Photo – Cornwall at Twickenham in 2014, can they go one better this year?
There was a buzz of excitement and anticipation as some 40 odd players, coaches and officials gathered at Kingsley Village on Monday evening, reports Bill Hooper.
Exeter Chiefs’ winger and former Mount’s Bay and Cornish Pirates star Matt Jess came to talk to the squad about his experiences with Cornwall and how it helped further his career.
It was the first get-together for players likely to feature in Cornwall’s Bill Beaumont Cup campaign, also for some younger players to get a taste of the senior county squad.
Sadly not everyone will go on to play for Cornwall this season, but they will all play an important part as Cornwall, losing finalists in the past two season, seek to add a fourth county crown to those of 1908, 1991 and 1999.
Not all selected were able to be present; last season’s captain Ben Hilton was away on England Counties duty in preparation for Friday night’s game against Scottish Clubs at Fylde.
Also missing were one or two familiar faces in the county squad over previous years who have decided to call time on their county career.
County coaches Graham Dawe and Ian Morgan are both relishing the challenge, though accept that expectations, as ever in Cornwall, for success are sky-high.
Photo – Cornwall’s coaching duo Graham Dawe & Ian Morgan plotting another tilt at Twickenham.
Dawe acknowledges that having fallen at the final hurdle last season expectations are to go one better this season: “Expectation levels in Cornwall are as high as ever, but you have to be realistic, we start with two away games, you have got to put the building blocks in place and as a coach you are looking for consistency from your players, with just three group games that is difficult to achieve you have to ally that with performance and availability.”
“That is where the shirt comes into play; players come in and want to make the shirt theirs by right with their performance.”
“After last season I told the players that they had to go away and look at amongst other things their fitness, when you are playing against sides that have a large number of players playing in National League 1, their fitness and intensity levels are higher and to compete we must match them.”
It looks like youth could well be given its head this season.
Photo – Veteran lock Damien Cook again play a major role this season
“We have brought some of the younger players from this season’s Under 20s into the squad it will be interesting to see how far they can develop and step up. I think the Tamar Cup game will be ideal for players like that to lay down a marker.”
“I watched Tommy Phillips playing earlier in the season and to be fair he had a few problems back then. I saw him again just before Christmas and he looked a completely different player, he stood his ground and dealt with his opposition well, people tell me he has a good work ethic and is keen to learn, if he carries on that way then he could develop into a very fine player.”
Dawe was also pleased to bring in Kyle Marriott a player he worked with at Plymouth Albion: “I think Kyle has got good qualities, a player who says little but when he speaks players listen and generally he is right in what he says.”
Also in the squad for the first time Truro’s Jake Champion: “He’s a quality player and I want to see if he can step up at this level from what I have seen in training I think he can develop further into a fine player. He is very brave, but I want to see if he can make those decisions under pressure at this level.”
Likewise Ian Morgan is relishing this season’s challenge: “We want to go one step further this year, we think we have identified where we fell short and we hope we have put measures in place to counteract that.”
“We seem to be able to cope with teams from the South and Midlands but when you come against the Northern counties they are able to pick from National 1 sides, so we need to up our game and fitness levels to compete.”
“I personally feel that there has been greater emphasis on fitness in the clubs this season, that’s my opinion on having watched Redruth, Launceston and Camborne. I also feel that the younger players these days buy into the fitness ethic through college.”
“We are going to have a program of training sessions leading up to the Tamar Cup, which we will use as a warm up game for the first Championship game at Cinderford.”
“Tonight is about getting to know each other and getting a feel for squad, the young players coming in having the chance to rub shoulders with some of the established players and for us as coaches building that rapport.”
“There is no question that this season all the shirts are up for grabs, there is no given right to a player that they will be an automatic choice, that competition for places can only benefit the squad as a whole.”
Asked who could be a surprise package in the Cornwall squad this season: “I think prop Tommy Phillips will throw his hat into the ring, he has improved immensely during his first season of senior rugby at Redruth – he is going to be one to watch.”
“Brad Howe is another player, who has come through the Under 20s from last season, he is a good strong ball-carrier training full-time at the Pirates has done him the world of good, likewise John Stevens who had an outstanding game for Redruth last Saturday, also Dan Rutter has shown himself to be an accomplished footballer able to read the game at half-back.”
Redruth’s No.8 Kyle Marriott is looking forward to his first season playing for Cornwall. He said: “I am really looking forward to it. I’ve read and heard a lot about it, and have played against Cornwall in the past for Devon, so it will be interesting.”
“I worked with Graham Dawe at Albion and it was he that started my career in a lot of ways when he signed me up for Plymouth. Hopefully I can come in and add something to Cornwall but like everyone else we have earn the right to wear the shirt.”
“It’s been a real pleasure playing at Redruth this season following my injuries at the Pirates – it has rekindled my hunger for the game.”
Having switched clubs at the end of last season, former St. Austell star, now with Launceston Matt Shepherd is also keen to get back to Twickenham.
Photo – Matt Shepherd keen for a more influential role this season
“I didn’t get a lot of game time last year coming off the bench. This season I have been playing in different positions for Launceston so that will give me a bit more versatility for the squad. I am comfortable playing in any position, All I want is to pull that shirt on and play for Cornwall: when Cornwall come calling you aren’t going to say no!”
Likewise hooker Jamie Salter is looking forward to the campaign. He said: “After the disappointment of last season’s final we are all desperate to get back to Twickenham and win. Luckily I had the England Counties tour to Georgia to focus on straight after, so I didn’t dwell on it for long, but now it’s time to put the record straight. I don’t want to experience another losing final and let down our tremendous supporters.”
Finally, a couple of the youngsters who have come into the training squad are Tommy Phillips and Brad Howe, both products of the Helston club and Truro College.
I asked Tommy how he felt about the call up: “I am very proud to have been called into the senior squad. I am surprised how far I have progressed since joining Redruth, and now this next step. I am really excited as to how far I can go.”
“I had a tough start at Redruth getting used to playing senior rugby, plenty of hard work and good coaching has helped my game improve.”
Brad Howe is equally thrilled to be part of the Cornwall squad: “I am really excited about the prospect, I what to show what I can do and hopefully get selected.”
“Training at the Pirates has really helped develop me as a player and understand the ethos of being a professional player. The older players down there have been great imparting their knowledge.”