike McConnell also in contention for coveted positions in the team.

''I'm in front by one point,'' Dobbs said.

''But there's not much in it. If someone has an outstanding event or a poor showing that could be enough.''


Only two blade shearers will be picked for the team which will contest the championships in Dorat, Central France, from July 1 to 7 next year.

Dobbs started competing as a blade shearer in the 1980s but gave it away in the early 1990s, then returned for the world championships in 2014.

''I've contested four of them [world champs]. I won it 1988, was second a few years later and was talked into coming back in 2014. I went to Ireland and got third. I was second last year in Invercargill.''

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South African Mayenseke Shweni won the world championship last year with Phil Oldfield third.

South Africa has a national flock of 15 million sheep, most of which are shorn by blade shearers. Not surprisingly, perhaps, South African blade shearers have dominated the world championships since 1996.

Oldfield's son Allan is a rising force and returns to compete in Waimate after success in the United Kingdom as well as shearing in the Falkland Islands, although he could be jet-lagged.

He is expected to arrive in New Zealand today.

While in the UK, Oldfield won eight finals, including three of the big four blade shearing competitions - Royal Ulster in Belfast, Royal Highland in Edinburgh and Royal Welsh at Llanelwedd.

He was second in one other big event, the Royal Bath and West Show in Somerset, England.

At 27, Allan Oldfield is the younger face of blade shearing but veterans such as Dobbs are still formidable opponents.

Dobbs (55) said his body ''has its moments'' and farm work meant he could not get the chance to stay ''match fit'', although he managed to stay trim.

He has worked as a fulltime shearer.

''When I left school I started as a builder. When there was a downturn I went shearing in the Mackenzie area.

''Blade shearing lost its appeal in New Zealand but it's got very strong in Australia with stud shearing. A lot take it up there.

''It's strong in South Africa as well and very popular in Wales and Ireland.

''There are a lot of other countries that shear with blades, too, because of the remoteness.

''Blade shearing is easier for small flocks.''

Four years ago, Dobbs shore Big Ben, a merino from Omahau Hill Station, near Twizel. At 28.9kg, the fleece was recognised as the heaviest ever recorded, beating the 27kg fleece taken off Bendigo Station's famous Shrek, and was officially recognised by Guinness World Records.

Dobbs has represented New Zealand about 20 times in international contests. He showed he is in good form with a recent win at the Royal Perth show.

''I like to think I'm in the mix for the New Zealand team. One point is not much but I'll have a good go at Waimate.

''It's one of my favourites.''

After Waimate, where a blade test between New Zealand and Australia will also be held, three further selection competitions remain, at Rangiora, Ashburton and Christchurch.

The New Zealand blade shearing team will be named at the New Zealand Agricultural Show in Christchurch on November 16.