The Day Penryn took on the Lions

Penryn side captained by Roger Harris

Penryn Versus the British Lions!?

With the British Lions squad for South Africa due to be announced on Thursday, hopes will be that perhaps a couple of Cornishmen could be included, namely former Penzance & Newlyn RFC and now Exeter Chiefs products Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jack Nowell. Luke is surely in with a good chance whilst Jack (a 2017 ‘Lion’ in New Zealand) might just come back into consideration now that he has recovered (long may that continue) from injury.

We also remember that our ‘Stack’ Stevens was a British Lion on the successful 1971 tour to Australia & New Zealand. However, something few will be aware of, is that many gifted players from that squad also played for a ‘1971 British Lions’ side against Penryn in September 1973. Scotland’s Doug Smith, the manager of the 1971 team, got together the representative side to play at the Memorial Ground, which was even coached by the legendary Carwyn James who two years earlier had been instrumental in plotting the Kiwis downfall.

John Dawes, captain in 1971, skippered the invitation XV, his team comprising other ‘greats’ of the game such as flying Welsh wing Gerald Davies, centre John Spencer, hooker John Pullin, flanker John Taylor and, of course, ‘Stack’. The fixture formed part of Penryn’s centenary celebrations and it was the only time that the Lions, who emerged 38-10 victors, had played a British club side.

Doug Smith XV v Penryn

There is one player missing from the British Lions team photograph image taken in 1973 – perhaps nature called at the last minute. Most faces I can recognise and identify, whilst a few I can only recognise but not name – so can you

Back row l-r:  Dr. Doug Smith, ‘’Stack’ Stevens, John Pullin, perhaps Mike Slemen – a guess only), John Spencer, Peter Dixon, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, John Taylor, Carwyn James; Seated l-r: Tommy David, Unknown, John Dawes (captain), Gerald Davies, Geoff Evans.

As a point of interest, this game was played less than two weeks after John Pullin had led England to a 16-10 win against New Zealand at Eden Park, Auckland – when ‘Stack’ was a try-scorer in the memorable victory.

Formed in 1872, Penryn RFC has a proud history as Cornwall’s most senior club. Notable ‘Borough’ players include former England internationals Vic Roberts (who toured with the Lions to Australia and New Zealand in 1950), Roger Hosen, Kenny Plummer, and Chris Martin.

Tom Voyce (nine caps 2001-2006), started in Penryn’s junior teams, and Hugh Vyvyan (one cap in 2004) played a season at Penryn in the 1990s.

Of their county players George Jago was a legendary figure a century ago, whilst in later decades the names of Graham Bate, Roger Harris, John “Cheyenne” Blackburn, Colin ‘Knocker’ Kneebone, Dave (Benji) Thomas, Gerry McKeown and Franklyn Johns come speedily to mind.

The 1960s and into the 70s formed a golden era for Penryn. They won the CRFU ‘unofficial’ Championship eight times and not only won all 29 of their Cornish inter-club games in 1967/68 but also won the Cornwall KO Cup in what was its first season. It was a competition they would all but dominate to the mid-1970s.

Other highlights included guesting in the Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham in 1970, reaching the quarter-final of the RFU Knockout Cup in 1972 – they lost at home 28-4 to a Coventry team boasting nine England internationals – and then in 1973 enjoying another terrific Cup run. Their opponents on the second occasion, again at the Memorial Ground, were mighty London Welsh, who at the time had the likes of John Dawes, J.P.R. Williams, Gerald Davies and John Taylor in their ranks. The famous Exiles emerged 19-6 winners. Both cup games were played in front of 5,000 plus gate.

Looking back, however, I guess it was that special match against the 1971 British Lions that was a stand-out to many – a one off game that will never be forgotten.

Phil Westren

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