Rugby Special ~ Part Eleven

Reading time: 20 minutes

(If you missed Part Ten, click here…)

PlayedWonDrawnLostFor Against
St Ives181314336124
Newquay Hornets16709172219
St Austell152112119330
Cornwall RFU Merit Table, from the Packet, March 22, 1978. Camborne’s position is unassailable.

As it was…

It’s Tuesday, March 21, 1978. Kate Bush has made her first trip to the top of the charts with ‘Wuthering Heights’. Britt Ekland states she wants a rock-star for her next boyfriend. Doctors at Treliske Hospital, Truro, have written a letter of complaint to the Social Services Secretary, Mr David Ennals, highlighting the pressures on the hospital’s services1.

Camborne have beaten the students of Cardiff University 27-0.

After the Lord Mayor’s Show…

It’s hard to imagine many of Camborne’s 1st XV made this fixture. The previous day, they’d beaten Falmouth to clinch the CRFU Merit Table; on the Saturday they’d won in Redruth to reach the CRFU Cup Final2.

They’d earned a break. But not for long.

Although Town had already played 38 matches, there were still 15 fixtures scheduled3. From their recent performances, Camborne now had a certain reputation to uphold, as Merrill Clymo realised:

Success brings support and this is very evident at present.

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

Not only did the fans expect a high standard of play, the players probably realised they couldn’t ease off either.

Top sides from up the line were due to visit, and Town had yet to notch a victory against this particular brand of opposition.

Plus, their status as Merit Table champions had earned them a place next season in the regional South West Merit Table, where quality upcountry challengers were a matter of course.

In just under a month’s time, Camborne would qualify for the national John Player Knockout Cup4 – provided they beat St Austell in the CRFU Cup Final.

Camborne would want to know what it took to beat such teams.

First up, on the 24th – Good Friday – was Saracens.

Mank’s the name, rugby’s the game…

The team that played Saracens. Back, l to r: David Kingston, David May, Jock Denholm, Richard Thomas, Paul Ranford, Chris Durant (c), Bobby Tonkin. Front, l to r: Bob Lees, Colin Taylor, Nigel Pellowe, Robert Mankee, Frank Butler, Malcolm Bennetts, Derick Taylor, Dave Edwards. Courtesy Paul White

Frank Butler told me that, in the 1970s, Saracens weren’t quite the side they are today, but they were no pushovers either.

In recent seasons Saracens had twice been semi-finalists in the John Player Cup, and therefore were not to be taken lightly5.

The visitors weren’t taking things for granted either, and had identified scrum-half Robert Mankee as the man to target.

Mankee himself remembers the murmurings coming from the Sarries’ camp:

…watch Mankee…he’s like a tumbler in the circus…

The press picked up on this too:

…Saracens quickly discovered that no end of possibilities could be created by putting pressure on Mankee…

Western Morning News, March 25, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

At half-time, it was 3-7 to Saracens. They’d done something a Cornish crowd hadn’t seen in a long time: Camborne’s pack moved backwards.

This obviously rattled Mankee, and Saracens’ try was the result of a panicky clearance kick from him being charged down6.

But you can’t keep a man as irrepressible as ‘Mank’ down for long…

Mankee as a fresh-faced Colt. Courtesy Mark Warren
And here, pictured far right in the early 1980s at Wheal Jane, Baldhu. From left: Jake Tann (Truro RFC), Bill Hobba (Wheal Jane Manager), Mervyn Randlesome (Penryn RFC), Graham Hill (Truro RFC), Paul Thomason (Redruth RFC), Mank. Courtesy of the man himself

Here’s Paul Ranford on the man who used to announce his entry into most changing rooms, and a few bars, with a loud rendition of Mank’s the name…rugby’s the game..! :

…a typical Gerry guy…hard as nails…

‘Gerry’ of course refers to Wheal Gerry, now part of Roskear in Camborne. Here’s Jumbo Reed. Mank was a

…brilliant scrum-half…hard as nails…

David May:

Mercurial…fearless…never beaten…afraid of no-one…great athlete…

Malcolm Bennetts:

Hard…talented…brilliant gymnast…

Frank Butler:

…incredible competitor…very fit…great gymnast…always on the move…fearless in the tackle…always up for a fight…a dream to play with…

‘Always up for a fight’: Gerald Williams, of Crawshay’s, would grudgingly agree7.

Alan Truscott:

…livewire…aggressive…irritated everyone who played against him…quick, strong, mouthy…simply a handful for the opposition and referee…

No-one was safe, not even international scrum-halves:

…he was once playing against Nigel Starmer-Smith and as the two scrum halves crouched side by side at a scrum Mank would knock the ball out of his hands into the scrum which we then won. Starmer-Smith duly complained to the ref but was given short shrift. He then warned Mank implying some physical retribution but Mank’s reply was ‘don’t be silly I’m a hard rock miner’…

Malcolm Tonkin

You get the general impression. Mankee’s talents as a gymnast usually manifested themselves whenever he was playing to the gallery – which was often. Here’s a Camborne fan, Michael Roberts:

I can still picture Mank doing two or three forward rolls before touching down…

Frank Butler and Malcolm Bennetts both told me that, when playing for Cornwall against Gloucestershire, Mankee had actually somersaulted over the Bristol and England flanker Mike Rafter to score.

You may not credit this tale, were there not a photo of the actual event:

Another Mank catchphrase was Is it a bird, is it a plane, no! it’s Camborne and Cornwall’s mercurial scrum half…Courtesy Phil Meyers

Also watching this quitessential ‘Mank’ moment was clubman Malcolm Tonkin:

…Rafter was waiting to attempt to tackle him and was going to go very low and Mank being a gymnast just did a huge leap over him just as the tackle was going in and then did a forward roll afterwards.  It brought a huge cheer. What you might not have been told was that in the clubhouse afterwards Mank wound up Rafter by doing a “Stan Laurel” quizzical look and scratching his head….

He was also once invited to play for Harlequins. Though the ‘quins had stuffed Town by 60 points, after the game Mankee was asked to meet their brass up in the grandstand, where he was offered a run-out for the club, with the promise of a job. For one reason and another, he declined.

Robert Mankee was the heartbeat of the team. You’d hate to play against him. He must have driven the opposition mad. But you’d love to play with him.

Back to the Saracens match. They might have been trailing at half-time, but Town didn’t panic. Teams used to winning don’t panic, especially teams well-drilled in the art of attrition.

In the second half, Camborne took control. Durant nailed a penalty which resulted from a Bob Lees break.

Paul Ranford then scored his 14th try of the season from the ‘1234’ move, bursting through short from a lineout.

Then, who else but Mankee had the last laugh. A patented Mank blindside break put in Richard Thomas, for one of his 12 Centenary tries.

(“A try machine”, is how Jumbo Reed recalls Thomas.)

Action from the game. Bobby Tonkin and Chris Durant fight for – and win – the ball. To the left, Jock Denholm is kindly wiping the nose of a Saracens player with his forearm. Courtesy Paul White

Camborne 16, Saracens 10. A big, prestigious, noteworthy victory.

Camborne take the cake…8

Eccles RFC, 1977. Courtesy Chris Gaffey

Not every touring side to visit Camborne were hard-bitten, experienced and talented XVs looking to run Cornwall’s best off the pitch.

Take, for example, Eccles RFC, from Manchester, who played Camborne the day after Saracens.

Their tour manager was Geoff Wallwork. Brian Griffiths, their skipper, told me that

The scene would have been set by Geoff…He obviously liked Cornwall and arranged several tours to suit himself. He had no doubt built up our reputation in order to get this fixture…

In fact, Wallwork loved Cornwall so much he’d taken a surfboard on tour with him. He also decided to sit out the game at the Rec.

Another player, Andy Brunt, recalls that Camborne were

…a proper senior club with a proper ground, stands and all…

Brian Griffiths backs this up:

…this was, for Camborne, a serious, no-holds-barred first team fixture – we were on tour!

Quite. As the Eccles XV ran up the steps from the changing rooms, one player slipped and went face-first into the mud.

It didn’t get much better for Eccles, who did what touring sides normally do in such situations: lose gamely. A second-string Camborne XV beat them 36-3.

And then they all went to the clubhouse…

Without touching the sides…

Camborne’s clubhouse, with its regular roster of bands organised by Dickie Bray, was always popular – though Nigel Pellowe’s preference was for The Countryman pub, at Peace. For the more adventurous (and less attached), there was always The Flamingo nightclub, on East Hill.

On the dancefloor at The Flamingo, 1970s. From Kernow Beat

Malcolm Bennetts recalls that, after many a game, the opposition would be challenged to drink a pint as quickly as possible: £1 to enter, £5 to the winner, with the surplus kitty being spent on jugs.

Camborne could play this game, said Bennetts, with a loaded deck. One of the team, whose name I’m witholding,

…could down a pint of beer in less than three seconds…People just stood there gobsmacked as it went down his throat without touching the sides…

(Let’s just say I’m printing the legend here.)

Not all post-match socialising was about boozing. David May remembers that the singing

…was of a high standard…

This was led by Colin ‘Seamus’ Taylor, who by all accounts had a fine baritone. The other songbirds were Alan Truscott, Barry Wills, Bobby Tonkin, Derick Taylor and Bob Lees. This choir, said Truscott, was “most impressive”.

So much so that, one season, after a game at Bristol when the opposition were treated to a rendition of such standards as ‘Camborne Hill’ and ‘Little Eyes’, Bristol’s President stood and said that

…they’d played all the best Welsh sides, but this was the best singing they’d ever heard…

David May

Maybe he was being polite. Maybe Camborne had several guest players from a local works’ choir in tow…


Camborne’s 13-game winning streak was brought to an end two days later, on Easter Monday. Coventry, John Player Cup Champions in 1973 and 19749, laid them low 13-26. Before you ask, the late, great David Duckham didn’t play, but Coventry were skippered by Barry Ninnes, of Cornwall and England.

Speaking of the John Player Cup, in his notes for the game Merrill Clymo announced who Camborne would be travelling to play in that competition’s preliminary round, provided they beat St Austell in the CRFU Cup Final:

…Matson in Gloucestershire…

Programme notes, Camborne v Coventry, March 27, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler


This was a way off yet. In the meantime, Devonport Services were unable to raise a side on Saturday the 1st. I imagine many players relished the day off. They needed it.

On Thursday the 6th, visiting Wolverhampton were beaten 24-4.

The next day, Dudley Kingswinford came to the Rec, and went home losers, 13-7.

The day after that, Saturday the 8th, came a tough side from the Valleys, Abertillery, who Camborne held to a 6-6 draw.

Pause for breath. A guest Camborne School of Mines XV were no match for Town on Thursday the 13th, losing 20-6.

Appearing for Camborne at 10 was the coach Alan Truscott, who incurred the wrath of Paul Ranford for kicking away too much possession. There were no sacred cows for Ranford, even in a friendly.

In fact, several key men were rested for this fixture, for, that Saturday, a sumptuous feast of rugby was taking place at Camborne.

In the afternoon, England Colts were playing their French counterparts.

And then, at 6pm, arguably the best team in the land were due to take the field.


The average Welsh player…

Cardiff RFC, 1977-78

The Orrell and Crawshay’s Welsh XV full-back, Dave Gullick, told me that in the 1970s

The average Welsh player was better than the average anywhere else…

This statement is borne out by the mid-70s existence of the ‘Anglo-Welsh Alliance’, an unofficial (ie, not recognised by the RFU or the WRU) league comprising the top English and Welsh clubs10. The Alliance did little more than

…confirm the superiority of Welsh rugby…

Daily Mirror, October 23, 1976, p26

The results, from an English perspective, were “grim”, and made the national selectors “wince”11.

Cardiff weren’t your ‘average’ Welsh club. In the 77-78 season, they only lost nine matches from 46 fixtures. Their fluent, open, fifteen-man ‘total’ rugby scored them over a thousand points, and included a victory over Coventry, the side who’d recently broken Town’s winning run. Hell, in 1975, they’d beaten Australia, and in late 1976, they’d hammered Italy12.

No, Cardiff weren’t average. They were frightening. This was the XV they named for Camborne:

Courtesy Frank Butler

In the event, the great wing Gerald Davies didn’t play. Rumour has it he heard he’d have to mark Dave Edwards, and cried off.

At time of writing, Mr Davies was unavailable for comment.

There was international class everywhere. Over the course of their careers, Pat Daniels (who had played at Camborne for Crawshay’s earlier that season) earned two Welsh caps, Barry Nelmes 6 (for England), Mike Watkins 3, and Ian Robinson 2.

Gareth Davies would play 21 times for Wales, skippering them on five occasions, and also represented the British Lions. Terry Holmes would earn 25 caps, and also play for the Lions, proving an admirable successor to Gareth Edwards13.

In fact, it was the threat of an appearance at Camborne by Edwards that gave Robert Mankee a sleepless night before the match. Not that Mank was afraid of the great man; rather his concern was

…how to prove yourself…

…against the best in the world. How would Mank measure up?

Of course, Edwards didn’t make the trip. A horde of young Camborne ball-boys, including Paul White, Mark Warren, and Martin and Michael Symons, would be denied the spectacle – and his autograph.

(Perhaps Edwards had heard, via Gerald Williams, what Mankee did to Welsh scrum-halves…14)

Gasped and clapped…

The Camborne XV that played Cardiff. Courtesy Frank Butler

The Cardiff game of the season is the one occasion of the Centenary Season that everyone remembers – mainly because everyone was there.

Merrill Clymo, whilst acknowledging Cardiff as the “most famous Rugby Side in the word”, was quietly optimistic of Town’s chances:

It is…a tribute to the Camborne side this season that Cardiff have seen fit to bring their full first team…

Programme notes, Camborne v Cardiff, April 15, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

Camborne may have been good. They may have been very good.

But Cardiff were something else.

Early on, remembers David May, Gareth Davies launched a spiral kick

…to touch so far that the crowd gasped and clapped…

Gareth Davies poised to launch one into the stratosphere for Wales. Image George Herringshaw

That’s how good Cardiff were. Even a simple clearance kick garnered admiration and respect.

In fact, May continues, Cardiff

…were simply awesome…unstoppable…

He also recalls

…watching their first try. One of their players was one-to-one with Nigel [Pellowe], who never missed a tackle, but he never even touched his opponent. I thought, ‘we’re in trouble…’

Note that May ‘watched’ Cardiff’s first try: he was actually playing. However, for much of the game – Cardiff were estimated to have had 85% of possession15 – watch, and admire, was all Camborne could do.

3,000 fans came to the Rec to watch Cardiff play. Courtesy Paul White

David Kingston states they were simply “too good”, and recalls the pitch

…catching fire…

as Cardiff’s wing left everyone for dead.

Malcolm Bennetts remembers the experience of playing in front of such a massive crowd was “amazing”, but Camborne were

…not prepared for the onslaught of rugby…

Cardiff were “in a different class”, and so fast, said Bennetts, their entire XV always seemed five yards ahead of Camborne.

Pat Daniels was usually more than five yards ahead of David May – or anybody. As he scorched past the Camborne 13, leaving him clutching at thin air to score under the posts, a spectator with a loud voice and talent for stating the obvious cried out

Tackles, May!

May turned, hands on hips, and indignantly demanded of the spectator a pair of rocket shoes.

Pat Daniels, for once, is brought down before the try-line – against Australia. Getty images

Bob Lees found himself with a sniff of a try. A searing 50-yard break left him with just the full-back to beat. As Bob planned to feint and swerve around Cardiff’s last man, and then to score against Cardiff, he heard a shout from behind him, loud and clear above the cheering thousands:

Bob! I’m with you!

Lees turned to see prop Jock Denholm, lumbering up from about 15 yards back. It was a mistake.

A split-second later, Lees was crunched, and Cardiff launched a rollicking attack of their own from under the posts.


Courtesy Paul White

It was Denholm’s only error that match. Mankee recalls he was “outstanding that night”, and his scrummaging was singled out in the Press16.

Jock was so tough even several of his team-mates confess he was scary. Frank Butler told me he was “brutally strong”. Malcolm Bennetts mentions a game where Jock had to leave the pitch injured:

…his ear was just hanging by a thread of skin…

Bennetts noted Jock’s ailment…then turned white. Five minutes later, Jock was back, head bandaged. He finished the game with blood soaking through his dressings, and only then did he go to A&E to have his ear reattached.

Alan Truscott rated him the toughest, and best, prop in the Westcountry, who gave Camborne’s already intimidating pack a fearsome edge. Launceston’s Mickey Stephens admits their forwards simply couldn’t handle him.

A truly hard man. Were it not for his work that night against Cardiff, the scoreline could have been worse.


Camborne lost, 3-46. Derick Taylor kicked Town’s token penalty. Cardiff ran in ten tries:

…the Cornishmen were thrust aside in a blitz…

wrote Cardiff’s chairman17. Chris Durant described the scoreline as

…a fair reflection…

Derick Taylor remembers this about his opposite number, Gareth Davies, who

…came onto the pitch looking like a male model with his hair done up…and he came off looking exactly the f__king same…nobody laid a finger on him…

The Packet described the game for Camborne as an “ordeal”18. Malcolm Bennetts reckoned the entire team were “shattered” after eighty minutes of what Dave Edwards and Richard Thomas described as “chasing shadows”.

They had four days to recover. On Wednesday the 19th, in Redruth, it was the CRFU Cup Final, against St Austell.

Easy win? Find out by clicking here

Many thanks for reading


  1. From the Daily Mirror, p1, and the West Briton, March 20, 1978, p3.
  2. See Rugby Special ~ Part Ten here.
  3. Robert Mankee told me that the normal duration for a season at that time was around 35-40 fixtures.
  4. For a brief history of the RFU Cup, see:
  5. As mentioned here:
  6. Western Morning News, March 25, 1978.
  7. See Rugby Special ~ Part Two here.
  8. From the Packet, March 29, 1978.
  9. See:
  10. See:
  11. Daily Mirror, October 23, 1976, p26.
  12. See:, and
  13. See:
  14. See Rugby Special ~ Part Two here.
  15. According to the Packet, April 20, 1978.
  16. The Packet, April 19, 1978.
  17. From:
  18. April 20, 1978.

9 thoughts on “Rugby Special ~ Part Eleven

  1. Thanks once again Francis. Once again you have made my Sunday with an excellent read on my early days as a Cherry and Whites fan


  2. Great read Fran. Cardiff? – yes, they were different class. First Gareth Davies punt went so high and far, I thought…”here we go”…. Thankfully Gerald Davies didn’t play but I remember his replacement (called Preece I think, with Chris Camilleri on the other wing) was going in for a try down Scoreboard Corner and I thought I could take him out by barging him into the Rectory railings; however he didn’t read the script, saw me coming, crouched and I bounced off him!


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