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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!


Posted in Bill's Blog

Former Quins CEO appointed Stadium for Cornwall Project Leader

Photo: Mark Evans

The Cornish Pirates are delighted with the appointment of former Harlequins CEO Mark Evans as Project Leader for the Stadium for Cornwall.

The announcement by the Cornish Pirates was first delivered to stakeholders and sponsors at a briefing meeting held by the Directors at the Penventon Hotel, Redruth, on Wednesday night, also present was Alan Cadger representing the architects, Holmes Miller.

Commenting after the meeting, Mark Evans, who now runs a sports consultancy business across a number of sports, said:

“This is an exciting project for Cornwall and I have agreed to lead the Phase 1 stage of the Stadium project. For the guys running the day to day needs of the club this can be rather overwhelming, so my considerable experience in this area, which of course takes a lot of time, is aimed to help.

“My hope to focus on providing extra resource and experience is to give the Pirates and the other partners a degree of confidence that the project is being managed sensibly and for momentum to be maintained and monitored to make sure we get the right type of facility for the different stakeholders.”

Given that the Heads of Terms between the different partners has now been signed and given the way things have moved on in terms of the overall development he is very optimistic that there will be a spade in the ground next spring/summer.

“The position is similar to the development that took place when I was at The Stoop (the Harlequins ground) where we had four phases to rebuild the ground. People forget that was just over 15 years ago.

“The Stoop was a pretty ordinary facility and you have to do it in phases. Phase 1 though is the big one, where you put all of your core facilities in – all the things you need to run because at the end of the day from a Cornish Pirates perspective it is a rugby club and you’ve got to be able to put the show on the road.  

“We don’t live in a country where there is much public money to put into professional sports facilities so you have to come up with innovative funding models to help raise capital. You just can’t be an elite rugby club in England now without having a decent stadium, it simply cannot be done.

“I am a great believer that you have to take everything in steps, to help progress towards the ultimate goal which must be to reach and stay at the highest level. There is no guarantee, but without it there is no possibility and that’s how I’m viewing this. You can look around a number of sports and see that it’s like building a sort of tower and you just have to put all the blocks in place.”

Alan Cadger from the architects, Holmes Miller said:

“After travelling to meet the partners and work through ideas, an exciting day ended with a very exciting presentation made to shareholders and others, and it’s shown a real commitment from the Cornish Pirates and their partners to move the stadium project forward.

“With experience and connections with sporting venues such as Murrayfield, the Rose Bowl, Wembley and the Olympic Velodrome we have now been brought on board to deliver this project.

“The potential is undoubtedly there and a sporting county like Cornwall, which is a rugby heartland in particular, clearly deserves to have a stadium.”

Cornish Pirates’ Chairman, Paul Durkin, who led the presentation, has commented:

“The main content of Wednesday night’s presentation explained the progress and capital requirement to shareholders and stakeholders on the stadium build and financing requirement and to announce the two key appointments of Alan and Mark as architect and Project Leader. This is a significant milestone in the realisation of the stadium and great news for Cornwall and for Truro City FC, Truro and Penwith College and the Cornish Pirates.”

Posted in Bill's Blog

Lancashire power to second half win



Report by Bill Hooper, photos Simon Bryant Iktisphoto

Lancashire deservedly reclaimed the Bill Beaumont Cup with a powerful second half performance that saw them score 19 unanswered points as Cornwall’s grasp on the title wilted under the Twickenham sun.

Prior to kick-off there was a poignant minute’s silence for the victims of the barbaric events in Manchester last Monday and at the conclusion Cornwall RFU President Peter James presented his Lancashire counterpart Tom Fitzgerald with a bouquet of 22 red roses, which will be laid in memory of those killed in Manchester on behalf of the Cornwall RFU and Cornish supporters.

There was a late change to the Cornwall side when winger Lewis Vinnicombe pulled out due to a shoulder injury sustained against Herts. Seti Raumakita came in on the wing with Jack Simmons stepping onto the bench.


Photo: Hooker Richard Brown tackled by Lancs Mark Goodman

The game began slowly for Cornwall, as they got shoved back in the first scrum conceding a penalty.

Slowly they came more into it with fly-half Joe Elderkin kicking well for territory. The coaches made an early call for a change in the scrum with Dan Collier coming on in second row for Bryn Jenkins.

Cornwall seemed to fall foul of referee Ben Blain especially at the breakdown, which was very frustrating.

Cornwall came to life a series of penalties were kicked to the corner with the Cornwall maul getting going for an unconverted try from flanker George Jones, Matt Shepherd’s conversion attempt hit the upright.

Raumakita ran well on to a Shepherd kick over the top but he failed to adjust his footing close to the touchline and was caught out.

More bad luck for Cornwall followed when they lost prop Tommy Phillips with a dislocated shoulder, he was replaced by Town’s Andrius Zacharovas.

Lancashire came back into it enjoying some good periods of possession, even turning down some kickable penalties looking for a try but they found the Cornish defence in mean mood.

Photo: Pride of the Borough No. 8 Grant Randlesome on the charge with scrum half Jack Oulton in support


Shepherd kicked a penalty to the corner to set up a catch and drive from which Collier and Sam Matavesi drove for the line but Lancashire’s No.8 Tom Ailes infringed and was shown yellow. Sadly Cornwall didn’t manage to capitalise having to settle for a Shepherd penalty and an 8-0 half-time lead.

Robin Wedlake looked set to be put away but Jake Murphy’s pass was sadly slightly forward

Despite bringing on fresh legs Cornwall couldn’t match the increasing dominance of the Lancashire side as the northern side began to dictate play and spread the ball wide.

Tony Whittle put in some crunching tackles for Cornwall trying to stem the tide.

Wing Scott Armstrong broke up-field linking with fellow wing Alex Bingham for the later to score in the corner, Chris Johnson’s excellent conversion bringing Lancashire right back in it.

Photo: BJ Chapman gave his all for Cornwall


Scott Rawlings, who was having a big game in the mid-field for Lancashire, as the waves of attack from the red rose mounted. Bingham turned provider for hooker Tom Burtonwood who was out wide to run in a second try for the lead.

Cornwall’s Tom Notman almost connected with an interception but the ball slipped agonisingly away.

Armstrong then claimed a third try for Lancashire as the ball was again moved wide from a ruck with Johnson adding the extras for a 19-8 lead.

There was to be no way back for Cornwall as Lancashire saw out the win to claim yet another title.

What now for Cornwall? It’s likely that one or two senior players may well have played their last game for Cornwall as the changing of the guard looks set to continue for next season.


CORNWALL: (Redruth unless stated): M Shepherd (Plymouth Albion), S Raumakita, R Wedlake (both Plymouth Albion), J Murphy (Barnstaple, capt), T Notman, J Elderkin, J Oulton; T Phillips, R Brown, C Williams, B Jenkins (Barnstaple), T Whittle (Camborne), G Jones (Penryn), S Matavesi (Camborne), G Randlesome (Penryn).

Replacements: M Ballard (Wadebridge Camels), A Zacharovas (Camborne), D Collier (Plymouth Albion), C Fuca, BJ Chapman, D Mankee (Camborne), J Simmons (Camborne).

Cornwall scores: Try, Jones, Pen, Shepherd

LANCASHIRE (Fylde unless stated): L Allen (Preston G); S Armstrong, C Briers, S Rawlings (Sale FC), A Bingham ;  C Johnson,  S Stelmaszek; D Birchall (all Sale FC), T Burtonwood,  A Lewis, R Birtwell (Sedgley Tigers), R Tomlinson (Rossendale)  M Goodman (Sedgley Tigers), E Stewart (capt), T Ailes (Sale FC).

Replacements: S Griffiths, R Davies (Sale FC), P Althram (Preston G) J Matthews (Sedgley Tigers), G Smith, S Collins (Sedgley Tigers), C Connolly (Sale FC).

Lancashire scores: Tries, Bingham, Burtonwood, Armstrong, Cons, Johnson (2)

Yellow Card: Ailes (30)

Referee: Ben Blain (RFU)



Posted in Bill's Blog

Statement from Cornwall RFU


Following the tragic events in Manchester earlier in the week there will be a moments silence before the kick off, of the Lancashire v Cornwall game on Sunday.

Both teams and the match officials will line up on the 15 metre line facing the west stand.

To further recognise the close ties that Cornwall has with Lancashire, and the Cornwall RFU wishing to show unity and support for the people of Manchester and Lancashire, the Cornwall President Mr Peter James will prior to the moments silence present to the President of Lancashire Mr Tom Fitzgerald 22 red roses on the pitch at Twickenham.

The significance of the 22 red roses, is that the red rose is the emblem of Lancashire, 22 people tragically lost their lives in the atrocity and the rugby teams are made up of 22 players. 

Cornwall RFU have asked that the Lancashire President lay the flowers at a suitable position in Manchester in due course 

The roses not only come from the Cornwall RFU, but also on behalf of the thousands of Cornish supporters who will travel to Twickenham tomorrow, and from everyone back in the duchy.

We all feel the pain that they have, and are continuing to suffer, and hope this small gesture shares our thoughts with the people of Manchester and Lancashire at this difficult time.


Cornwall RFU



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Dawe’s thoughts ahead of Sunday’s game plus Lancashire team news

Cornwall ready for Lancashire challenge

By Bill Hooper, photos Simon Bryant Iktisphoto

Cornwall completed their preparations on a glorious Thursday evening at Redruth RFC with the players eagerly looking forward to Sunday’s game at Twickenham.

It’s familiar foes, the red rose of Lancashire that Cornwall meet for the fourth time in five years. Lancashire won the first two finals before Cornwall prevailed 18-13 in 2015.

Photo: Graham Dawe feeling apprehensive ahead of Sunday’s game

Once again Cornwall coach Graham Dawe will be up against Lancashire’s Mark Nelson on the sidelines, both men hold each other in high esteem.

“I am looking forward to it”, said Dawe. “I am apprehensive, we’ve won a lot of games in a row now, I hope it doesn’t end on Sunday. You go into a game fifty, fifty, somehow we’ve got to keep it going and get another win and enjoy the experience, we know we’ve got a good team with a good group of players, we will need that little bit of luck you get in a game the bounce of the ball and get the scores, but yes apprehension is always there ahead of a big game. This side has the ability to win, they are young and hungry, but as Cornishmen know it’s always hard to win on the road.

I asked Dawe about bringing in lock Dan Collier. “Well he’s eligible, he has been part of the squad he trained at Camborne last week he’s fit and available. It was a very tough call to leave out Brad Howe. We discussed it as a group with the selectors and we see Brad more as a backrower, that’s not to say he hasn’t done a good job for us this season. Collier is an outstanding lock and a good ball-carrier, so a good option to have in the squad.

“I fully understand how disappointed Brad must feel, he’s a young man and chances will come again and as the famous Scottish and Lions coach Jim Telfer used to say “You’ve just got to keep on improving day by day as a rugby player and you will get there in the end.”



Photo: Cornwall captain Jake Murphy being interviewed by BBC Spotlight and former Cornwall player Andy Birkett.

With both Ben Hilton and Damien Cook not playing this season Dawe has had to rebuild the boiler house and he was full of praise for his locks this season. “Both Bryn Jenkins and Tony Whittle have been outstanding this season, but if you lose one of those two early in a game then you have a player who is predominantly a back rower coming in, Brad can play in the second row but Dan brings that extra scrumaging.

Dawe has no worries about the mid-day kick-off time. “We are used to the format now and prepare accordingly, the biggest worry is the opposition. Mark Nelson will challenge his players he won’t be travelling down to Twickenham to come second. I get on very well with Mark he’s nice guy very endearing and I love him to death. He’s typical Lancastrian he expects nothing less than blood and sweat from his players.

The Lancashire side to face Cornwall on Sunday;

LANCASHIRE: 15 Lewis Allen (Preston G); 14 Scott Armstrong, 13 Chris Briers (both Fylde), 12 Scott Rawlings (Sale FC), 11 Anthony Bingham (Fylde); 10 Chris Johnson, 9 Sam Stelmaszek; 1 Dan Birchall (all Sale FC), 2 Tom Burtonwood (Fylde), 3 Adam Lewis (Fylde), 4 Bob Birtwell (Sedgley Tigers), 5 Reece Tomlinson (Rossendale) 6 Mark Goodman (Sedgley Tigers), 7 Evan Stewart (Fylde, capt), 8 Tom Ailes (Sale FC).

Reps: 16 Simon Griffiths (Fylde), 17 Rhys Davies (Sale FC), 18 Peter Althram (Preston G) 19 Jonathan Matthews (Sedgley Tigers), 20 Greg Smith (Fylde), 21 Steve Collins (Sedgley Tigers), 22 Connor Wilkinson (Fylde).

Please note photographs used on this site may not be reproduced without the agreement of Simon Bryant Iktis photo





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Jamal on bench for England against the Barbarians



Former Cornwall star prop Jamal Ford-Robinson has been picked on the bench by England coach Eddie Jones for England’s match against a star-studded Barbarians side at Twickenham immediately after Cornwall’s Bill Beaumont Cup Final against Lancashire on Sunday.

Jamal, who began his rugby career at Penryn and then Redruth played for Cornwall in the 2014 county final lost to Lancashire 36-26 scoring a memorable try.

The prop forward has spent the past two seasons with Bristol, having been previously with the Cornish Pirates, but has signed for Northampton Saints next season.

Jamal will be hoping to impress and get on the England tour to Argentina in June.


Starting England team to face Barbarians for the Old Mutual Wealth Cup:

  1. Mike Brown (Harlequins, 60 caps)
  2. Nathan Earle (Saracens, uncapped)
  3. Sam James (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
  4. Alex Lozowski (Saracens, uncapped)
  5. Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 25 caps)
  6. George Ford (Bath Rugby, 35 caps)
  7. Danny Care (Harlequins, 71 caps)
  8. Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 1 cap)
  9. Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors, uncapped)
  10. Will Collier (Harlequins, uncapped)
  11. Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 3 caps)
  12. Nick Isiekwe (Saracens, uncapped)
  13. Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, 55 caps)
  14. Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby, uncapped)
  15. Josh Beaumont (Sale Sharks, uncapped)

16. George McGuigan (Leicester Tigers, uncapped)
17. Ross Harrison (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
18. Jamal Ford-Robinson (Bristol Rugby, uncapped)
19. Tom Ellis (Bath Rugby, uncapped)
20.  Ben Curry (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
21.  Mark Wilson (Newcastle Falcons, uncapped)
22. Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens, 27 caps)
23. Mike Haley (Sale Sharks, uncapped)


Posted in Bill's Blog

Cornwall announce side to face Lancashire at Twickenham


By Bill Hooper, photos courtesy of Simon Bryant Iktisphoto

Cornwall return to Twickenham for a fifth successive year in defence of their County Championship title, looking for a hat-trick of wins. It’s a feat that matches Devon’s run 2004-2008, but it’s still eclipsed by the red rose county for whom this will be a ninth final in ten years, having missed out in 2016.

Photo: Craig Williams binds with Dan Collier in training at Camborne last week

Lancashire’s run to the final has been as impressive as Cornwall’s, three bonus points wins against Northumberland 48-26 at Fylde, before two wins on the road 38-15 at Eastern Counties at Grange Road Cambridge and finally 29-5 against Cheshire at Sale.

They didn’t meet Yorkshire this year and they befell the fate that many feared Cornwall might suffer against Gloucestershire winning all their games but failing to qualify, crucially they missed out on a try scoring bonus point in their 26-17 win against Cheshire.

Lancashire will travel to Twickenham full of confidence and will test Cornwall for the full eighty, they have finished each of their pool games strongly racking up the tries in the final quarter.


Photo: Borough’s Grant Randlesome a revelation for Cornwall this season

Cornwall have announced their side for the final with just one new player coming into the twenty-two. Plymouth Albion lock Dan Collier comes onto the bench at the expense of Brad Howe. Many will feel Howe unlucky to lose his place in the twenty-two.

In the starting XV, Penryn’s George Jones replaces Redruth’s Chris Fuca, who drops to the bench. Those are the only touches made to the side by the selectors.

CORNWALL: (Redruth unless stated): M Shepherd (Plymouth Albion), L Vinnicombe, R Wedlake (Plymouth Albion), J Murphy (Barnstaple, capt), T Notman, J Elderkin, J Oulton; T Phillips, R Brown, C Williams, B Jenkins (Barnstaple), T Whittle (Camborne), G Jones (Penryn), S Matavesi (Camborne), G Randlesome (Penryn).

Replacements: M Ballard (Wadebridge Camels), A Zacharovas (Camborne), D Collier (Plymouth Albion), C Fuca, BJ Chapman, D Mankee (Camborne), S Raumakita (Plymouth Albion).

Travelling Reserves: R Dugard (Barnstaple), D Connor (Brixham), B Howe, R Friend (Okehampton), R Kevern (Camborne), J Simmons (Camborne), M Bowden.

For information only this is the Lancashire side that played against Cheshire last Saturday, awaiting confirmation of the side for Sunday. Alex Loney the Fylde hooker will miss the final having suffered a torn Achilles against Cheshire, he will also miss the England Counties tour to Spain.

There is a match report of the Lancashire v Cheshire game in the link here.

Lancashire: 15 Lewis Allen (Preston G); 14 Scott Armstrong, 13 Chris Briers (both Fylde), 12 Scott Rawlings (Sale FC), 11 Anthony Bingham (Fylde); 10 Chris Johnson, 9 Sam Stelmaszek; 1 Dan Birchall (all Sale FC), 2 Alex Loney (Fylde), 3 Peter Altham (Preston G), 4 Reece Tomlinson (Rossendale), 5 Bob Birtwell, 6 Mark Goodman (both Sedgley Tigers), 7 Evan Stewart (Fylde), 8 Tom Ailes (Sale FC).

Reps: 16 Adam Lewis, 17 Simon Griffiths, 18 Tom Burtonwood (all Fylde), 19 Rhys Davies (Sale FC), 20 Steve Collins (Sedgley Tigers), 21 Greg Smith (Fylde), 22 Ciaran Connolly (Sale FC).


Please note photos are copyright and not to be used without Simon Bryant Iktisphoto’ s permission.

Posted in Bill's Blog

Future of County rugby again in doubt as England Counties looks set to be scaled back

For those who might not have seen Neale Harvey’s excellent pieces in either the Sunday Independent or the Rugby Paper, Neale has very kindly allowed TASC to re-print his article on here.


Assuming yesterday’s result went to plan, Cornwall supporters will flock to London in their droves next Sunday for the County Championship final.

They had better make the most of this latest trip to ‘the Smoke’ because if the information I’ve received is correct – and I’ve absolutely no reason to believe it isn’t accurate – the days of County Championship rugby may sadly be numbered.

As I first reported in February, senior figures at HQ have been questioning the continuing value of county rugby, which has been fighting against a tide of indifference for some time, and matters finally appear to be coming to a head.

The catalyst, as ever, is money with the RFU looking to make savings because of: a) a significant overspend on the East Stand development at Twickenham; and b) the mushrooming cost of sustaining elite rugby and its deal with Premiership Rugby.

Despite the RFU pretty much doubling its turnover to £407m in 2015-16, it does not take a rocket scientist to work out that shelling out £28m a season to the Premiership clubs, not to mention running all the England teams – with the ever-increasing match fees and bonuses to players – is going to substantially eat into any profits.

Throw in the £65m East Stand redevelopment – up from an initial estimate of £54m – and you can quickly see there might be problems.

One of the early victims will be the England Counties team, which currently costs £110,000 to run and usually plays two matches during the Six Nations followed by a two-match tour to a developing rugby nation during the month of June.

Twickenham beaks have decided the February/March matches will have to go and that rather than the touring side visiting far flung parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and North or South America, they will in future remain much closer to home.

A triangular tournament involving the likes of France, Ireland or Scotland has been mooted, but you could hardly describe that as attractive to semi-professional players from the National Leagues who have to use annual leave to compete.

And here’s the thing. At present, players who represent England Counties must make themselves available for the County Championship, but with the incentive of proper touring removed, in all honesty who is going to sign up for that?

With the England Counties set-up reduced to a state of near worthlessness, it therefore does not take a massive leap of the imagination to see that the County Championship will be devalued further and may quite quickly wither and die.

Clubs are already reluctant to release their best players so it would give those shadowy senior figures at Twickenham the perfect pretext to say: ‘Nobody gives a damn about the counties anymore so why not just scrap the whole lot?’

Speaking to an RFU insider last week, they told me: “With match fees and bonuses the RFU spent £3.1m on England’s tour to Australia last summer and yet they want to save peanuts by denying semi-pro National League players the chance to wear an England shirt.

“It’s the only chance some of those guys will ever get to represent their country and they take huge pride in it. Those foreign tours are intense as well as fun and for some players it’s a proven pathway into top-flight rugby later in their careers.

“If you put the England Counties into a triangular competition hosted in, say, France or Scotland, who will be willing to take annual leave for that? No one. People will say ‘stuff county rugby’ and that will affect the County Championship.”

During a week in which former Cornish Pirates prop Jamal Ford-Robinson was called up for training by England head coach Eddie Jones, the irony of this situation will not escape the notice of the many committed devotees of Cornish rugby.

As well as Ford-Robinson, England Counties have in the past been represented by David Strettle, Ben Foden and Shaun Perry, all whom went on to enjoy top-flight careers in the Premiership and with England, so it’s not a bad pathway.

In the past I have questioned the value of county rugby. My gut feeling now, however, is that it is a traditional part of the game that is well worth keeping and I hope enough strident voices are raised to head off this threat at the pass.

The RFU will jettison the England Counties team at its peril.






Posted in Bill's Blog

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Post match reaction from both Graham Dawe and James Shanahan


Photo: Dawe leaves nothing to chance

Cornwall head coach Graham Dawe was pleased, relieved and satisfied that Cornwall had booked another trip to Twickenham next Sunday.

Familiar foes await them at high noon in the shape of Lancashire and it’s game that Dawe looks forward to eagerly. “We know next Sunday will be a huge test for this Cornwall side, it’s a new team it’s a young team but they certainly know how to play for each other.

Dawe was pleased with the performance his side had put on against a fine Herts side. “All credit to our boys, they defended like tigers at times out there, Herts really challenged us and had nothing to lose, we stuck at it. As a coach little things like their final try at the end grates but all credit to them for their effort.

Before the game Dawe had a good look at the Herts side warming up. “Sometimes you pick up things from a side’s warm up, little things that people don’t necessarily notice from the sidelines. It’s down to the boys on the pitch but my job is to give them any little extra information I can on the opposition, 1% can make the difference.

Dawe was pleased with the way Cornwall started the game. “We came out strong and went into the game with a high tempo getting the reward with Matavesi’s first try and we had to be on the top of our game because they did challenge us in the scrums and in the backs, they were strong in the tackle area I thought their back row was outstanding especially their No.6 (Harry Bate) he was a real handful.

Turning to preparations for Twickenham Dawe said. “We have to sit down with the selectors and pick a squad for the final. A lot of lads have been involved but not had a game today, players like Jack Simmons, Robbie Dugard, Richard Friend and Dan Collier who joined the squad this week so we have to weigh up do we need a set-piece game or a complete game, we have to give ourselves the options. Training will be interesting this week, not sure as yet whether we will have one or two sessions.”

Hertfordshire player coach James Shanahan was fulsome in his praise of the Cornish side and the marvellous Cornish support. “When they put that black and gold jersey on they are a different animal, it’s hard enough playing a club side in Cornwall but when they play for the County they are something else. What an occasion fantastic support, they raise themselves massively. I watched their previous two games and I thought they played within themselves but today they were at another level, they controlled the game and thoroughly deserved the win.

“I don’t think the points deduction had too much bearing we knew if we wanted to get to Twickenham we had to win here and fair play to us we’ve scored four tries today.

Shanahan felt that if today was his swansong as player for Herts then it wasn’t a bad way to bow out. “I enjoyed it. We knew last week that Zak Vinnicombe would be out having torn his hamstring against Gloucestershire, we have also had our share of wedding etc restricting player availability.

Photo: Herts James Shanahan fulsome in his praise for Cornwall yesterday

Turning to Shanahan’s role with the England Counties squad he’s looking forward to this season’s tour to Spain. “Fingers crossed all the players selected have come through today unscathed, we have finalised the squad so most of the players know they are going. It’s a strong squad, very competitive with fourteen counties represented out of the 26 players picked, with more than half being debutants which is great.

“We have two hard games against the Basque region, which will be like playing Cornwall they are very passionate about their rugby and then we head to Madrid to play the Spanish national side and they will be preparing for a World Cup qualifier the following week.

And with continuing doubts about the future of the England Counties squad (see today’s Sunday Independent and the Rugby Paper), Shanahan is in no doubt about the importance of the representative side. “Elite rugby is about 2% of rugby players in this country. England Counties is the representative side for the other 98% so it really important. I’ve watched about twenty games looking to formulate the squad the quality of players has been high.

Shanahan also confirmed that Cornish lads Matt Shepherd and Robin Wedlake have been picked for the tour with a few other being close to selection.

Photos courtesy of Simon Bryant Iktis photo

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