Rugby Special ~ Part Four

Reading time: 20 minutes

(If you missed Part Three, click here…)

As it was…

It’s Saturday, October 8, 1977. ’20 Golden Greats’, by Diana Ross and The Supremes, is about to enter its third week at the top of the album chart. Motorists will soon be liable to face breath tests in new drink-drive laws. Pin-ups of Angela Rippon’s legs, taken from the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, are banned by the BBC1.

Once you cross the Tamar…

Camborne are hosting Torquay Athletic. They’ve had over a week, and two training sessions, to put their disappointing 3-3 draw against arch-rivals Redruth behind them. They’ve also had one post-training Thursday evening ‘discussion’ of the match at Tyack’s Hotel which, with its roster of live bands, was easily the best night of the week, according to Paul Ranford and Frank Butler.

(Dickie Bray, who organised the entertainment at Camborne’s clubhouse – which was David May’s preference too – may have disagreed.)

The top ticket in Town…

Torquay would not be easy opponents. The ‘Tics’ hooker, Colin Rylance, told me that at that time his club had a “very good team”. Indeed. The next season, 1978-9, Torquay would win the Devon Senior Cup, for only the second time in its history2. Merrill Clymo, in his programme notes for the fixture, acknowledged Torquay as one of the leading Devon clubs.

Plus, as Robert Mankee observed,

…once you cross the Tamar, they’re that little bit fitter…

Notable absences…

Fly-half Steve Floyd had returned to college. Wings Michael Eddy and Barry Wills were both injured; although Wills didn’t know it yet, he was out for the rest of the season. Bobby Tonkin and Chris Durant were on County duty. Number 8 Chris Lane was also unavailable.

How did the team look?

Courtesy Frank Butler. The referee was David May’s father

Bob Lees retained his position at centre, but by his own admission he was “never a creative player”, more of a finisher. Camborne had yet to find the ideal partner for Colin Taylor, who was an “excellent” inside centre, said Alan Truscott.

On the right wing was Chris Nicholas, a player Truscott describes as “big hearted, and deceptively quick”. On the left was Dave Edwards, a Cornwall U23, but only making his first appearance of the season.

Tanzi Lea slotted in at 10; although a flair player and very classy, he admitted his preferred spot was full-back.

Jumbo Reed came into the front row, with Michael Woods moving to lock. Richard Thomas, a County cap, got the nod at 8.

Nigel Pellowe assumed the captaincy he had relinquished last season.

And had a Captain’s match…

From the Packet, October 12, 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

The Tics arrived with a big pack; on the day bigger than Camborne’s, and put it to good use3. All the early running was from the visitors, but Mankee and Butler tackled like demons. When the ball went wide, Pellowe was on hand to do what he does best, organising the cover and putting in the crucial hits himself.

Merrill Clymo was watching that day, and reckoned Pellowe’s play was

…a joy to watch as he turns defence into attack, and his tackling of the wings in full flight were of international class.

From the programme notes, Camborne v Newton Abbot, October 15, 1977

The early storm weathered, Town gradually took control. With Lea at 10, any possession was likely to be put to attacking use, and so it proved.

After 20 minutes, Mankee touched down in the corner, thanks to (you’ve guessed it) a break on the blind-side.

More slick movement in the threequarters led to a try for Chris Nicholas, which Pellowe hoofed over from way out on the touchline. The crowd must have loved that.

Camborne weren’t done yet, with Michael Woods crashing over from a line-out. Camborne 14, Torquay 4.

Town were back.

Camborne go storming on…

This, wrote the Packet, was

…a great performance…

October 12, 1977

Merrill Clymo went one better:

Camborne go storming on. Even though it was necessary to restructure the side…the cream of Devon was well and truly whipped…

From the programme notes, Camborne v Newton Abbot, October 15, 1977

They’d beaten one of the best in Devon, without several key players. It must have given the club as a whole great reassurance. With a fixture list in excess of fifty matches, clearly absences through injuries or otherwise were inevitable, and the squad needed strength in depth.

Alan Truscott’s intense pre-season work was paying off; plus, if a place in the Centenary XV was up for grabs, you could guarantee a fight to claim it. Clymo, writing in the same programme as above, praised Truscott, and his “second”, Frank Butler…

A Great Rugby Man…

Courtesy Paul White

Along with David May, Frank was integral in setting up the mini/junior section at Camborne – one of the first in Cornwall. May recalls the first session, arriving at the Rec with four assistants, and four balls:

A huge host of youngsters arrived…over a 100! Quite a shock I can tell you…

Frank’s involvement with grassroots rugby didn’t end there. From 1991-2002, he was the CRFU’s Youth Development Officer, and

…produced some of the finest players in the County…

said Malcolm Bennetts. One of them was Phil Vickery. After that, he ran the Bath RFC Academy for ten years – longer than any other coach, Frank told me. Then, from 2012-2020, he covered Dorset and Wiltshire as the England Rugby Community Coach, leaving a positive impression wherever he worked.

As a player, Frank judged his strength to be

…doing all the work on the ground so the big boys could have the ball…

Frank Butler doing what he does best – winning possession. Courtesy of the man himself

In those days, you could play the ball on the ground, whilst off your feet, but Frank’s ball-winning role wasn’t for the fainthearted. Being

…kicked and raked…

or worse, was part of the game.

Butler’s unsung yet vital style was recognised by his team-mates. For example, David May observed that he

Linked the backs to the forwards so effectively…

Jumbo Reed noted how he

…read the game well and was a great tackler…

Alan Truscott and Nigel Pellowe acknowledged his intelligence and all-round rugby nous.

Bob Lees, Paul Ranford, Barry Wills and, later, Dave Edwards might have scored the tries. Pellowe, Durant, Mankee and Tonkin might have made the crowds cheer, and grabbed the headlines. But tries can’t be scored, matches can’t be won, and fans won’t cheer, unless you have the ball – and getting the ball was Frank Butler’s special talent.

On his retirement in 2020, the verdict of one club he worked with said it all. Frank was a

Great rugby man…4


Camborne won the next seven games in a row.

Courtesy Frank Butler

Next over the Tamar, on the 15th, were Newton Abbot. With Tonkin and Durant back, Town handed them a 52-3 drubbing. No matter that Nigel Pellowe was unavailable; Graham Johns deputised at 15, and got on the scoresheet with a try. Frank Butler demonstrated a little-known facet of his game in kicking three conversions.

On the 22nd, in a Merit Table game, Camborne travelled to unfancied St Austell. Even The Saints’ captain, prop Simon Woolnough, admitted their underdog status:

…St Austell weren’t long a senior side…

Woolnough would also know what his men were up against: he’d played for Camborne from 1967 until the mid-1970s. He also has the dubious record of being sent off nine times in his career. In fact, he’s the only person I know who rates himself tougher than Jock Denholm – which is saying something.

His team were tough too. Though unlikely to win, they were hard to beat, and

…defended dourly…

Packet, October 26, 1977

But no matter. Even without the services of Tonkin and Durant again, Camborne won 9-23, running in four tries. Dave Edwards scored his first of the season.

From the Packet, November 9, 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

Town then had a week off, and on November 5, played St Bartholomew’s Hospital, down from London. Confidence was so high that Merrill Clymo blithely likened the fixture to a practice game:

…today’s game will help to sharpen the team for their trips to Newquay and Penzance…

Qtd from the Camborne v St Bart’s match programme, November 5, 1977

Robert Mankee missed out, giving a rare opportunity to the Reserves’ 9, Paul ‘Rafie’ Hamblin. His performance was “outstanding”, and, as such a “talented player”,

…does not always get the chances his play deserves…

Packet, November 9, 1977

Dave Edwards agrees: Hamblin “never got the credit, or the recognition”, he told me.

Paul ‘Rafie’ Hamblin, with Kevin Lean on his right, and Martyn Trestrail to his left. Courtesy Martyn Trestrail

Indeed, Rafie even out-Mankee’d Mankee, setting up a try for Lea with a 35-yard break. With Ranford bossing things up front, Camborne strolled home 38-3.

From the Packet, November 16, 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

Back to the Merit Table, and a trip to Newquay Hornets on November 12. Mankee was back, and typically reasserted his #1 status with a

…brilliant try…

Packet, November 16, 1977

Things were rounded off with another score by Edwards, following a

…magnificent movement…

Packet, November 16, 1977

4-16, Camborne.

The ‘Pirates Supporters Club’ has a brilliant logo. Courtesy Frank Butler

Next up, Camborne travelled to Penzance. They hadn’t beaten The Pirates at Mennaye Field since 1959, and were soon 9-0 down.

No matter. A Tanzi Lea break put in Chris Nicholas, Durant slammed over the conversion, and Pellowe drew the scores level with a penalty.

Pellowe then laid the Mennaye ghost to rest with a last-minute drop goal.

9-12, Camborne5.

The Severnsiders…

Lydney, like Camborne, is a rugby town. The sign that greets you as you enter its outskirts off the A48 tells you that, yes, this is The Home of Lydney RFC.

The Severnsiders had beaten Camborne last season, and were on the verge of becoming a formidable John Player Cup team6.

Camborne were without Mankee, Butler, and Paul Ranford, who was attending his sister’s wedding. The St Ives’ scrum-half, Paul Sweeney, was about to become his brother-in-law.

Courtesy Frank Butler

Rafie Hamblin, supersub, was also unavailable, and Camborne called on the services of Lanner’s centre, John Dunstan, to play at 97.

No matter.

In a “storming” performance, Camborne won 19-14. Town were in “top gear” from the word go, and though Lydney fought back, tries by Chris Nicholas and Richard Thomas were enough.

From the Packet, December 7, 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

Truro must have hated playing Camborne that season. Their Merit Table season was going nowhere, and they’d conceded 67 points in the sides’ first fixture back in September. This was not going to be a game from which they could rebuild their fortunes.

Truro were hammered, 58-9. Colin Taylor, Paul Ranford, Chris Nicholas and Dave Edwards took a brace of tries each. And Camborne did most of the damage with only 14 men, when the unfortunate Rafie Hamblin went off injured8.

Complete togetherness…

From the Packet, 14 December 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

The unbeaten run was brought to an end on December 10 by a Cambridge University team fresh from their Varsity Match, and featuring the England full-back Alastair Hignell. Even then, it was close: 13-16.

Alastair Hignell in 1978. Photographed by Eamonn McCabe

If the above headline is anything to go by, no-one seemed to care.

Camborne had played 18 games, winning 14, drawing one and losing three. They’d scored 500 points, and conceded only 135. The try tally stood at an imposing 85.

Their strength in depth must have been as frightening as the beatings they regularly handed out. As David May said, this was a squad that played with

…complete togetherness…

Asst. Treasurer Terry Symons pointed out that the

club spirit…formed the nucleus of the side…

If a player missed out, his replacement would selflessly give his all. There was no jealousy emanating from the Reserves toward the Chiefs, said Chris Durant. It’s the Centenary Season. We’re in this together

On the flipside, however, as Bob Lees observed, maintaining fitness was paramount for 1st XV players. Any injury could see you lose your place.

The scorelines and figures we’ve seen also rather give the lie to the notion that the Camborne team of the late 1970s was just a massive pack, with little else.

Clearly, under the right circumstances, and with a fly-half possessing a touch of the flamboyant, such as Tanzi Lea or Steve Floyd, Camborne could be rampant when on top.

Top of the Merit Table clash…

Beating Redruth (which Camborne had yet to do), might mean you

…were treated like heroes in work for a week…

according to Jumbo Reed. Playing such luminaries as Pontypridd, Crawshay’s, Cambridge Uni, and Devon’s best, Torquay, might have given Camborne RFC much status and prestige.

But, if the Centenary XV wanted some silverware to show for their efforts – in other words, to be the undisputed best in Cornwall – they had to beat one team. And this would be a “top of the Merit Table clash”, wrote Merrill Clymo9, against…

St Ives.

No matter…

Read all about the outcome in Rugby Special ~ Part Five here

Many thanks for reading


  1. According to that day’s Daily Mirror, p1 and 3.
  2. See: Of course, Torquay would win it a third time in the 2006-7 season.
  3. The main narrative of the match is taken from the Packet, October 12, 1977.
  4. See:–the-retirement-of-a-great-rugby-man-2572185.html, and The very first intake of the Camborne Minis included such notable players and clubmen as Martin and Michael Symons, Jon Polglase, Tommy Adams, Adrian and Graham Smith, Andy Bartle, Mark Warren, and Andrew Middleton.
  5. From the Packet, 23 November 1977
  6. From Merrill Clymo’s Camborne v Lydney programme notes, November 26, 1977, and
  7. From the Packet‘s match report, November 30, 1977. The reactions to the game are taken from here also.
  8. According to the West Briton, December 8, 1977, p26
  9. From the Camborne v Cambridge University programme notes, December 10, 1977

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