A look back in time – Cornwall & the Lions

A Look Back In Time – Cornwall-Associated ‘Lions’

By Phil Westren


That Jack Nowell not only impressed, but also survived the rigours of the quite terrific semi-final and final matches in the Aviva Premiership, AND because he is now actually in New Zealand and made his debut for the British Lions this week, it is a worthy time to look back in time and recall certain names of other Cornwall-associated players who have toured over the years as members of British teams. So here goes………….

Firstly, back in 1908, John Jackett (Falmouth), James ‘Maffer’ Davey (Redruth), Frederick Jackson (Camborne), who were all members of the famous 1908 County Championship winning side, were in  A.F. Harding’s pioneer ‘Anglo/Welsh’ team that toured Australia and New Zealand. Bert Solomon (Redruth) was also invited but declined the offer.

Cornwall produced a healthy number of England internationals in the early 1900s, whilst although not capped by his country the legendary Roy Jennings (Redruth) toured with the British Lions team to Australia and New Zealand in 1930.

Next, in 1950, Vic Roberts (Penryn & England) and Malcolm Thomas (a Welshman who played for Cornwall, Devonport Services, Newport & Wales) toured Australia and New Zealand. Malcolm toured similarly in 1959, in the side captained by Ronnie Dawson.

Redruth’s dashing fly-half, former England captain Richard Sharp, was a Lions tourist in South Africa back in 1962. He unfortunately missed the first two tests after breaking his cheekbone in the match against Northern Transvaal, having suffered a high tackle inflicted upon him by Mannetjies Roux. Richard’s mum was Redruth-born and his father a rugby-mad mining engineer who attended the Camborne School of Mines. An Oxford ‘Blue’, Richard also played cricket for Cornwall.


And who is next on the list? Well, it was of course our very own Brian ‘Stack’ Stevens who was a member of the famous 1971 British Lions squad, which he joined in New Zealand after Ireland’s Ray McLoughlin (broken thumb) and Scotland’s Sandy Carmichael (multiple fracture of the cheekbone) had to return home after being injured in ‘the game of shame’ against Canterbury. Ireland’s Willie John MacBride said of ‘Stack:

“He was one of God’s honest forwards with a great attitude. The Saturday team was pretty well settled by the time he joined the 1971 Lions but if we had needed him for a test we wouldn’t have hesitated for a second.”

Two years after helping Cornwall win the memorable 1991 County Championship final at Twickenham, lock Andy Reed (Bath & Scotland) in 1993 played for the Lions in New Zealand. Selected for the first test played in Christchurch, Gavin Hastings’ team lost 20-18.

Eight years later, in 2001, a Bude boy, Phil Vickery (Gloucester & England) played for the British Lions in Australia. The 2003 Rugby World Cup winner was also a tourist to South Africa in 2009, then not as a ‘Cherry & White’ but as a ‘Wasp’.

And now, in 2017, it’s Jack, proudly a product of our Penzance & Newlyn RFC youth section, who en route to Exeter Chiefs, England, and the British Lions, has also played for Redruth, Plymouth Albion and the Cornish Pirates. We wish him and the team all success in New Zealand.

On this theme we must also mention various other snips of interesting information, such as former Penzance, Cornwall & England wing Barrie Bennetts having in 1910-11 toured to Argentina with J. E. Raphael’s British team (not an official British Lions side)

Dr. Jack Matthews (Cardiff & Wales) was a ‘Lion’ in 1950. One of the truly great centre three-quarters, he married a Penzance girl and of no surprise also briefly wore a Pirates shirt.

And then there was prop John ‘Tess’ O’Shea (Cardiff & Wales) who also captained and played for the Pirates in 1970-71, besides playing for Cornwall. In 1968, on the tour to South Africa, he also became the first British Lion to be sent off for foul play, in a match won 37-9 against Eastern Transvaal. On leaving the field he was pelted with oranges and also struck in the face by a spectator. John’s son, Richard, also played for the Pirates.

Any other names to mention? Well, Maurice Colclough, then of Angouleme & England, was a second-row forward who toured with Bill Beaumont’s 1980 team in South Africa and with Ciaran Fitzgerald’s team to New Zealand in 1983. He also played for the Pirates in September, 1986, at a time when he spent several weeks in Penzance whilst N. Holman & Sons refitted an old trawler into a floating restaurant, that he later opened in Swansea.

Finally mustn’t forget breakaway forward Tom ‘Rusty’ Richards, who was a quite remarkable figure. The son of Cornish miner John Richards, Rusty was actually born in a rough mining camp called Vegetable Creek, Australia, in 1882, however he played for Dr. Tom Smythe’s 1910 Lions team in South Africa when representing Bristol.

Rusty’s story is fascinating, as in 1905, along with other members of his family he followed his father to the South African goldfields. Joining the Mines team, he was surrounded by Cornishmen, including Redruth’s ‘Maffer’ Davey. Both played for Transvaal in the Currie Cup.

Not eligible to play for South Africa, who would tour Britain in 1906-07, Rusty had a sudden desire to play against them on English soil, so he sailed from Durban bound for the ‘Mother Country’ and on arrival joined Bristol. Despite not being resident in England for the required period of time, he was selected for Gloucestershire, and did indeed play against the South African tourists, who were quite taken aback to see him!

Hearing of plans for an Australian team to visit Britain, he soon returned home with an aim to achieve selection for the tour, and play for the Wallabies. His elder brother Bill had played for Australia, and after impressing for Queensland Rusty gained the selection he sought, playing against Wales and England – and for the gold-medal-winning Australia team that played Cornwall at the London Olympic Games in 1908.

A year later he captained and coached the Charters Towers side in Australia, but his wanderlust had not diminished and he soon set sail for South Africa where, as previously mentioned, the Lions toured in 1910. The squad lost a number of players through injury, and you’ve probably guessed what happened next. It takes some believing – but it is true. Yep, Rusty, whose courage also earned him the Military Cross for bravery in WW1, was invited to join the tourists, listed as a Bristol player, and he made 12 appearances, including featuring in two tests.  What a truly great man he was – a player, war hero, Olympian, and a Lion!


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