Rugby Union: Saumi savours grand occasion

Cornwall 24 Gloucestershire 15: County Championship final: Duchy claim the pot on a celebration day far from professionals' troubles
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The Independent Online
IT WAS a day for the nostalgic conservative, for the way we were. In other words the Rugby Football Union committee and all the other traditional rugby pockets who were by-passed by the big buck when the International Board threw the game into turmoil by declaring open season for professionalism.

There were no millionaire owners at Twickenham yesterday, no agents, no contracts to be broken, just two sides who still take the 99-year-old County Championship extremely seriously. Before the start, a group of kilted supporters from Cornwall walked around the ground displaying a ceremonial pasty, large enough to feed the entire population of Redruth.

It was just an appetiser. The last time the Duchy - they lost in the final to Cheshire 12 months ago - won at headquarters was before a record crowd of 56,000 in 1991.

Trelawny's Army was on manoeuvres again yesterday, although not in such vast numbers (the crowd was around 25,000) and it seemed that almost every spectator was wearing the Cornish colours of black and gold. They enjoyed their day in the sun, the cream rising to the top with a thoroughly deserved victory by a goal, a try and four penalties to five penalties. Gloucestershire, seeking a record 17th victory in the County Championship final, were no patsies but nor did they possess Cornwall's wit and verve.

The Cornish front row of Peter Risdon, Neil Grigg and good old John Thomas, all farmers, looked as if they were in need of a subsidy early on but this was the only area in which Gloucestershire were really comfortable. The Cornish were under big pressure in the scrums but everywhere else they were imaginative, hungry and skilful. In addition, they would have prospered far more under a referee who played advantage rather than stopped play at almost every opportunity.

After nine minutes, Gloucestershire led with two penalties from Lee Osborne to one by Steve Larkins, all of them awarded for offside.

Another penalty, awarded again for offside when Cornwall's excellent full-back Andy Birkett would probably have crossed for a try, levelled matters. And Cornwall's sense of adventure was at last rewarded in the 15th minute when they declined yet another kick at goal inside the Gloucestershire 22.

They took a tap penalty instead and slick, smart handling, particularly from the Cornish-Fijian Nat Saumi, created an overlap for Jimmy Tucker and the Launceston centre went over for what proved to be the only try until the sixth minute of injury time. Tucker's try put Cornwall 11-6 ahead and they never relinquished the lead. Gloucestershire only looked dangerous when their stand-off, Steve Thompson made a couple of dangerous breaks. However, Cornwall's wrecker-in-chief was Saumi. Whenever anybody ran into him they recoiled at a rate of knots.

The try, and the giant pasty, had to be savoured for the remainder of the half was dominated by the goal-kickers. Osborne landed a third penalty after 18 minutes to make it 11-9; Larkins responded in kind in the 31st minute but Gloucestershire kept in touch when Osborne landed his fourth successful kick to reduce Cornwall's lead to two points at half-time.

Having lost Larkins through injury, Cornwall turned to the versatile Saumi and he landed a penalty in the 50th minute to make it 17-12. With Cornwall being brilliantly served in the line-out by the former Wales international Kevin Moseley, Gloucestershire found themselves more and more on the back foot. But after a rare incursion into Cornish territory, Osborne was on target with his fifth penalty and once again Cornwall's advantage was cut to two points.

The momentum, though, was with Cornwall and it was only the courage and tenacity of the Gloucestershire defence that prevented the Cornishmen from increasing their lead.

Even so, the thousands of Cornish supporters could not entirely relax, especially when the Gloucestershire right wing Jerry Perrins found space to make inroads into the Cornwall 22 in the dying stages.

However, it was Gloucestershire's last hoorah. Cornwall, as they had done throughout the match, drove upfield and when they won a lineout deep inside the Gloucestershire 22 in the 86th minute, Colin Laity, the former Neath and Cardiff centre, bulldozed through the first line of the Gloucestershire defence and although he was tackled just short, he slipped a pass to the stand-off Stewart Whitworth who went over. It was the signal for Twickenham to be invaded by about 10,000 spectators bedecked in black and gold. And that was before Saumi had the chance to take the conversion. He made no mistake and that was the cue for another advance on to the hallowed turf from Trelawny's Army

Cornwall: A Birkett (Launceston); N Saumi (Penzance Newlin), J Tucker (Launceston), C Laity (Exeter), S Larkins (Redruth); S Whitworth (Redruth), M Roderick (Penzance-Newlin); P Risdon (Launceston) N Grigg (Launceston), J Thomas (Penzance-Newlin), G Hutchings (Launceston), K Moseley (Penzance- Newlin), J Atkinson (Penzance-Newlin), D Shipton (Launceston, capt), M Addinall (Penryn). Replacements: E Nancekivell (Launceston) for Larkins, 38; S Rush (Launceston) for Thomas, 63; B Lucas (Launceston) for Grigg, 77; L Mruk (Penzance/Newlin) for Hutchings, 81.

Gloucestershire: S Morgan (Gloucester); J Perrins (Stroud), L Osborne (Lydney), D Edwards (Cinderford), C Dunlop (Lydney); S Thompson (Stroud), J Davis (Lydney); A Martin (Cinderford), N Nelmes (Lydney), A Powles (Gloucester), B Guy (Ashley Down & Bristol), A Adams (Clifton), R York (Cheltenham), M Nicholls (Lydney), A Tarplee (Cheltenham). Replacements: S Ward (Gloucester) for Thompson, 60; J Roberts (Lydney) for Guy, 60; G Williams (Lydney) for Martin, 70; P Knight (Manchester Sale) for Davis, 70; R James (Matson) for Nicholls, 77; N Matthews (Matson) for Nelmes, 80.

Referee: N Yates (RFU)