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Defending champ bolts ahead in blades heats

South African Mayenzeke Shweni has taken a huge step towards successfully defending his World blade shearing title with a commanding performance in the opening round of the event on the third day of the 40th anniversary shearing and woolhandling championships in Invercargill.

A crowd of about 800 watched spellbound as Shweni polished his three second-shear sheep to take a leading margin of almost 12 points heading to the second round on fullwool sheep tomorrow – despite being beaten by New Zealand hopeful and Fairlie farmer Tony Dobbs in the battle for fastest time.

Dobbs outpaced the 22-strong field which represented 13 of the 32 countries which entered the championships across the categories of blade shearing, machine shearing and woolhandling, and finished with best time off 11min 37.858sec. Second South African representative Bangani Joel was next two seconds slowerand Shweni next in 11min 43.021sec.

But Shweni had clearly the best quality points, both in the board judging of second cuts and the pen marks on the finished job.

Among the semi-final hopefuls is the most-experienced of all World Championships competitors, England shearer George Mudge(pictured). He first shore in the elite company at the second World Championships in Masterton in 1980, and reached the machine shearing final in England four years later.

He soon retired but came back as a blade shearer in 1998 and at the age of 69, the second oldest entrant, is competing in his 11th World Championships, and nestled in seventh place, heading teammate and son Andrew Mudge, wwho was in 11th place and hoping to stay in the top 12 for the semi-finals, targeting a place in the top six for Saturday night's final.

The leading 12 in the first round (3 second sheep) were): Mayenzeke Shweni (South Africa) 11min 43.021sec, 48.484pts, 1; Tony Dobbs (New Zealand) 11min 37.858sec, 60.226pts, 2; Phil Oldfield (New Zealand) 12min 28.573sec, 60.429pts, 3; Johnathon Dalla (Australia) 13min 49.517sec, 61.809pts, 4; Ken French (Australia) 14min 33.503sec, 63.675pts, 5; Bangani Joel (South Africa) 11min 39.864pts, 6; George Mudge (England) 14min 36.903sec, 69.178pts, 7; Peter Heraty (Ireland) 15min 11.573sec, 69.245pts, 8; Noel Joyce (Ireland) 17min 31.457sec, 78.906pts, 9; Mark Armstrong (Scotland) 17min 12.976sec, 80.315pts, 10; Andrew Mudge (England) 13min 34.232sec, 81.712pts, 11; Gareth Owen (Wales) 14min 50.922sec, 86.879pts, 12.