Cornish All Blacks promoted after epic comeback over Old Centralians at Polson Bridge

By David Sillifant   |   Sports Reporter   |
Wednesday 1st May 2019 7:39 am
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Launceston's players and officials celebrate their success on the pitch after the game. Pictures: Paul Hamlyn

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Saturday, April 27

Tribute South West One play-off at Polson Bridge

Cornish All Blacks 33

Old Centralians 22

THE Cornish All Blacks have been promoted back to the South West Premier after producing an epic comeback to defeat Old Centralians 33-22 in a play-off at a raucous Polson Bridge on Saturday.

The All Blacks won the toss and chose to play against the strong wind in the first-half and found themselves 19-0 down at the break.

However the tide turned after the restart, and after player/coach Ryan Westren scored Launceston’s first on 44 minutes, they added a further four tries, one a try of the season contender from Aiden Jacob, to ease to victory and secure a return to the fifth-tier of English rugby after a two-year absence.

Westren and joint coach Ian Goldsmith had a fully-fit squad to choose from and made a number of changes from their final league game against Lydney 14 days earlier.

In the forwards, Rikki Bentham returned at prop in place of Jordan Duke which meant Andy Knight moved into the second-row while Torin Clarke, who has recently been selected for the South West Under 20 squad, was preferred to Brandon Rowley at number eight.

Dom Mulberry was again preferred at scrum-half ahead of Adam Collings while the Supporters’ Player of the Year, Reuben Edwards returned to the team in place of Shaun Crawford at outside-centre.

Such was the interest in the game, a crowd of well over 1,000 turned up to watch including supporters from clubs all over the South West.

However, their Gloucester-based visitors who finished runners-up in South West One (East) were no pushovers and using the elements to their advantage, tore into the All Blacks.

Although their game was based predominantly through the forwards they struck twice in the opening ten minutes from close range through flanker Jack Rowe and number eight Mike Mathers. Fly-half Wayne Mulhurn slotted both conversions.

The All Blacks’ job in the first-half was to restrict as much as possible and they did a sterling job in defence.

On half an hour they had their only chance to score. Such was their dominance in the scrum, the All Blacks were awarded another penalty. A tap and go from Mulberry fed Westren but he was adjudged to have been held up by referee Lloyd Davies.

14-0 would have been a decent opening 40 for the Cornishmen, but they conceded a third try on the stroke of half-time as Mulhurn clinched a hat-trick of pick and go tries for the visitors.

Such was the All Blacks’ predicament, they knew they needed to grab an early try after the restart and it was Westren who exploited space from close range after good work from the forwards. Glenn Coles notched a superb conversion to reduce the lead to 12.

Mulhurn made it 22-7 with a penalty from right in front on 49 minutes, meaning the All Blacks had just over half an hour to save themselves.

They were right back in the contest on 56 minutes. More good work by the forwards saw the ball passed out to Westren who offloaded to Coles as he was being tackled. Coles used his range of passing to throw the ball 15 metres to Kneebone, who beat his opposite winger to score. Coles kicked another superb conversion to bring them to within eight points.

The third try came with 12 minutes to go. From a five-metre scrum, a series of pick and gos ended with Westren burrowing over from a metre. Coles missed his only shot at goal of the day.

The try which ultimately proved decisive was a try worthy of winning any game.

After the All Blacks secured the ball in their own half and went from side to side, the ball was worked out to the right-wing by Coles to Jacob some 40 metres out, who showed supreme strength to spin out of a tackle by winger Sol Farrer, head infield before burning past Mathers and then using his pace to run in under the posts despite the attention of two defenders.

By now the home fans knew that promotion was in the palm of their hands and it was sealed by Westren’s hat-trick with four minutes to go. From a penalty on halfway, the All Blacks countered brilliantly to get into the Old Centralians 22. From there, the ball was played out into the backs where Coles delivered another lovely pass for the onrushing Westren to storm his way through from the 22 to secure the most epic of wins.

The rest of the game was played out without any alarms as the All Blacks can prepare for life back in Step Five and look forward to derby dates with seven Devon clubs and Camborne.

Westren admitted that they made hard work of it, but was delighted with the efforts of the players.

He said: “It was a funny one at half-time. From the sidelines they didn’t realise the magnitude of the wind. Goldy (Ian Goldsmith) said at half-time it’s a 25-point wind. Whether he said that to give us some hope I don’t know, but looking back at it now, Old Centralians knew the style they played and we played into their hands by conceding the three tries.

“We put ourselves in a situation where we couldn’t kick it out and they were fully aware of that. The pressure built, we couldn’t exit and the tries followed.

“But what a response. We knew we had to come out and get field position. But I don’t think it was that that won it, we raised our intensity and they couldn’t live with us.”

Asked how good the comeback was, Westren said: “That takes some doing. At 19-0 down, to come back and win 33-22 takes a lot of character. The boys stood up and took responsibility. We reminded them in the build-up that this opportunity may never come around again and we felt that we didn’t do that in the first-half. But once we got our tails up we were like a different team. From the moment we scored our first try early in the second-half, the momentum stayed with us.”

Skipper Lloyd Duke agreed with Westren’s assessment, he said: “At half-time we felt like we were still in the game. People underestimated how strong the wind was and we felt pretty confident in ourselves that a 19-point lead wouldn’t be enough. We knew that if we could get the first score with over 1,000 people watching and we could get them cheering, it’d give us a 16th man and give them something to cheer about, which we hadn’t in the first-half.”

The All Blacks were a fixture in National Two South and above for 12 seasons before relegation in 2015/16, and although they’re now just a league from getting back there, Westren wants to continue to push forward.

He said: “The hard work really does start now. We’ve got to put a squad together to compete in the South West Premier. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a big step up, so players and coaches alike need to be willing to put the work in to enable us to compete at that level.”

Westren’s final words for the people of the town.

He added: “The support we get is unbelievable. Talking to people, you could tell it was more than just a rugby match, it was for the town as well and that showed in the crowd that turned up.

“When we got on top the place was absolutely rocking and you can’t underestimate how much it means to the boys.”

Duke echoed Westren’s comments, adding: “Most of the players have experienced the last three or four years here when life hasn’t been easy. Four years ago they set out a plan to rebuild the club and Saturday was the first major step forward. It was a reward for the players who’ve stuck in there and the supporters who’ve stayed loyal to us.”

Cornish All Blacks —

Sandercock, Jacob, Edwards, Westren, Kneebone, Coles, Mulberry; Bentham, Bulut, Thomas, Knight, Williams, Lightfoot, L Duke (captain), Clarke

Replacements: Jenkins, Rowley, Crawford, Pearce

Tries: Westren 3, Kneebone, Jacob

Convs: Coles 4

Pens: N/A

Cornish All Blacks’ man-of-the-match: Ryan Westren

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