Can Cornwall break Herts and make Twickenham again?
By Bill Hooper
It’s the question on everyone’s lips in the mighty Duchy as all roads lead to Camborne’s Recreation Ground on Saturday afternoon.
Cornwall have reached Twickenham for each of the last four finals and have had mighty battles with the men in green on each occasion.
Having lost to Hertfordshire in 2011 18-25 at Redruth and also in 2012, the only time Hertfordshire have won the County Championship, 29-27 at Ware, Cornwall have since held the whip hand with wins in their last four encounters, 41-29 at Camborne in 2013, 13-9 at Ware in 2014, 25-18 at Redruth in 2015, and latterly 23-15 at Bishop’s Stortford in 2016.
However, on Tuesday evening news broke that Hertfordshire had been deducted the four points they earned in defeating Kent as it transpires that they fielded an ineligible player, Saracens Academy Prop Ralph Adams-Hale.
A spokeswoman from the RFU said: “The RFU County Championship Organising Committee have determined that Hertfordshire should forfeit all match points that they received from their win against Kent on 6 May 2017 for breaching County Championship Division 1 regulation D (1). This provides:
“A player who is Effectively Registered (as defined in RFU Regulation 14) for a Club playing at Level 3 or below as at the date of the 2016-17 Transfer Deadline is eligible to play in any tier of the Competition. A player who is Effectively Registered for a Club at Level 1 or Level 2 as at the date of the Transfer Deadline in the 2016-17 season is not eligible to play in any tier of the competition.
“The player in question, Mr Adams-Hale, was said to be ineligible due to him not being registered with a Level 3 club at date of the transfer deadline.”
This ruling, which is subject to an appeal by Hertfordshire RFU due to be heard on Thursday, also opens the door for Gloucestershire making Twickenham if they beat Surrey by a large score on Saturday.
If the ruling is upheld, then Cornwall could afford to lose by a narrow margin less than seven points or score four tries to get the point needed to be sure. That will not be on the minds of coaches or players who will want to win in front of a home crowd.
As ever the Hertfordshire side will provide a stern test for the Cornish side with their players drawn mainly from National 1 side Old Albanian and newly crowned champions of National 2 South, Bishop’s Stortford. They are of course coached by James Shanahan, no stranger to us, having played at both the Cornish Pirates and Plymouth Albion, where he was also head coach. He is also head coach of the England Counties side and will next season coach Blackheath.
Despite winning their two previous games in the Championship this season Hertfordshire come into this final game five points behind Cornwall – subject to the appeal..
In their first game against Kent they had to play for more than an hour with just fourteen men after scrum-half Stef Liebenberg was shown a red card. They already led 12-0 at that point then went 19-0 up before Kent pulled back two late tries leaving Herts winners 19-12 but crucially having scored just the three tries.
Against Gloucestershire they had no such worries running in eight tries to thrash the West Country side 46-19.
Bishop’s Stortford scrum-half Tom Banks is a livewire as is flanker Harry Bate, centre Tom Winter is a fluid runner and hooker Brett McNamee a seasoned gnarly campaigner. Any pack that shoves a Gloucestershire eight back deserves respect!
Speaking ahead of training at Camborne last evening Cornwall head coach Graham Dawe said. “I’ve been impressed with the squad so far, there are always apprehensions when you first come together, especially this year with the turnover of players from last year, so to be where we are is credit to the squad, coaches and selectors.
Dawe wasn’t reading too much into the Hertfordshire predicament. “It’s not something that’s within our control, we know that we have to perform to get to Twickenham and we will be fielding our strongest team.
“We seem to be improving with each game, the win at Surrey was important, we trailed at half-time and dug deep to get the win, then at Devon we seemed to carry on with that form from the second half at Richmond.
Dawe hopes the Cornish support will turn up at Camborne on Saturday. “I am sure there will huge support for the players on Saturday, with that support comes huge expectations and rightly so. The supporters have their part to play in what will be a hard game.”
Cornwall (Redruth unless stated): M Shepherd (Plymouth Albion), L Vinnicombe, R Wedlake (Plymouth Albion), J Murphy (Barnstaple) (capt), T Notman, J Elderkin, J Oulton; T Phillips, R Brown, C Williams, B Jenkins (Barnstaple), T Whittle (Camborne), C Fuca, S Matavesi (Camborne), G Randlesome (Penryn).
Replacements: M Ballard (Wadebridge Camels), A Zacharovas (Camborne), B Howe, G Jones (Penryn), BJ Chapman, D Mankee (Camborne), S Raumakita (Plymouth Albion).
Hertfordshire: (Old Albanian unless stated): B Lloyd (Hertford), B Creasey (Hertford), S Winter (Bishop’s Stortford), T Bednall, S Barnes (Tring), Z Vinnicombe, T Banks (Bishop’s Stortford); H King (Bishop’s Stortford), B McNamee (Hertford) (capt), K Garside, S Lunnon, M Tomlinson (Bishop’s Stortford), H Bate, D Elsom (Bishop’s Stortford), J Billows.
Replacements: J Taylor, W Roberts (Bishop’s Stortford), A Berry, J Concoran (Hertford), D Archer (Hertford), J Daly, M Bendin (Hertford), F Denny (Letchworth).