New Cornwall coaching co-ordinator Dave "Benji" Thomas was full of praise for his young side as they regained the Tamar Cup from Devon with a 10-7 success at Polson Bridge yesterday.
Thomas, who famously led the Black & Golds to County Championship glory in 1991, has returned to the county set-up to help spearhead the Duchy's bid to get back into the Championship proper.
Assuming control once more, Thomas watched on as Cornwall battled back from 7-0 to claim their slender victory over the Green & Whites, who themselves are the reigning County Kings.
With youth very much to the fore in both line-ups, it was Devon who started the match the brighter. Led by Plymouth Albion No.8 Chris Lowrie, they had the first opportunity of the game when a series of rucks just inside the Cornwall half brought about a penalty.
Sadly fly-half Dan Hawkes was unable to punish Cornwall's early indiscretion as his fifth-minute penalty floated wide of the uprights.
Devon, however, did not have to wait long to register their first points. Flanker Brett Luxton punched his way into the heart of the Cornwall defence and when the ball was recycled wide to the left, Sidmouth centre Harry Chesterton superbly offloaded the ball to Newton Abbot winger Nick Holt to cross in the left corner.
This time Hawkes had no trouble finding his range, plundering a superb touchline conversion between the sticks to make it 7-0.
Although both sides showed plenty of endeavour for much of the first period, a combination of sloppy handling and some over fussy officiating, meant the game never really took off.
Cornwall, though, were slowly finding their feet and with their pack dominating in the set-piece, particularly the scrums, they hauled themselves back into contention right on the stroke of half-time.
A spell of sustained pressure saw the home side camped deep inside the Devon 22 and from a well-worked maul, Launceston No.8 Sam Hocking somehow burrowed his way through the mass of bodies to score a try, which was converted by Camborne full-back David Mankee.
Replacements aplenty littered the early part of the second half and although Mankee saw a 57th-minute penalty not find its target, he made no mistake six minutes later when Devon were penalised for straying offside in front of their own posts.
With Cornwall holding the narrow lead, Devon looked for an immediate response. And, they almost got it when Launceston centre Jake Murphy saw his intended clearance charged down by Plymouth Albion's Steve Johns.
The latter latched onto the loose ball and was seemingly heading for the line until a last-gasp tackle from Wadebridge Camels scrum-half Shaun Hawkey somehow held him up on the line. Devon officials and Johns himself later felt he had touched the ball down before the intervention of Hawkey.
Whatever Devon may have felt then, or after the match, it did not matter as it was Cornwall who finished the match the stronger. Twice in the closing minutes the hosts went close to extending their lead, but they were thwarted by some dogged defence from Devon.
"It was a very pleasing start," said a delighted Thomas at the final whistle. "Coming in today, I think the biggest thing from me was the passion showed by the boys today. They played with a lot of heart, a lot of passion and a lot of commitment. It was apparent from the kick-off until the final whistle. You cannot coach that, but you can ask for that from players and that's what they did.
"Also I felt our defence for a side who only met up earlier in the week was awesome. It was very strong, especially around the fringes, and that is a real solid base for us to work from."
Now Thomas will switch his attentions to the County Shield programme which starts in earnest on May 3 at home to Oxfordshire.
He added: "I said to the players on Wednesday that I had a blank sheet of paper and that it was up to them to write their names on the paper for the first game. Certainly some of them have done that in my eyes.
"Obviously we'll look to see what other players will be available later in the season and then we'll look to gel those in with the players on show today. Hopefully then we will have a successful season."
Meanwhile, Devon team manager Roy Henderson had few complaints about the final outcome and bemoaned a "disappointing" display from his side.
"There were one or two pleasing aspects to the game," he said. "I thought Harry Chesterton did well in the centre. He set up the first try and made a few good hits, but overall we're a little disappointed in our all-round display.
"I know we could perhaps claim a disputed try in the second half, but overall I though Cornwall deserved it on the day."
Cornwall: D. Mankee (L. Webb 75), J. Parma (E. Carne 75), J. Murphy, J. Semmens, O. Faulkner, M. Churcher (capt), S. Hawkey; C. Hale (N. Endean 80), T. Hurdwell (M. Ballard 75), R. Tresidder, T. Parker, R. Humphries, C. Fuca (S. Wood h/t, J. Hoskings 55), T. Rawlings (S. Wood 64), S. Hocking (M. Rawlings 53)
He was the man who famously guided Cornwall to County Championship glory at Twickenham in 1991. Now, some 17 years later, Dave 'Benji' Thomas has taken on a new assignment with the Black & Golds, one he hopes will bring similar reward.
Having been coaxed back into the coaching frame earlier this year, Thomas' latest brief is similar to that of days gone by, namely to get the Cornish rugby folk heading back to the nation's capital later this month.
Unlike last time, however, the experienced coach has also been entrusted with trying to lead Cornwall back to the top table of county rugby following a couple of seasons languishing in the duldrums.
On Saturday, the new era began in fine style as Cornwall ran riot in their opening County Shield fixture of the season, dispatching visiting Oxfordshire 66-8 at Redruth's Recreation Ground.
As Thomas remarked afterwards "it was the dream start" and he was not wrong. Unlike recent campaigns, Cornwall were back firing on all cylinders with a performance which was packed full of pride and passion.
In the end the Cornishmen -- made up solely of representatives from Mounts Bay, Redruth and the Cornish All Blacks -- ran in 11 tries. It could, however, have easily been more, such was the dominance they held throughout the whole game.
The first of those scores came after just three minutes, Redruth centre Simon Peters intercepting a pass deep inside his own half before racing to the line for Mark Scrivener to add the necessary extras.
The visitors briefly countered with a penalty from fly-half James Cathcart, but that was just one of two scoring openings they would get all afternoon as Cornwall wasted little time in re-establishing their grip on proceedings.
With the home pack -- led superbly by skipper Josh Lord -- ruling the roost, Cornwall were given the perfect platform from which to launch numerous attacking options. Indeed, with ten minutes on the clock, Ben Hilton's line-out take on the left helped to set up a series of drives involving Darren Jacques amd John Griffiths, before the ball was fed out to the back division where winger Lewis Vinnicombe -- darting in off the right flank -- cut a lovely line to slice open up the Oxfordshire rearguard for a second time.
Scrivener extended Cornwall's lead to 15-3 moments later with a penalty, before Redruth pair Mark Richards and Vinnicombe scored two tries in four minutes, the latter converted by Scrivener, to leave Oxfordshire with a mountain to climb.
To their credit, the visitors dug deep for a period and, just before the break, their efforts were rewarded when they caught the home side napping in defence. Winger Nick Sevier crossing for what was to prove their only remaining points of the game.
However, there was still time for Cornwall to add a fifth try in first-half injury time when Lord and Scrivener combined to good effect to create the opening for Redruth flanker Chris Fuca to ghost in under the posts. Scrivener's successful conversion brought proceedings to a close with the home side firmly in control at 34-8.
Any thoughts that Cornwall would be happy to shut up shop for the second period were extinguished within six minutes of the restart when Vinnicombe picked up a lovely line once again to race over for his hat-trick score.
Mounts Bay winger Jamie Semmens could have heaped further misery on the visitors shortly after, but the full-back was unable to hold on to Ryan Westren's inviting pass just metres from the line.
In the grand scheme of things, it did not really matter. However, Cornwall were far from finished and when their pack proved too hot to handle just past the hour mark, referee Nigel Higginson finally lost patience with Oxfordshire's numerous attempts to kill a driving maul and awarded the home side a penalty try which, somehow, Semmens was unable to convert.
With the game safely in the bag, Cornwall used the final quarter of the game to showcase their skills. Lord -- who together with Cornish All Blacks club-mate Sam Hocking were the stand-out performers for the Duchy -- weaved his way over for try number eight, quickly followed by Semmens, who applied the finish to a slick handling move which had been worked from one side of the field to the other.
Both scores went unconverted, as did Marek Churcher's touchdown four minutes from time. On this occasion, the lack of a recognised goalkicker, following the replacement of Scrivener due to cramp, was not too much of a concern. It will, however, need to be addressed for later in the competition.
Semmens did finally get one between the sticks when he converted Jason Bolt's injury-time score. Started by a great turnover by Adam Nicholls just inside his own 22, Cornwall worked the ball down field through at least eight different pairs of hands to Bolt who, in an unaccustomed role of left winger, made the most of the space out wide to charge over.
For Thomas, it was the ideal outcome on his return to the county scene. "Who would have believed it would have been 60-odd points?" he remarked at the final whistle.
"It was a dream start and one that we aimed for. It was one that the players aspired to. They have worked really hard this week in training and in their organisation.
"I impressed on them this week all about the pride and passion in playing for Cornwall and that showed out on the field as all 22 of them gave 110 per cent and I thought our performance at times was out of the top drawer."
With Hertfordshire next up at Hertford this Saturday, Thomas knows tougher tests lie in store for his young side. However, this opening-day victory -- he believes -- has set the tone nicely for a successful push for Twickenham. "This is the first block of stone if you like," he added. "We have two more games and next week we know will be much harder. We will, though, go away with a bit of a spring in our step and know we can build off this.
"It was a solid foundation for us and, one of the pleasing things for me was, the backs and forwards integrated very well. We saw some lovely tries by the backs, then we saw Jason Bolt -- the replacement loosehead -- running 30, 40 yards down the left touchline to score a try, so I think that really epitomised the way we tried to play today."
Cornwall: J. Semmens, N. Pedley, R. Westren, S. Peters, L. Vinnicombe (O. Faulkner 47), M. Scrivener (M. Churcher 59), M. Richards (R. Pellow 57); D. Jacques (R. Bolt 57), J. Salter (D. Semmens 68), P. Andrew, J. Griffiths (B. Jenkins 68), B. Hilton, J. Lord (Capt), C. Fuca (A. Nicholls 57), S. Hocking.
Oxfordshire: H. Jones, P. Huxford (A. Pearson 54), M. Goode (K. Sewell H/T), R. Williams, N. Sevier, J. Cathcart, A, Cope; J. Winpenny, D. Needham (J. Eckheret 57), T. Whelan (A. Cawston 57), M. Hutchings (Capt), S. Black, P. Rowe, S. Bannister, E. Rixon.
Referee: Mr. N. Higginson (Devon R.R.S.)
Cornwall have taken their passionate and loyal fans on a real rollercoaster ride in recent seasons, delighting and frustrating them in almost equal measure.
Performances like the one against Devon two seasons ago, last year against Surrey, and nine days ago when thrashing Oxfordshire have put smiles on the faces of Trelawny's Army.
However, the 2006 display against Hertfordshire, the humiliating defeat at Somerset last year, and now this latest shocker, again to Hertfordshire, have left them pulling their hair out in despair.
When a whole squad of National League players lines up against one containing only four plying their trade at that level, the result should be a foregone conclusion. Yet, once again, as they did at Highfields two seasons ago, Cornwall showed a baffling propensity to press the self-destruct button.
Some of the rugby they produced on Saturday was sublime: Mark Richards' beautiful reverse pass to send Mark Scrivener in for the first try after only 95 seconds; a dazzling second try for winger Matt Jess as he jinked and weaved his way past a whole host of defenders to reach the line; and Ryan Westren's stand-out performance in the centre were just some of the moments to relish.
However, some of their rugby beggared belief. Overthrown line-outs five metres from their own line; setting off on suicidal runs from deep inside their own 22 when a simple clearance kick to touch would have sufficed. At times, it was brainless.
Hertfordshire deserve plenty of praise for once again raising their game and capitalising on Cornwall's blunders to secure a victory by an almost identical score to two years ago, when it finished 31-27, but for Dave "Benji" Thomas, who guided the Duchy to County Championship glory in 1991, it was a reality check after the previous weekend's dream start.
"We made three very, very silly mistakes during the first half near our own line and they scored three tries, and you cannot afford to give those points away at this level, and we need to look at tightening up in those areas," he said.
"We knew it wouldn't be a stroll in the park, after what happened to Cornwall here two years ago, and we were determined to play an all-out attacking game like last week, but give Hertfordshire full credit. They did their homework on us and stopped us early on and kept us playing in areas we didn't want to play in, and we didn't get as much ball as last week."
Despite the defeat, Cornwall's hopes of finishing top of the group, winning promotion and going to Twickenham are still, pretty much, in their own hands.
Victory over an unbeaten Eastern Counties at Camborne on Saturday should see them achieve their goal, by virtue of a far superior points difference, provided that Hertfordshire do not run up a cricket score at home to Oxfordshire.
Cornwall could not have got off to a better start on a very hot and humid day in Hertford, with Scrivener converting his second-minute try for a 7-0 lead, but then matters started to become a struggle as the hosts caused problems in the scrums and line-outs.
Hertfordshire responded in the 12th minute when flanker Ian Hardcastle broke off the back of a 25-metre line-out, bursting through a couple of tackles before sending scrum-half Ryan De La Harpe over for a try. Fly-half Richard Gregg squandered the conversion, but that proved to be his only miss of the afternoon.
Cornwall moved 12-5 ahead when a clever miss-pass by Westren sent All Blacks flyer Jess tearing around the last defender to touch down in the corner, but they were then hit by a two-try blast from home skipper and Henley Hawks No.8 Dave Archer.
He firstly capitalised on an overthrow at a close-range line-out to dive over, and then dotted down off the back of a five-metre scrum.
Gregg converted both to make it 19-12 at the interval, and then added a 40-metre penalty soon after the break as Cornwall failed to capitalise on their extra man after De La Harpe had been sin-binned in first-half injury time for throwing a punch.
The All Blacks' monopoly on Cornwall's points-scoring continued in the 51st minute when Richards spotted Westren's beautifully-timed run, and he fed his Polson team-mate Jess for his brilliant solo effort, with Scrivener adding a fine conversion.
Gregg gave Hertfordshire some breathing space with two more penalties to make it 28-19, but when Westren went over under the posts after a neat pass by replacement fly-half Marek Churcher in the 76th minute, and full-back Paul Thirlby converted to make it 28-26, Cornwall's hopes were rekindled.
Gregg, though, slotted another penalty, and his side then produced some desperate defence during eight long minutes of injury time to hang on for another amazing victory over far more illustrious opponents.
Trelawny's Army ran a coach to the match. Here are some pictures taken, on the coach and at the match, by Phil Trevarton.
Cornwall: P Thirlby (Redruth); J Semmens (Mounts Bay), R Westren
(Cornish All Blacks), S Peters (Redruth), M Jess; M Scrivener (both Cornish All
Blacks), M Richards; D Jacques (both Redruth), J Salter, P Andrew; J Griffiths,
B Hilton (all Mounts Bay); J Lord (Cornish All Blacks, capt), C Fuca (Redruth),
S Hocking (Cornish All Blacks)
Replacements: M Churcher (Mounts Bay), S Parsons (Cornish Pirates), J Bolt (Cornish All Blacks), D Semmens, D Clackworthy (both Mounts Bay), B Jenkins (Cornish All Blacks), S Woods (Redruth)
London is calling for the first time in years for Cornish rugby, for the famous Black and Golds will be back at Twickenham after they booked their place in the final of this season's County Shield following a comfortable 43-0 success over Eastern Counties on Saturday.
Not since 2001 -- when they tackled Yorkshire in the Tetley Bitter Challenge -- have the Duchy graced the home of English rugby. That, as the title makes out, was merely a friendly encounter after the County Championship had been called off that season because of the foot and mouth crisis.
Since then, Cornwall have endured lean times within the county structure, including surrendering their spot within the main Championship group. Instead it has been near neighbours Devon who have emerged as the leading lights and Twickenham regulars.
It has certainly been a tough pill to swallow for many members of Trelawny's Army, but on Saturday their loyalty was rewarded when their heroes not only sealed their final date against Northumberland on June 1, but also their place back in the Bill Beaumont Cup.
For returning coach Dave 'Benji' Thomas -- the man who steered Cornwall to glory over Yorkshire at Twickenham in 1991 -- Saturday's success was just the first part of what he hopes will be a memorable second spell in charge.
Knowing nothing less than victory would be good enough following their defeat at Hertfordshire the week previous, Cornwall wasted little time in getting stuck into their Eastern counterparts, who had arrived in the Far West with an unblemished record.
Indeed, it took just three minutes for the home side to bag the first of their six tries. With Richard Carroll brought into the fray for the first time in the campaign, the experienced Mounts Bay lock quickly set the tone for the day's proceedings.
He -- along with his fellow forwards -- tore into the visitors in a lively opening blast, one which created the opening for the home back line (made up predominantly from the Cornish All Blacks) to deliver their first score.
Quick ball from Mark Richards at the base of a ruck saw it shipped along the line through Messrs Scrivener, Perry and Westren to the onrushing Matt Jess, who needed no reminding on how to cross the whitewash.
Fly-half Mark Scrivener bagged the conversion, before adding the extras to a try from No.8 Sam Hocking on nine minutes, then a penalty midway through the half after full-back Paul Thirlby had been upended by a high tackle.
It was certainly a dream start for Cornwall, who continued to boss all facets of the game, particularly the breakdown. It was therefore no surprise when they extended their advantage to 24-0 when more good donkey work from the home pack enabled Richards to feed Steve Perry, whose looping pass in midfield found the onrushing Jess, who in turn offloaded to Thirlby just yards from the line.
Three minutes later and the Redruth full-back was claiming his second of the game, this time finishing off more good approach work involving Westren and Scrivener, the latter of whom converted once more to make it 31-0.
It was one-way traffic and -- with half time fast approaching -- Cornwall claimed their fifth try of the game. Having won a penalty, Scrivener kicked for the corner. The resulting line-out was taken by Carroll and, when the shove was applied, it was lock Ben Hilton who emerged from the bottom of the pile clutching the ball.
At 36-0 down, the stunned Eastern Counties side could well have packed up there and then. Indeed, things got even worse when they fell further behind just five minutes into the second half.
A loose kick out of defence had Cornwall's Lewis Vinnicombe tracking back deep inside his own half, but when the Redruth speedster turned on the after burners, no one could stop him as he scorched his way to the line. Scrivener landed the conversion with his last telling action of the day.
With the game effectively done and dusted at that point, the second half somewhat deteriorated as a spectacle. Replacements aplenty littered proceedings, while some resolute home defence ensured the visitors were to return home empty handed.
Not that Thomas was complaining too much at the final whistle. "I'm delighted," he said. "The boys played fantastically well, especially in the first half. It was textbook stuff and you couldn't have asked for any more.
"They were really fired up for it. They were disappointed after last week and disappointed for all the supporters who went up to Hertfordshire to support them. They were determined to put things right."
Cornwall certainly did that with some style, but Thomas knows there is still much work to be done in the coming days.
"I am very lucky to have been to Twickenham three times, unfortunately losing twice and winning once," added Thomas. "But we are in a professional era and I have had to re-learn coming back in to try and set things up in Cornwall.
"What is better than getting back into Division One of county rugby, where we rightfully belong? I bet there are people up at Twickenham tonight rubbing their hands thinking 'Cornwall are back'."
Cornwall: 15. Paul Thirlby (Redruth), 14. Matt Jess (Cornish All
Blacks), 13. Ryan Westren (Cornish All Blacks), 12. Steve Perry (Cornish All
Blacks), 11. Lewis Vinnicombe (Redruth), 10. Mark Scrivenor (Cornish All
Blacks), 9. Mark Richards (Redruth), 1. Darren Jacques (Redruth), 2. James
Salter (Mounts Bay), 3. Danny Clackworthy (Mounts Bay), 4. Ben Hilton (Mounts
Bay), 5. Richard Carroll (Mounts Bay), 6. Josh Lord (Captain, Cornish All
Blacks), 7. Adam Nicholls (Mounts Bay), 8. Sam Hocking (Cornish All Blacks)
Replacements: 16. Ricky Pellow (Mounts Bay), 17. Jamie Semmens (Mounts Bay), 18. Darren Semmens (Mounts Bay), 19.Paul Andrew (Mounts Bay), 20. John Griffiths (Mounts Bay), 21. Chris Fuca (Redruth)
Cornwall coaching co-ordinator Dave 'Benji' Thomas admitted his side had been made to pay for their mistakes as they went down 25-11 to Northumberland in yesterday's County Shield final at Twickenham.
Cornwall conceded two tries in each half, but Thomas felt three of the scores were self-inflicted. Poor tackling and a woeful clearance kick provided Northumberland with their first two tries, while a crossfield kick caught Cornwall napping for the fourth and final touchdown, provided by winger Peter Cole.
"We gave away 17 points without any question at all," said Thomas, who suffered his third defeat in four Twickenham finals with Cornwall. "We were in it, except for those mistakes, but at the next level up, you can't afford to make mistakes like that. You've got to be absolutely watertight.
"We are disappointed for all the spectators who came to support us. What a turn-out of Cornish people it was, and they gave the team their complete backing, but we didn't play to our potential by any means."
Thomas was impressed with the way Northumberland played, but revealed he had been frustrated with some of the decisions made by ref Richard Phillips.
"Northumberland were a very well-organised side. They won the breakdowns and we lost a lot of ball in contact, and that was the deciding factor.
"We've been bossing the breakdowns in the other games we've played this season, but we didn't do that today. Perhaps I was not as happy as I might have been (with the refereeing of the breakdowns), and the decisions went against us, but you have got to play with what you get. We didn't have the ball to make the platform to get people moving."
Despite the disappointment, Cornwall can look back on a successful campaign, where they have won promotion back to the top flight, and their goal next season is to play in the main County Championship final, which enjoys a later kick-off than the 10am start they had to endure yesterday.
"At the end, the players said that they had given five weeks of their close season up to play for Cornwall, and they'd like to do it again, so I said 'okay, let's come back for a 12 o'clock kick-off next year'. That's the target," said Thomas.
Cornwall: 15. Paul Thirlby (Redruth), 14. Lewis Vinnicombe
(Redruth), 13. Ryan Westren (Cornish All Blacks), 12. Steve Perry (Cornish All
Blacks), 11. Jamie Semmens (Mount's Bay), 10. Mark Scrivener (Cornish All
Blacks), 9. Mark Richards (Redruth), 1. Darren Jacques (Redruth), 2. James
Salter (Mounts Bay), 3. Danny Clackworthy (Mounts Bay), 4. Richard Carroll
(Mounts Bay), 5. Ben Hilton (Mount's Bay) 6. Josh Lord (Captain, Cornish All
Blacks), 7. Adam Nicholls (Mounts Bay), 8. Sam Hocking (Cornish All Blacks).
Reps: 16. Ricky Pellow (Mount's Bay) 17. Sam Parsons (Mount's Bay), 18. Darren Semmens (Mount's Bay), 19. John Griffiths (mount's Bay), 20. Marek Churcher (Mount's Bay), 21. Chris Fuca (Redruth), 22. Jason Bolt (Cornish All Blacks)