Rugby Special ~ Part Ten

Reading time: twenty minutes

(If you missed Part Nine, click here…)

These are the best two Rugby teams in the county, and included in them are men who have donned the county colours…but the rivalry between the two clubs has sometimes produced a feeling that does harm to sport, and the sooner this lesson is learnt the better it will be for Cornish Rugby…

“Argus”, West Briton, April 29, 1912, p2

…it may possibly be the most important encounter ever between very old rivals…

Programme notes, Redruth v Camborne, CRFU Cup semi-final, March 18, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

As it was…

It’s Saturday, March 18, 1978. In the Five Nations Championship, Wales are hosting France in a Grand Slam decider – for the record, Wales won. (Incidentally, this was Gareth Edwards’ final game for Wales.) At Twickenham, England and Ireland are competing in a dead rubber, which England won.

But. But. As Jerry Clarke wrote,

…all the real Rugby…will be played at Redruth…

Packet, March 15, 1978. Courtesy Alan Rowling

Today is the day of the season’s biggest Cornish rugby fixture to date. Clarke sent a clarion-call to every Cornish rugby fan:

…every true follower of the game in the area will surely desert the clinical atmosphere of the dreaded box for the very real electric atmosphere of the Recreation ground.

Packet, March 15, 1978. Courtesy Alan Rowling

It’s the CRFU Cup semi-final, to be played in Redruth.

It’s Camborne against Redruth.

You’re not missing that, surely.

Courtesy Frank Butler

The Game of all Games…part three…

Let’s set the scene. Throughout their Centenary Season, Camborne have gone from also-rans to be the coming men of Cornish rugby. They’re looking set to win the CRFU Merit Table in three days time.

They’ve won their previous eight fixtures; the last team to beat them was Plymouth Albion, back in early January.

Those eight victories have been the making of Camborne’s season.

The wins have made them virtually untouchable in the Merit Table. As St Ives’ own season unravelled, Town went from a worrying third place to the top spot.

Packet, March 15, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

In those eight games, they’d scored 139 points, and conceded only 39. The big scores seen against touring sides earlier in the season might have dried up, but now, this was a disciplined, clinical, ruthless Camborne XV. Their play was almost relentless and mechanical. At this stage, they genuinely were playing, ball-boy Tim Carr observed,

…like a machine…

Jerry Clarke called their pack the “finest” in Cornwall1. Paul Ranford is more explicit:

…we were just big guys who had ball-handling skills and nastiness thrown into the mix…

Their outsides had received some criticism, but in truth, they had to live in the shadow of their forwards. In that shadow lurked the unpredictable flair of Tanzi Lea, the finishing skills of Edwards and Lees, the astute David May and rock-hard Colin Taylor, the metronomic boot of Derick Taylor and blossoming talent of Steve Floyd, a ballistic missile in Nigel Pellowe, and the mercurial-yet-tough Robert Mankee.

One of those eight wins, over St Ives, had given them this spot in the semi-final.

Camborne were massive. They were iron. No one in Cornwall could live with them.

Except Redruth.

The line-ups. Tanzi Lea was actually unavailable, so Derick Taylor came in at 10, with Pellowe moving to 15. Courtesy Frank Butler

As we saw earlier in the season2, Camborne’s form had meant little or nothing to their oldest, and nearest, rivals.

It was going to mean bugger-all to Redruth today as well.

Today, they couldn’t give a damn that they were fourth in the Merit Table. So what that their titanic prop, Terry Pryor, was on the bench for England up at Twickenham. (What Pryor’s feelings were about warming a seat up in London whilst his club played their biggest fixture for years is sadly unknown.)

Today, all that mattered was beating Camborne.

Hell, they had the form to prove it could be done. The Redruth RFC match programme left one in little doubt as to what the result might be, whilst simultaneously grinding Town’s nose in the dirt:

As a guide to the possible outcome of today’s game the previous matches resulted in a drawn game at Redruth, and a win for Redruth at Camborne on Boxing Day.

Programme notes, Redruth v Camborne, CRFU Cup semi-final, March 18, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

They were the only Cornish side who hadn’t lost to Camborne.

Mike Downing, the Mighty Mouse, had all of Camborne’s play on lockdown from his vantage point at 15.

Fly-half Brett Pedley was in top form, having just been capped for Cornwall U23s; centre Nick Brokenshire was hitting his straps too3.

Locks Dave Parsons and Laurie Spear would relish yet another set-to with their old foes Durant and Ranford. John Kitto, in for Pryor, would be licking his lips at the chance to spoil Camborne’s possession yet again.

Redruth might not be able to stop Camborne from winning the Merit Table, but they could make bleddy sure they denied them a shot at the CRFU Cup.

In no order of significance, what Redruth wanted from this game might be summarised thus:

  • Beat Camborne in their Centenary Season again;
  • Deny Camborne the pleasure of beating Redruth in their Centenary Season;
  • Deny Camborne a shot at the Cup-Merit Table double;
  • Reach the CRFU Cup final and salvage their own season;
  • Have bragging rights – for players and supporters – at such workplaces as South Crofty, Holman’s, Maxam and SWEB for the foreseeable future, if not for all time.

First things first. Beat Camborne.

As Jerry Clarke put it,

…it is going to be one of the hardest games seen in Cornwall this year…

Packet, March 15, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

That remained to be seen, but Clarke was right in his earlier prediction. Photographs of the match, taken by a young Paul White, show a packed Redruth Recreation Ground.

No one stayed in to watch the Five Nations.

This was the Game of all Games.

No one was missing this

Mr Teasy…

From the opening seconds, Camborne were in trouble. Redruth, with Hellfire Corner in full voice, smashed into their guests’ half from the kickoff and rapidly gained possession of the ball in a maul.

Camborne, caught reeling, hadn’t organised themselves. On the blindside, slap-bang on Camborne’s 25, Redruth had three men facing one Camborne tackler.

Brett Pedley, screaming like a banshee for the ball, raced to take the pass from the back of the maul, and all Hellfire Corner screamed with him.

All he had to do was catch the ball, ship it on to his right, and Redruth would be on the scoreboard – and Camborne in the shit – in under a minute.

In the stands, Redruth were already celebrating. Redruth were already in the final.

The pass went out to Pedley.

Waiting for him, was Dave Edwards…

Most improved player, 1977-78. Courtesy of the man himself

Edwards, or “Mr Teasy” as Jumbo Reed called him, scored 17 tries that season, in just over 30 appearances.

Although he recalls being told this was a record, in fact Reg Parnell was the holder with 29 tries, from way back in 1926-7. David Weeks beat this with 30 in 1984-5, then broke his own record the next season with 39. Alex Ducker currently holds the record with 41, notched up in 2018-9.

Record or not, spectators reckoned Edwards’ strike-rate that season was a try every third pass. This made him a ruthless finisher. Frank Butler rated him a

…very fast winger with a great change of pace and side-step…always finished well…

For Jumbo Reed, he had

…great pace and sidestepping ability…

Alan Truscott said he was a wing who

…knew where the try-line was…deceptively quick…

In the Cornwall U23 squad that season, on reflection he was perhaps unlucky not to gain a full senior cap. However, due to cricket commitments he often missed the first games of the season (and, in 77-78 the important County President’s fixture). Some players also reckon that, while a top wing, he maybe lacked speed and size in this respect.

He didn’t lack guts though.

David May described him as “great” in defence, and Nigel Pellowe always praises his covering ability in the back line. Allied to this, said Robert Mankee, Edwards was a

…fiery old bugger…

who could be more than relied on in the tackle…

Cut back to the action. Pedley never made that pass, and Redruth didn’t score in the opening minute.

As Pedley took the ball, Edwards came at him full bore and slammed him in the chest with all he had. He was rapidly joined by David May, and Pedley was pole-axed into the turf.

Stunned silence in Hellfire Corner, followed by a few thousand spectators collectively wincing.

A second later, hellup…

Spectating, on the Redruth side, was Brian Riddle. Although today he diplomatically states he was “too far away” to judge the action on the pitch, he did tell me that the Redruth supporters, en masse,

…cried foul…

amongst other, more unprintable, things.

In the crowd for Camborne was committee man Terry Symons. What he saw is rather different. Edwards

…struck Pedley as he took the ball…it was a fair tackle…the only thing [Edwards] could do to prevent a try…

The referee awarded a penalty to Redruth, which John Harvey missed. Brian Riddle confirms that, from that moment on, Edwards was known in Redruth as

…that dirty bastard with number eleven on his back…

Also watching, both professionally and passionately, was Jerry Clarke. The tackle was

Naughty, perhaps, but…Pedley was seen very little after that…

Packet, March 22, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

Pedley spent the rest of the match in a daze, and was very possibly concussed. Although both Edwards and Nigel Pellowe concur that there was “no plan” to get Pedley, Redruth’s fly-half and key playmaker had effectively been neutralised. Frank Butler told me that

…we always wanted to close [Pedley] down because it stopped Redruth functioning as well…

Over to Paul Ranford.

That’s mine!

“That’s mine!” read the caption in the Packet of March 22, 1978. Paul Ranford wins the space, and wins the ball. Courtesy Frank Butler

With Pedley out of the game, Redruth had no option but to try and beat Camborne up front. To do this, wrote Clarke,

…the effort required was enormous.

Packet, March 22, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

They were playing into Camborne’s, and Paul Ranford’s, hands.

Redruth tried every lineout ploy imaginable, but Ranford was their equal:

…as the game progressed he became more and more dominant, and it remains a total mystery how he came to be ignored by the county selectors this year…

Packet, March 22, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

Clarke kept a tally of the lineouts. In the first half, mainly due to Ranford, Camborne won this battle 10-7. In the second,

…with the red-jerseyed jumpers nearing exhaustion,

Packet, March 22, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

it was 13-6.

Ranford was a monster that day.

Likewise, Bobby Tonkin “foraged endlessly”4 in the loose, and with possession for the home team cut to a minimum, Hellfire Corner became subdued, and then frustrated.

With Harvey missing another two shots at goal, and Nigel Eslick failing with one of his own, the home support’s mood was not improved.

For Camborne, Durant had slammed over two penalties from 35 and 40 metres.

Durant’s eyes follow the path of the ball. Courtesy Paul White
Very possibly the same kick, caught from another angle. Courtesy David May

Harvey finally found his range, and at half-time it was 6-6.

But Redruth were knackered. The writing, reckoned Jerry Clarke,

…was on the wall…

Packet, March 22, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

He was right.

Cheeky bastard…

Mankee flings a pass out to Derick Taylor; Redruth’s deep defensive alignment leaves them wide open to attack. Courtesy Paul White

In the opening minutes of the second half, Nigel Pellowe, who played like a “supreme general”5, torpedoed into the line on the wing and burst over for a try, with Durant converting.

Despite what seems to be half the Redruth team trying to tackle him, Pellowe gets over the line. One can only assume the jubilant spectator is a Camborne fan. Courtesy Frank Butler

6-12, Camborne.

The Redruth faithful, sensing their team was beginning to flag, turned ugly.

How ugly things could get in Hellfire Corner is described by Paul Ranford:

…I’ve been called every name under the sun from there, mainly ’cause I worked with them in Maxam…[One] Redruth supporter, he couldn’t let my name go all the match, coming off the field I leaned over the barrier and told him to meet me behind the stand…he was last seen running out the ground…cheeky bastard…

Colin Taylor is snagged midfield. Courtesy Paul White

Harvey pulled back a penalty, but that was as good as it got for Redruth. Camborne’s ‘machine’ had worn down their hosts, and now the threequarters could be brought into play.

Bob Lees crashed through Pedley and Mike Downing both, right under the nose of Hellfire Corner:

Lees makes the line, with close attention from Mike Downing (left) and Brett Pedley. Courtesy Frank Butler

Though Durant missed the conversion, the barracking was full-on, with Robert Mankee taking umbrage.

Jogging back after putting Lees in, he flicked a time-honoured and heartfelt gesture to the vociferous grandstand, something that earned him criticism in the press6.

To this day, Mankee is unrepentant. He had schooled in Redruth, and many would have seen him as a ‘traitor’ in turning out for the Cherry & Whites. David May dismisses the Redruth supporters of the time as

…obnoxious and one-sided…

Mankee, despite close attention, gets his kick away. In the packed grandstand, Redruth’s fanbase wish him ill. Courtesy Paul White

Towards the end, Edwards crossed in the other corner, after a dramatic – and jubilantly celebrated – fifty-yard dash to the line. Derick Taylor fed him the ball, Mike Downing wore a sharp hand-off to the chin, and it was all over.

…red-hot favourites…

David May (left) watches the Westward News report on the game with glee in the Redruth clubhouse. From the David May Collection

Camborne 20, Redruth 9.

Not only had Camborne beaten Redruth in the biggest game of the season, they’d won in style, and were now in the CRFU Cup Final.

They walked off the pitch being cheered to the rafters, in the warm knowledge of a heroes’ welcome at work on Monday morning.

Nigel Pellowe, whose job often took him into Redruth, vowed to wear his Camborne jersey to work that week. Only a man of Pellowe’s reputation could have done this with impunity.

Not all the Camborne fans, however, were satisfied. Malcolm Bennetts recalls one irate spectator who would not have been happy

…unless we put fifty points past the bastards…

That small caveat aside, Camborne were now

…red-hot favourites…

Packet, March 22, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

to win the CRFU Cup. In the other semi, and what must have been a game devoid of highlights on a waterlogged pitch, St Austell had pulled off the upset of the season to beat Penryn 3-07.

Beating St Austell to lift the trophy in a month’s time would be a doddle.

That coming Monday, though, was Falmouth, and a chance to wrap up the Merit Table.

West Briton, 23 March, 1978, p20

The game at Dracaena Avenue followed a similar pattern to the one at Redruth. Camborne inexorably wore their opponents into submission. At half-time, it was 3-3

Falmouth, whose tactics Stephen Lightfoot remembers were to circumvent Camborne’s force and move the ball wide quickly, failed to take their chances.

Flyer Barry Trevaskis was away and in, until he slipped a yard short of the line8.

Camborne made no such error, with Edwards touching down late on, and Durant converting.

3-9, Camborne. They’d won ugly, but they’d won. The Merit Table was theirs. The double was on. As Merrill Clymo put it,

Everything that could go right is doing so.

Programme notes, Camborne v Saracens, March 24, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler.

But champions have no time to rest on their laurels. Not in a Centenary Season, with fixtures to honour and fans wanting a look at

…the premier club in the Duchy.

Merrill Clymo, programme notes, Camborne v Saracens, March 24, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler.

The day after beating Falmouth, Town were facing Cardiff University.

The following weekend, Easter, had three games, including tough propositions in Saracens and Coventry.

And then, on April 15, a mere four days before the CRFU Cup Final, rugby aristocracy was coming to the Rec.

Cardiff. How would Camborne fare against arguably the best XV in the UK?

Read all about it in Rugby Special ~ Part Eleven here

Many thanks for reading

References

  1. Packet, March 15, 1978.
  2. See Rugby Special ~ Part Three here, and the Christmas Rugby Special here.
  3. Packet, March 15, 1978.
  4. Packet, March 22, 1978.
  5. Packet, March 22, 1978.
  6. Packet, March 22, 1978.
  7. West Briton, March 23, 1978, p20.
  8. Western Morning News, March 21, 1978.

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