Photo: Team assemble at County Hall
Cornish rugby fans turned out on the streets of Truro to cheer the Cornwall rugby team following their historic back-to-back win in the Bill Beaumont Cup against Cheshire 35-13 on Sunday.
The crowds may not have been the size of those in days gone by, but the warmth and feeling was just the same as people clamoured for a photograph with their heroes on Lemon Quay Plaza.
The evening kicked off with a reception for the team, coaches and officials at County Hall, with words of thanks from Cornwall Council’s Chairman Ann Kerridge in both English and Kernewek.
I spoke to a couple of the players, first of all Cornwall’s fly-half Billy Searle. I asked him for his thoughts a couple of days on from the win. He said: “To be honest it still hasn’t really sunk in. It was an awesome weekend coupled by an equally awesome performance on the pitch, and then a fantastic evening with all the fans at the Puriton Inn on the way home!”
Photo: Billy Searle takes on Cheshire
I asked him about the great start the side made on Sunday and of course his wonderful try: “It was a dream start for me and the team. To get that early score really set the platform for the day.
“We wanted to start big. Getting an early lead would lift our confidence levels and put pressure on Cheshire. We managed that and we built on those early scores.”
Billy felt the side coped well when Cheshire came back at them later on during that first period: “We had that cushion and defensively we were very sound dealing with their threats, then we were able to come again to score those two late tries to seal the win.”
Billy acknowledged that Herbie Stupple’s try was the crucial score: “Yes that was the crucial score. We didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves but I felt that was clincher, and then Matt Shepherd went in at the corner and rounded it off with a great conversion and that sparked off the celebrations.”
I asked Billy about his roofing exploits at the Puriton Inn, where he was caught on camera high up with Nielson Webber: “Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said laughing, “it was a good night and all in the spirit of the celebrations! It was nice to celebrate with the fans, they have put in the miles following us and being there as our 16th man. It’s not something that happens too often these days, but it sums up the special bond we have with our supporters.”
For Billy, a new chapter in his rugby career awaits when he joins Premiership side Bristol this summer: “It’s the next step in my career. I am really looking forward to pre-season and getting stuck-in. I can’t predict what will happen in the future. Hopefully I will get a chance and hopefully I can take it. I shall obviously miss being involved with Cornwall next year, whether I can play or not remains to be seen.”
I also spoke with Cornwall’s centre Jake Murphy and asked him if he had recovered from the weekend. “It’s still a little blurry to be honest,” he said with a huge grin. “Rugby-wise it was fantastic. Second time round, I think I felt the pressure more this time, the expectation was even higher than last year, but to go out there and put that performance on after we stuttered a little in our pool games, shows the quality of the squad we have. The pressure was on us, we brought in some quality players like Tom Cowan-Dickie and Sam Matavesi, and the public expectations went sky-high. That pressure did get to us in the pool games I am sure, but we saved the best for the final.”
Photo: Jake Murphy looks to get away
Jake also acknowledged that the side couldn’t have hoped for a better start: “We couldn’t have hoped more for that start, it was just what we wanted, Sheppy’s little run, which he’s being doing all season with Albion, and then Billy knows his way to the try-line for a fantastic try.”
Jake was also full of praise for the Cornish fans: “There aren’t enough superlatives to describe our great fans, they help us put that pride in the shirt, and without them the county game would struggle when you run out in front of the black and gold. You really want to fight for the shirt. They are crazy, but we love them for what they are. They played their part especially in that opening game at Redruth against Gloucestershire. Without them I am not sure we would have done it. It doesn’t go unnoticed. The boys mention the support a lot on the bus and when we meet up. Walking out at Twickenham to see the black and gold and hear them lifts you hugely!”
Asked about going for a hat-trick of wins, Jake smiled: “Well that has to be the next goal and I have no doubt that Graham Dawe’s thoughts have already turned to that prospect! I think for us it will be good to let it sink in and reflect. I don’t think the lads really appreciate yet just what they have achieved, back-to-back wins is a first for Cornwall. Competition for the squad is likely to be even fiercer next season, so we all be looking to play well for our clubs and hopefully get asked to join the squad in the New Year. I know I am up for it.”
I also managed to get a few words from Cornwall RFU President Ken Plummer, who was understandably proud as punch. He said: “It’s been fabulous to see everyone smiling and happy with Cornwall’s latest success and it’s the icing on the cake for what we have done over the past two years. This squad of players have been truly fantastic. They have put their all into this campaign and they have got their rewards. As a county we are absolutely delighted.”
Kenny spoke to World Rugby President Bill Beaumont on Sunday, and he told him that the Championship belonged to Cornwall as they were keeping the tournament going: “The RFU are always delighted when we get to the final and bring our support to Twickenham. There are a lot of counties who want to aspire to what we are doing and that can only be good for the Championship.”
Photo: CRFU President Ken Plummer
I asked him about the group this year and how hard it had been: “Difficult, difficult. Hertfordshire are no fools and they know how to win rugby games especially at home, so that was a crucial victory. Gloucestershire at Redruth, we were slow starters that day and we did stutter, no question, but we pulled it out of the bag and that showed the character of our lads. We saved the best until last, we played by far our best game. Our defence was awesome and our attack, well to win by 35-13 and score four tries was unbelievable. I believe this squad of players can go from strength to strength. All we need for them now is a Stadium for Cornwall, we need a top class facility for these boys to play in!”
Kenny feels passionately that the Stadium for Cornwall will benefit all levels of the game in Cornwall: “I think the long-term objective is for the Cornish Pirates to play in the Premiership, and for us to win a Championship playing in the best stadium in the West Country, and I hope that comes to fruition in the not too distant future.”
Photo: Graham Dawe with the Cup
At the end of the evening I caught Graham Dawe’s eye. I said to him: “Going for a hat-trick Graham?” With a glint in eye and a wry old smile he replied, “There’s going to be that expectation and the pressure that goes with it.” Somehow, I feel it’s a challenge that he relishes deep down!