By Bill Hooper at Twickenham
Lancashire’s fly-half Chris Johnson, who kicked fifteen points, masterminded his side’s Bill Beaumont Cup triumph over a courageous Cornwall side that almost pulled off a remarkable comeback only to see the Red Rose county finally secure their 22nd County Championship title as young winger Ben Rath sped in for his side’s fourth try with just three minutes left on the clock.
When Johnson kicked the final conversion to put Lancashire nine points up at 35-26, Cornwall knew the game was up and that there would be no 4th title to add to the Duchy’s successes of 1908, 1991 and 1999.
Disappointingly, Cornwall committed far too many errors, especially during the first half. They were left playing catch up rugby for most of the game compounding their frustration by conceding points soon after scoring themselves.
However, the Cornish forwards were tremendous, the front row of Darren Jacques, Richard Brown and Craig Willimas had their opposite numbers in all sorts of bother, whilst locks Damian Cook and skipper Ben Hilton were in the thick of the action, however it was flanker Sam Hocking who once again stood out with some huge carries, no tries this time but a massive work rate and contribution to Cornwall’s cause.
With Twickenham bathed in glorious sunshine, and England and the Barbarians having provided a fitting warm-up game, it was Cornwall who registered the opening points as Lancashire were penalised just inside their own half. Paul Thirlby took on the kick and sent it between the uprights to huge cheers from the massed Cornish crowd.
Cornwall’s advantage was short-lived as they were penalised for going off their feet. Johnson stepped up to level the scores.
The warning signs were evident for Cornwall every time Lancashire moved the ball wide; it came as no surprise when winger Nick Royle finished off a blistering attack in the corner following some good back play from Rath and Sean Taylor. Johnson was on cue with the conversion for a useful 10-3 lead.
Thirlby having missed moments earlier with a penalty attempt, kicked his second of the game to cut the deficit.
Almost immediately Lancashire had scored a second try as further fine back play put No. 8 Dominic Moon in the clear.
Cornwall brought Tom Rawlings into the back row in place of Ashley Lawton. Scrum-half Greg Goodfellow set off on one of his trademark breaks that saw him almost up to the Lancashire 22, sadly the ball was lost forward as looked to off-load.
Cornwall despite exerting tremendous pressure in the set-piece were falling foul of referee Mr Falla who continued to penalise them.
To make matters worse Cornwall conceded a third try as they looked to move the ball from their own half saw a pass intercepted with Royle the happy recipient galloping in for his second score. Johnson’s conversion putting his side 22-6 up and Cornwall were facing a mountain with just over thirty minutes played.
Cornwall got a penalty from a scrum, which Jake Murphy kicked to the corner. From the catch and drive Cornwall got another penalty that was taken quickly with centre Nielson Webber, though tackled short, able to plant the ball over the try-line. Thirlby couldn’t add the extras but that score gave Cornwall heart as half-time approached.
Cornwall looked fired-up at the beginning of the second half; the forwards looked to dictate play. Penalties came Cornwall’s way with Murphy kicking for the corner. Another driving maul was heading for the Lancashire try-line until it was halted illegally by Lancashire prop Daniel Birchell. Mr Falla ran under the posts to award the penalty-try with Birchell invited to spend ten minutes in the bin. Thirlby’s conversion brought Cornwall right back into the game at 18-22.
Johnson and Thirlby swapped penalties as the game moved into the final quarter. But once again Johnson gave his side some breathing space with a neat drop-goal for a seven point margin.
With the clock ticking down, Cornwall needed a try; it came from a catch-and-drive with Goodfellow slipping the ball to Lewis Vinnicombe, the Redruth flyer crossed in the corner. Thirlby’s conversion would have tied the scores but he miss-cued his attempt to leave Lancashire with a slim advantage.
Johnson again turned provider to set up the title clinching score for Rath and crush Cornish hopes.
Despite the loss the huge Cornish crowd at Twickenham cheered their heroes in appreciation of their efforts over the past month to get Trelawny’s Army back to rugby HQ.
Cornwall 26 pts
Tries – Webber, Penalty-try, Vinnicombe, Conversion – Thirlby, Penalties – Thirlby (3)
Lancashire 35 pts
Tries – Royle (2), Moon, Rath, Conversions – Johnson (3), Penalties – Johnson (2), Drop-goal – Johnson
Yellow Card – Birchell (53)
CORNWALL: Jake Murphy, Richard Bright (both Cornish All Blacks), Steve Johns (Coventry), Nielson Webber (Cornish All Blacks), Tom Notman, Paul Thirlby, Greg Goodfellow; Darren Jacques, Richard Brown, Craig Williams, Damian Cook (all Redruth), Ben Hilton, Capt, (Cornish All Blacks), Chris Fuca (Redruth), Sam Hocking (un-attached), Ashley Lawton (Camborne)
Replacements (all used): Neal Turner, Jon Drew, Luke Collins (all Redruth), Tom Rawlings (Cornish All Blacks), Matt Shepherd (St. Austell), Steve Perry (un-attached), Lewis Vinnicombe (Redruth)
LANCASHIRE: Sean Taylor (Preston Grasshoppers), Nick Royle (Vale of Lune), Chris Briers (Fylde), Jack Ward (Preston Grasshoppers), Ben Rath (Fylde), Chris Johnson (Fylde), Steve Collins (Sedgley Park); Dan Birchall (Fylde), Jon Matthews (Otley), Simon Griffiths (Fylde), Paul Arnold (Fylde), Louis McGowan, Capt, (Sedgley Park), Jon Nugent (Stade Dijonnais), Steve McGinnis (Fylde), Dominic Moon (Preston Grasshoppers)
Replacements (all used): Pete Altham (Fylde), Gareth Gore (Preston Grasshoppers), Phil Mills (Preston Grasshoppers), Evan Stewart (Fylde), Phil Baines (Preston Grasshoppers), Tom Webb (Fylde), Andy Riley (Sedgley Park)
Referee: Wayne Falla (RFU)
Crowd: 20,000 plus
Cornwall–man-of-the-match: Sam Hocking
Lancashire–man-of-the-match: Chris Johnson