Rugby Special ~ Part Two

Reading time: 25 minutes

(If you missed Part One, click here…)

As it was…

It’s Saturday, September 3, 1977. There’s a Labour government in power. The Number One single that week was Elvis Presley’s ‘Way Down’. There’s only three television channels. The BBC’s sports flagship Grandstand is fronted by Frank Bough.

Camborne RFC’s opening game of their Centenary Season is against the County President’s Select XV.

The Camborne side that faced the County President’s XV. Front, l to r: Nigel Pellowe, Mike Eddy, Colin Taylor, Barry Wills, Chris Durant (c), Robert Mankee, Malcolm Bennetts, Bob Lees. Back, l to r: Jock Denholm, Chris Lane, David May, Bobby Tonkin, Paul Ranford, David Kingston, Frank Butler. Steve Floyd, who played fly-half, isn’t present. The photo appears to have been taken on the Camborne School of Mines pitch, behind the grandstand. Image courtesy Paul White

And Camborne were primed. Coach Alan Truscott and RN fitness instructor Barry Wills (Come on fellas…) had whipped the squad into dynamite shape. The thought of that fixture list, featuring clashes against the best in the land, had upped the ante.

A wooden scrummaging machine, knocked together by David Kingston, had been reduced to kindling. (This was the era before the famous ‘Rhino’ designs; the RFU had provided building instructions for interested clubs.) Truscott reckons the contraption took a single, brutal hit from Camborne’s massive pack to be demolished. Kingston, prickly at this perceived slight against his skills as a joiner, claims they wrung six months of use from his creation. (I am devastated that no photograph of this machine was taken.)

Either way, pre-season training was over. Time for the real thing.

Who impressed the selectors..?

The game was, in effect, a County trial, with CRFU President Arthur Pill and his phalanx of selectors joining a full house to view proceedings. Indeed, the XV Pill named featured seven capped men: Redruth’s Dave Parsons (lock) and Nick Brokenshire (centre), Hayle’s Gary Trewartha (hooker) and no. 9 David Mungles, Falmouth’s no. 8 David Muirhead, the Penzance-Newlyn flanker Peter Trudgeon, and, as skipper, the formidable St Ives lock, Roger Corin1.

Roger Corin. From the CRFU Centenary Special, Express Western Newspaper Group Souvenir, 1983. Courtesy Phil Meyers

The rivalry between Corin and his fiery Camborne opposite number, Paul Ranford, was such that Ranford could usually expect a pre-match message from him. Corin would pass it down the line that

…he was going to whack me one…

As Paul tells it, “I always got in first…”

For their part, Camborne were not short of County experience either. Captain Chris Durant, his fellow lock Paul Ranford, prop Bobby Tonkin, and 15 Nigel Pellowe had all been capped. Besides this, scrum-half Robert Mankee was in the Cornwall U23 squad.

From left, Paul Ranford, Chris Durant, and Bobby Tonkin in Cornwall regalia, outside the Camborne clubhouse on South Terrace. Courtesy Paul Ranford

Plus, David Kingston rated wing Michael ‘Jed’ Eddy as “outstanding in Cornwall”, and Mankee reckoned centre Colin Taylor unlucky not to win a cap.

For all their firepower, lack of time together told for the Select XV, with Camborne winning 12-7. The clinching score, remembers Dave Edwards (who was in the crowd that day, still finishing the cricket season), was made by an interception from Colin Taylor. Taylor “would always” be alert for such an opportunity, said Edwards, and “poor alignment” from the opposition threequarters gifted him the chance2.

Robert Mankee flicks the ball up to Chris Lane, while St Ives’ Peter Hendy lines him up. The Packet, September 7, 1977, p26

Curiously, it wasn’t Taylor, or Camborne’s much-rated pack, that shone that day. In early scrums the Town front row of Bobby Tonkin, Malcolm Bennetts and Jock Denholm found themselves inexplicably shunted around, a sight that was to get rarer and rarer as the season wore on. No, with Steve Floyd at 10, Camborne could play a running game, and it was wing Barry Wills that “impressed the selectors”, scoring a try3.

Indeed, Wills was immediately selected for Cornwall; Jock Denholm and Robert Mankee had to wait until 1979 to wear black and gold4.

The result, said Frank Butler, put down a marker. It was a chance

…to show who we were…

The ‘Barbarians’ of Wales…

That’s how Bob Lees described Captain Crawshay’s Welsh XV, who Camborne took on four days after beating the President’s side.

The very first Camborne XV to play Crawshay’s, back in 1923. Courtesy Martin Symons

This was a fixture steeped in history, an occasion to celebrate the traditional camaraderie and sporting ethos of rugby. Captain Geoffrey Crawshay’s (1892-1954) touring sides always featured international and rising Welsh talent, and they always played a fast, entertaining game.

Crawshay’s had visited and played Camborne, with a brief interlude for war, between 1923 and 1964, when Cornwall took over the fixture5. Now, in the year of Camborne’s Centenary, they were back, fielding a team to savour:

The numbers of the Crawshay’s pack were for some reason reversed; playing in the back row that day was a young Eddie Butler. Courtesy Alan Rowling

Merrill Clymo, Camborne’s Hon. General Secretary, wrote the notes for the programmes whilst working at a local solicitors. (So dedicated was he to Camborne RFC, that his daughter Sally recalls many a Sunday morning spent helping him clean the changing rooms.) Clymo was clearly most effusive about the game:

As our most outstanding fixture for many years, we welcome you back…We shall recall with nostalgia the games of bygone days…Friendships will be renewed. Old friends, no longer with us, will be remembered.

Merrill Clymo, by Ernie Loze

No one seems to have told the players any of this…

If you don’t shut your f_____g mouth…

Crawshay’s 15, David Gullick, (who was invited to tour by dint of a father who was born in, and played for, Pontypool), told me that his club side Orrell were a

…tough team, but nothing like this…

The Crawshay’s skipper, Wales flanker Clive Burgess, was known as ‘The Steel Claw’ or, more simply, ‘The Animal’6. Apart from Orrell’s Gullick, and Cambridge Blue Eddie Butler, these were all hard-working men from the Valleys, up against a bunch of hard-working men from Cornwall.

David Kingston recalls only a few instances about the game, which is hardly surprising: he was so concussed that he turned to Nigel Pellowe and said

…I’m seeing two balls…get us my glasses…

Pellowe, who knew a thing or two about people being scat silly, wisely told Kingston to leave the field of play.

Elsewhere, Robert Mankee was getting no end of grief from his opposite number, Bridgend’s Gerald Williams.

Gerald Williams in action for Wales. Getty Images

One of the few things Kingston does remember is that Williams was “full of himself”, and kept stamping on Mankee’s toes at scrummages, amongst other things. Mankee says he was all talk, and warned him that

If you don’t shut your f_____g mouth…

he could expect repercussions. Williams apparently told Mankee to “F__k off”. Both Kingston and Malcolm Bennetts concur that Mankee

…never warned anyone three times…

…and so it came to pass. At a scrum on Camborne’s 22, in the corner by the turnstile, said Bennetts, an incensed Mankee suddenly

…let rip and punched Williams that hard he split his eye…

Or, as Mankee describes it, he split Williams’ face

…from his eye-socket to his nostril…

Legend will tell you, dear reader, that the sound of Mankee’s right hook making good its connection was heard in the packed grandstand…on the opposite side of the ground.

Williams fell away, blood pouring from between his fingers, and was stretchered off to Treliske for stitches.

Malcolm Bennetts:

There was hellup, the Crawshay’s players wanted to rip Mank’s head off…

Clive ‘Steel Claw’ Burgess instantly, and loudly, demanded vengeance on Mankee. Chris Durant, sensing yet more carnage, advised Mankee to move to the relative safety of the wing, to which Mankee is alleged to have replied,

…I’m not a f_____g winger! I ain’t ‘fraid…bring it on!

(He did, however, accept the sage advice of Frank Butler: “whatever you do, Mank, don’t go on the ground…” Butler knew the only law that existed on the deck was the law of the jungle.)

At the next line-out, said David Kingston, Camborne’s pack all stood in front of Mankee and stared the Crawshay’s men down. Burgess, Kingston told me, “dropped it”.

David Gullick remembers it differently. Crawshay’s, he said, “dealt with” Mankee, “later on…”

A lot of skullduggery…

Where, you may ask, was the referee in all this? Mankee wasn’t sent off, but a penalty was awarded to Crawshay’s. Paul Ranford told me that, in the 1970s, referees “were poor”. Dave Edwards identifies one in particular who was so afraid of Bobby Tonkin that Bobby would virtually “referee the game for him”…in Camborne’s favour.

Terry Symons, then the club’s Asst. Treasurer, and blessed with a memory of Camborne rugby stretching back to the days of John Rockett and Gary Harris, says this was a time when

…a lot of skullduggery went on…

Which is rather like saying that a lot of drinking goes on inside a pub7. Paul Ranford freely admits rugby players at the time “were no angels”, and weak refereeing meant a lot of violence went unpunished. It’s important to bear this in mind for later in the season.

Incidentally, Crawshay’s won, 18-30, with great Welsh threequarter hope Pat Daniels (he was to join Cardiff in 19788) wowing the crowd with searing breaks, though it was Gullick who Frank Butler remembers “cutting us up” that afternoon. Although Camborne “played very tight”, reckons Gullick, Barry Wills scored what David Kingston described as an “excellent” try.

If hospitality was somewhat lacking on the pitch, this was made up for after the match with, the Neath hooker Pat Langford recalls, a guided tour of Port Navas Oyster Farm. In the South Terrace Clubhouse, however, Robert Mankee and Gerald Williams had little to say to each other.

Camborne moved on.

Bobby Tonkin ~ The Smiling Assassin…

Two days later, on the evening of Friday the 9th, Camborne ran in ten tries against Bournemouth, winning 56-9. Faced with obviously lesser opposition than Crawshay’s, and with the expansive Tanzi Lea at fly-half, Town ran amok. Such sides were meat and drink to the Camborne pack in general (who were described as “magnificent”9), and prop Bobby Tonkin in particular, who scored a hat-trick.

Bobby Tonkin, courtesy of Paul Ranford

Bobby Tonks had it all, in the opinion of Alan Truscott:

…excellent ball skills, good scrummager, and, for a prop, an excellent goal kick…comfortable with ball in hand.

If ever he smelt fear on an opponent – or a referee – Bobby could dominate a game, as Bournemouth, and many others, discovered to their cost. He was a hit with the crowds, and a darling of the press: “well respected”, reckoned Bob Lees.

The caption to this snap originally read Big Bobby is watching you…The Packet, January 5, 1978

Tonkin was a “big man, with a big personality”, Jumbo Reed told me, adding

…he either liked you, or he didn’t…

Conversely, and like many other big men with big personalities, you either “liked Bobby, or you didn’t”, reckoned Terry Symons. Either way, he was vital to Camborne’s success, with countless attacks from the line-out, for example the ‘1234’ move. Chris Durant would catch at the front, and feed to Bobby, who would be peeling round the short-side, bullocking forward, body low, chin out, on the rampage. Malcolm Bennetts would grab the opposition hooker and pull him into the line, creating a gap for Bobby to pop-pass to Paul Ranford, who would sprint through to score. Such were his ball skills, said David May, that Bobby was “ahead of his time”, inasmuch that he was often to be found in the threequarters, eyeing up an opposition centre,

…like a smiling assassin.

He must have been a hell of a player.

Never a bleddy try…

The next day, a Saturday afternoon, Camborne entertained Pontypridd. This would be, wrote Merrill Clymo in his programme notes, a “formidable task”. Ponty’s historian, Alun Granfield, informed me that the club were elected Welsh champions for the 1976-77 season by the Western Mail newspaper, as well as being awarded the Sunday Telegraph trophy. Their skipper was international flanker Tom David – yes, that Tom David, a member of the Barbarians XV that beat the All Blacks in what is now seen as the quintessential 1970s rugby match.

Tom David in action for the Barbarians10: This is great stuff…Phil Bennett covering…Brilliant! Oh, that’s brilliant! John Williams, Bryan Williams. Pullin. John Dawes…great dummy! To David, Tom David, the half-way line! Brilliant by Quinnell! This is Gareth Edwards! A dramatic start! WHAT A SCORE! ~ Cliff Morgan, commentator, Barbarians v All Blacks, 1973

And it was tight. Going into the final quarter, Camborne led 9-7, thanks to three penalties by Steve Floyd. Though Ponty had scored earlier with wing Brian ‘Mad Dog’ Juliff outsprinting both Pellowe and Mankee to touch down in the corner, they were down to fourteen men. A fight had broken out at a maul, and the match official (from Cornwall) had no option but to order the visiting hooker, Steve Moule, off the pitch11.

Camborne, egged on by a baying crowd sensing a famous win, fancied their chances – but it was not to be. In the dying moments, who else but Tom David crashed through a desperate tackle to touch down in the top-right corner…or did he?

The decision to award the try, and victory, 9-11, to Pontypridd, still upsets Chris Durant – and you don’t want to upset Chris Durant. The referee gave the try after much persistent shouting and celebrating from the visitors, but Durant insists the

…try was never scored…it was never a bleddy try…

David Kingston recalled that Durant, in cahoots with Mankee, had David in a bear-hug (which must have been quite a tussle), preventing the Welsh legend from touching down. Camborne

…should’ve won…

But they didn’t. And, sadly, for all that David magnanimously praised the “power” of Camborne’s pack, and how Town had Ponty “worried” until the final whistle12, there was to be no rematch. Pontypridd have never played Camborne, or toured Cornwall, since 1977.

Next Friday, the 16th, Camborne easily beat visiting Maidstone 22-4. (Maidstone’s President, Paul Ehrhart, recalls a “very physical match”, from the start.) Highlights included ten points from the ever-trusty boot of Steve Floyd, and a try from Mankee that brought the house down “from a superb, darting solo run”13.

(Doubtless this was a trademark ‘Mank’ break, where he would look to attack on the open-side but in fact go blind, and streak into the opposition’s 22, leaving the would-be covering tacklers coughing in his dust.)

Barry Wills ~ Come on fellas…

Courtesy Paul White

Teignmouth cried off on the Saturday, but on the following Tuesday, Camborne travelled to lowly Truro for the first round of the CRFU Cup. The game was practically a bye, with Town running in fourteen tries, winning 0-67. Michael Eddy, whom Dave Edwards recalls as a fast, dangerous finisher with a lovely outside swerve, scored a hat-trick. The other wing, Barry Wills, notched up four – all in the second half. His form was white-hot, but he was to play only one more game for Camborne that season.

Wills was a Royal Navy PTI, and “one hell of a fitness freak”, according to Paul Ranford. His training sessions with the squad were described as “regimented” by Robert Mankee, and “painful” by Ranford; indeed, he confesses to throwing up after every one. (All Paul hoped for was to make it to Tyack’s on a Thursday evening in one piece.) Regardless of the whining, the squad’s stamina was excellent, thanks to – Come on fellas…and ONE and TWO and THREE and… – Barry Wills.

Malcolm Bennetts recalls a Camborne Ladies versus Camborne Players match (this long before the advent of the WRFU), in aid of the family of a Plymouth Albion player who had tragically died whilst playing Camborne Reserves. The Ladies’ XV trainer was Barry Wills. (He was the kind of man who would volunteer “for everything”, remembers Frank Butler.) Every Sunday for a month (Come on ladies…), Barry had his new recruits doing interval sprints up the banking, scrummaging work, full tackling, and were introduced to the finer points of line-outs, rucking and mauling. The women would come home bruised and exhausted, begging for it to be over. “Come the big day”, said Bennetts, the game was in fact touch rugby, with no line-outs or scrums, and the men not permitted to run. “But”, Malcolm continues, “that was Barry Wills”. All or nothing.

This was reflected in his play. David May praises his “hard, straight” running, while Jumbo Reed called him a

Top player, anywhere in the backs.

Though not much of a kicker, and a worse passer (few and-and-out wingers are), Nigel Pellowe points out his tough streak when on the defensive. If there was

…any trouble, we would sort them out.

Six matches in the Centenary Season, six tries, and four Cornwall caps – his only four – before injury ruled him out. (More on that next week.) A classic case of what might have been.

Camborne maintain brilliant start…

…was the headline in the sports pages of the Packet of September 29th. Town were on a roll. Three days after pummelling Truro, they beat Avon & Somerset Police 32-0. The day after that, Saturday the 24th, Paignton went down 36-0.

Camborne had played 8 games, winning 6, scoring 252 points, and conceding only 61.

They were flying. But the Merit Table fixtures were about to start, and first up were Camborne’s oldest of old foes…

…Redruth. Would the brilliant start be maintained?

You can find out in Rugby Special ~ Part Three here

Many thanks for reading

References

  1. See Tom Salmon, The First Hundred Years: The Story of Rugby Football in Cornwall, CRFU, 1983, p142-3
  2. The Packet, September 7, 1977, p26
  3. The Packet, September 7, 1977, p26
  4. See Tom Salmon, The First Hundred Years: The Story of Rugby Football in Cornwall, CRFU, 1983, p142-3
  5. In recent times a Camborne v Crawshay’s fixture is arranged to signify an event of great import for Camborne RFC. Apart from the Centenary match, Crawshay’s played Camborne in 1991 to celebrate the opening of the Crane Park clubhouse, and again during the 125th anniversary season of 2003. I am grateful to Martin Symons for providing me with this information.
  6. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clive_Burgess
  7. The 1970s witnessed the most violent game, and the most notorious call – “99” – in rugby history. Even in a British Lions Test, match officials could do little to act against the perpetrators. See: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/sport/rugby/rugby-news/lions-99-call-south-africa-18587954, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/99_call
  8. See: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/sport/rugby/rugby-news/what-became-42-rugby-players-24721126
  9. The Packet, September 14, 1977
  10. From: https://www.mediastorehouse.com/colorsport/popular-themes/gareth-edwards/tom-david-passes-ball-barbarians-build-up-gareth-6303968.html
  11. The Packet, September 15, 1977
  12. As Merrill Clymo noted in his programme notes for the Maidstone fixture.
  13. The Packet, September 22, 1977

15 thoughts on “Rugby Special ~ Part Two

  1. A brilliant read once again Francis, thanks. Bringing back my early days of supporting’Town. I can still picture Manks doing two or three forward rolls before touching down. My favourite player.

    Like

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