Tuesday 1st January, Eibar
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – ZABALETA beat TITIN III – MERINO I 22-19
The defending champions have had the worst possible start to their defence. Last week they lost to the untested pair of Olaizola II and Ibai Zabala, Merino suffering an injury to his tailbone in the process, and on Tuesday Titin, along with Miguel Merino, standing in for his brother, went down again. The manner of this second defeat, as well as its consequences, will surely rankle. the Riojans led for most of the match, edging ahead early before extending their advantage to 15-10 and 18-13 as Irujo appeared uncharacteristically restrained. However, they let their rivals back into it at the death with some very wayward play, especially from Merino, whose regular misses late on visibly pained his younger brother, on whom the camera lingered in the stands. It was a game in which errors made the difference. Titin managed nine winners, making him both on paper and in practice far more potent than Irujo, but conceded five too. However, the real culprit was Merino, who made nine errors to Zabaleta’s five. The latter’s misdemeanors were cancelled out by five winners, something Merino cannot fall back on. Zabaleta, though not thrilling, was probably the player of the match in that he put a great deal of pressure on the opposing pair, leading to many of their slips. Irujo and Zabaleta go top of the table, despite being less than convincing, while things can surely only get better for the champions.
Scoring sequence: 0-1/ 1/ 1-3/ 2-4/ 6-4/ 6-5/ 8-5/ 8-7/ 9-7/ 10-7/ 10/ 15-10/ 15-12/ 16-12/ 16-13/ 18-13/ 18-15/ 19-15/ 19/ 19-22
Winners/errors: Titin 9/5, Irujo 5/3, Merino 0/9, Zabaleta 5/5
Match time: 54.39 with 25.18 of actual play
Balls hit: 458