Reading time: 20 minutes
(If you missed Part Eight, click here…)
As it was…
It’s Tuesday, 31st January, 1978. The number one single that week is ‘Uptown Top Ranking’, by Althea and Donna. Tory leader Margaret Thatcher comes under fire from the Labour government for allegedly wanting to use the immigration issue to attract National Front voters to her party. The previous weekend’s 100mph storms had caused extensive damage in West Cornwall, including a 12ft by 10ft plate-glass window a half-inch thick being blown clean out of the shop-front of Cocking’s Drapery, Redruth1.
Camborne have been top of the CRFU Merit Table for three days. That evening, they’re travelling to the club they dislodged from the #1 spot, St Ives, in a CRFU Cup quarter-final tie.
Tonight’s game must be won…
For The Hakes, the boot was now on the other foot. The author of their match programme notes was “D.G.”: Paul Sweeney told me this was Dave Gee, a squad member. He was obviously from the Merill Clymo school of straight shooting. Camborne were
…on top at last thanks to our inept display at Hayle on Saturday…complacency…obviously exists among established players…we have…lacked the consistency, dedication and maturity necessary to achieve any notable lasting successes…
Gee didn’t pull any punches:
Unless we are again to be relegated to “Also-Ran” status, tonight’s game must be won.
St Ives would have perhaps done better to remember that, along with Redruth, they were one of only two Cornish clubs to have bettered Camborne that season.
They also lacked the necessary bounce of knowing that Town considered them their ‘bogey’ team, a side they rarely got the better of.
Put bluntly, they’d had the wind knocked out of them.
St Ives opted for the approach that had brought them success in their twilight Merit Table encounter with Camborne at Alexandra Road2. With gale-force winds and poor lighting, kicking high and long may have seemed an admirable tactic.
You might be able to pull that kind of thing off once against this Camborne side, but not twice. Town knew what was coming, and Nigel Pellowe at 15, with Edwards and Lees in support, had done their homework.
Indeed, the winning move came from the predictability of The Hakes’ play. David May, up swiftly from 13, charged down yet another hopeful punt.
The quick-witted May rapidly regathered and sensed a score. Breaking free, he kicked ahead and gave a metaphorical two-fingered salute to all those who questioned his supposed lack of pace, outsprinting a cover containing such notable gazelles as Roger Randall, to touch down.
Derick Taylor converted, as you would expect. 0-6, Camborne.
Town were now scheduled to play at Redruth in the semi-final: that promised to be a winner-takes-all derby for the ages.
Whoever reached the CRFU Cup Final would probably be playing Penryn. All they had to do was beat St Austell in their respective tie.
Strengthened their grip…
That Saturday, the 5th, St Ives were travelling to Surrey, to play Old Paulines RFC. They had two hopes. First, that Hayle would beat Redruth. Second, that Truro would beat Camborne.
No one really cared if St Ives beat Old Paulines.
In the same way that Hayle had obliged Camborne by doing a number on St Ives, they then threw a crumb of comfort to The Hakes themselves, upsetting Redruth 6-4.
Hayle climbed to third in the Table, enjoying a late – too late? – resurgence. Redruth slipped to fourth.
Camborne were not so charitable. In a performance that
…strengthened their grip…West Briton, February 9, 1978, p20
on the Merit Table, they beat Truro 6-33.
David May and Richard Thomas both scored twice; Frank Butler reckons most of Thomas’s tries that season were set up by him. Bob Lees ran in one, as did, on debut, David Richards.
Richards was described as being “extremely strong” by Jumbo Reed. ‘Buzby’, as he was known (after the BT mascot of the time, a small fluffy yellow bird), had made a fine showing. Filling in for the injured Paul Ranford, he had big boots to fill…
Here is a classic from the compendious anthology of Paul Ranford anecdotes, as related by Paul himself:
One Easter Friday we played Wasps…Chris [Durant] and myself agreed that any nonsense from their pack we would step in for one another…I lasted about 6 minutes and got sent off…I hit one or two in that time…
(The conclusion to this story is always the same, no matter who tells it: we beat Wasps with fourteen men…)
Or then there’s this one, courtesy of Nigel Pellowe:
…he got sent off once, was unhappy, took his shirt off and kicked it all the way to the touchline…where he then tripped over it…
Such ‘Ranford’ tales are legion.
In fact, Paul’s two flaws as a rugby player – as he readily admits, discipline and fitness – threaten to overshadow his reputation as one of Cornwall’s finest second rows, both in tight and marauding on the loose.
If all Paul Ranford could do was fight (though he obviously had ability in this area), he would not have won seventeen caps for Cornwall.
Robert Mankee reckoned that, on his day, Ranford was
…the best lineout jumper in the South West…
This was an era when no lifting in lineouts was permitted, and opposing packs stood cheek-by-jowl for throw-ins. Space to jump, and win the ball, therefore, had to be earned – how you went about this depended on your sheer physical presence, and the referee’s powers of observation.
Win the space, win the ball. Paul Ranford stood 6′ 4″ in his socks, making him one of the biggest players around at that time. And he knew it.
With the equally tall and arguably more imposing Chris Durant alongside him, Jumbo Reed is insistent when he describes them both as the
…best two locks in Cornwall by a country mile…
This isn’t just an old soldier talking a couple of comrades up; to this day, their partnership for Camborne and Cornwall both is remembered in hushed tones in bars all over the County.
Allied to this, and like his partner in many a post-match session, Bobby Tonkin, Paul had
…surprisingly good ball skills…
said David May. Alan Truscott likewise appreciated the big man’s “good hands” and turn of speed, utilising them for attacking moves. There was of course the ‘double diamond’ move, where the fly-half would switch-pass with Colin Taylor at 12, who in turn would switch with Ranford bursting out of the lineout at full bore, changing the angle and bearing down on the opposition’s 10.
Then there was the ‘1234’ move. Chris Durant would catch at the front of the lineout, and feed to Bobby, who would be peeling round the short-side. Malcolm Bennetts would grab the opposition hooker and pull him into the line (meaning Bennetts risked “a punch, or worse”), creating a gap for Bobby to pop-pass to Ranford, who would sprint through to score, often
…laughing his head off…
according to Bennetts. Sixteen tries that season, in over 39 appearances, though Paul himself reckons there’s a few more in there somewhere.
However, as Truscott notes, his short fuse was a constant. (Even in training sessions he was known to blow a gasket if a move wasn’t executed perfectly.) Ranford always sought
…immediate retribution if fouled…
remembers Truscott, meaning he became a “target” for the opposition, said Chris Durant, who could be “put off easily”, reckoned clubman Terry Symons. Wind up Ranford…he can’t help himself…get him in trouble…
Even Paul admits that, when he was sent off during that Wasps fixture, they set him up. He knew his temper was a problem:
The problem I had, our fixture list was too diverse, one week Truro etc and next Bristol or Gloucester, the latter teams were more physical, and lower league Cornish teams, players, and committee would whinge…
But he wouldn’t – or couldn’t – change. To rein in his aggression would hamper his play, lose him a lot more lineouts, and a lot of support on the terraces. It was part of who he was on the pitch.
He also had to contend with those on opposition teams who reckoned landing one on Paul Ranford would enhance their own reputation. As he told me,
Every club had chancers, they were bleddy sly guys…numerous times I would be raked or kicked from behind…
Such ‘chancers’ were to be dealt with in one manner only. Paul was a firm believer in the following maxim:
…get your retaliation in first…
Paul Ranford was the kind of player who, if provoked, would aim a haymaker at your jaw in a maul, and then buy you a pint after the game. Big, fast, physical, and with the handling skills of a centre, Paul was arguably the embodiment of pre-professional rugby, who may very well have played
…in the Premiership today…
according to David May.
Winter then truly came to Cornwall.
On February the 11th, Camborne were due to host Hayle. Snow meant the game was cancelled, which is a great shame. Hayle had risen to third in the Merit Table, and had recently done the ‘double’ over St Ives and beaten Redruth.
Camborne, though top, had done neither of those things, and would have been aware that this was a very different Hayle side from the one they’d easily beaten on Christmas Eve.
Another shock slaying may have been on the cards, but it was not to be. Due to Camborne’s cramped schedule, the fixture was never rearranged.
Likewise Town’s match against visiting Brixham on the 18th. That weekend, “not one” senior rugby fixture was played, owing to snow and gales3.
Camborne didn’t play again until February 25th, when they hosted Penzance-Newlyn, and the elements had a say in that game too:
The dilapidated wreck you see above is Camborne RFC’s grandstand. Over the course of the previous week, storms and high winds had destroyed the roof. If you look closely, you might be able to spot the Wicked Witch of the East’s legs.
Kerrier District Council, the club’s landlords, pointed out the blatantly obvious in declaring the grandstand unfit for use.
This was a setback for Town: repairs would be costly, and revenue would be lost as the ground’s capacity was affected.
But the pitch was playable – and play went on.
Bony old bugger…
The only thing substandard Penzance-Newlyn found about Camborne RFC on the 25th was the grandstand itself.
Although a certain degree of rustiness was evident in Town’s pack, allowing the Pirates’ forwards a late surge, the visitors were sent back down west defeated, 16-12.
Chris Durant always had issues with the Penzance front eight, in particular lock Roger Waters, whom he recalls as a
…bony old bugger…hard as nails…
Durant never enjoyed playing Waters, which I suppose is one of the highest imaginable compliments in Cornish rugby.
But even Waters’ niggardly style couldn’t thwart the hosts. “Quick thinking” (as ever) by David May put Edwards in near the corner, a Bobby Tonkin rampage set up David Kingston, and a ‘Mank’ break by Mankee gave Edwards his second4.
Elsewhere, St Ives threw away a 13-4 lead at Falmouth, to draw 13-all5. Dave Gee’s prophecy was becoming reality.
The Merit Table was looking increasingly like Camborne’s to lose, and Merrill Clymo was determined to make all the cynics and naysayers take notice:
The time will come when the ‘papers will have to acknowledge the fact that Camborne are the top team in Cornwall…Programme notes, Camborne v Launceston, March 4, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler
…eyes fixed on the double…
“Camborne’s eyes are fixed on the double”, ran the Packet on March 8. If this statement can offer any clue, the media had altered its stance regarding Camborne RFC.
On March 4th, they proved far too hot for Launceston, running in seven tries, and running out 33-6 victors.
Launceston couldn’t live with Town’s pack. Their wing that day, Mickey Stephens, told me his forwards were weak, and their lineout
He described the Camborne front five as “massive”. Launceston couldn’t handle the fearsome Jock Denholm “at all”, and as for Chris Durant, well, you “didn’t mess” with him under any circumstances, and certainly not on a rugby field.
With such superiority, Town’s pack surged
…about the field…and Camborne threw the ball about in great style…Packet, March 8, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler
In fact, at times Camborne could afford to showboat, with overly intricate passing upsetting some chances – but no matter.
This was a near-complete performance, with a hat-trick for that noted “poacher”, Richard Thomas6, and one apiece for Lees, Pellowe, Colin Taylor and Durant.
Up and coming…
Stephens knew this was an “up and coming” Camborne XV, and the next Saturday, the 11th, the torch was truly passed on.
Falmouth, the previous season’s Merit Table and CRFU Cup winners7, came to Camborne with just under a hundred loyal fans, and were beaten 17-3.
Their lock, Stephen Lightfoot, noted how the hosts had
…improved their discipline and did not give away so many penalties…
Take the discipline, combine it with that pack, and the rock-solid Pellowe at 10 (Nigel started the fixture at fly-half; Tanzi Lea was available and played at full-back), and Falmouth were left hunting for scraps. They found very few.
Camborne’s key score came as the result of an up-an-under launched by Dave Edwards at Falmouth’s 15, Trevor Hewitt. Edwards’ chase was supported by Robert Mankee, who zeroed in on Hewitt at full tilt.
Here’s Mankee. He hit Hewitt
…with the full force of the Mank tackle…it was timed to perfection…
Modestly put. Hewitt lost the ball as a result of Mank’s pinpoint smash, and Edwards was on hand to nip over the line.
Camborne had now won eight games in a row, and each match was a pressure performance, either in the Merit Table, or the Cup. There were no friendly touring teams to boss around.
Merrill Clymo sensed the team were on the verge of something truly momentous:
A Centenary Season should be something special and this is precisely what our players are providing us with…Programme notes, Camborne v Falmouth, March 11, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler
To win the Merit Table, Camborne had to beat Falmouth again, on Monday the 20th.
To reach the CRFU Cup Final, they of course had first to win their semi, to be played on Saturday the 18th.
Step up, Redruth RFC…
Find out the result of that game in Rugby Special ~ Part Ten here…
Many thanks for reading
6 thoughts on “Rugby Special ~ Part Nine”
Nick SerpellSent from my iPad
We had a player crash evens second row from troon he was Welsh do you or your dad know of him unfortunately he passed away about 1year ogo good hard player and a navy second row this was around centenary year
Hi Nigel, yes I’d heard ‘Crash’ had passed on sadly. Have a photo of him I’m going to use in a few weeks