Cornwall earned the County Championship title against regular opponents Lancashire at the third time of trying.
Matt Shepherd was the man whose magic touch gave Trelawny’s Army the bragging rights for 2015, kicking ten points along with an early try to break Lancastrian hearts.
Both sides entered the fixture with 100 per cent records, so it was always going to edgy, and it was the Cornishmen who took the early opportunity to take the lead.
Scrum-half Shepherd scored the first try of the game four minutes in, cleverly collecting a ball from the base of a ruck, and outsmarting the Lancashire defence to put down for a simple conversion.
Although Lancashire were guilty of errors, they then began a good period of possession, with Steve Collins taking advantage of territory to slot home his sides first points of the day.
Cornwall were the team who looked the more threatening though, and a great break by Nielson Webber into the Lancashire 22 led to another penalty attempt for Shepherd, one which he missed once more.
Lancashire captain Evan Stewart had a few words from referee James Sullivan to pass to his side, as the penalty count was climbing.
The rolling substitutions rule was taken advantage of firstly by Mark Nelson, deciding to use former captains Chris Johnson and Louis McGowan, to provide a bit more experience at what was a crucial time.
Ben Hilton was lost from the Cornwall pack after his yellow card for a professional fold just before the half hour, and Johnson slotted home to bring the arrears to a single point.
Lancashire were soon down to 14 men, as Chris Briers also saw the referee’s yellow card five minutes before the whistle. Shepherd kicked his only penalty of the afternoon to really get the Cornwall crowd in fine voice just as the heavens opened before half-time.
Lancashire came out of the blocks looking for the score to put them ahead, but all they could muster in the early stages was a Johnson drop goal attempt that sailed wide of the mark.
Cornwall’s good work in the set piece saw Shepherd score his second try, where from a lineout near the Lancashire line, he found space to put down by the touchline. He missed his third kick of the day, but his side had an eight-point lead, and were definitely looking the side most likely to claim the title.
With 15 minutes to play, Billy Searle stepped up to kick another three Cornish points.
After a game where Lancashire’s best play had come from the surging runs of the pack, most notably Matt Lamprey, the backs finally saw opportunities to run down the wings, with Anthony Bingham making a particularly fine run to give his side a great position in which to pressurise the Cornwall line.
Cornwall were to finish the game with 14 men, as Searle was yellow-carded for slowing the game down. Lancashire made good use of the extra man, with Stewart driving over to score what proved to be a consolation try. Johnson kicked well to score the conversion from wide on the left.
But, as the clock ran down, Cornwall were able to keep possession, and finally kick down to Lancashire’s half, before the game was over after Cornwall won the final scrum, and the Bill Beaumont Cup was to be wrapped in black and gold.
Afterwards, Mark Nelson admitted a sense of frustration by admitting: “We have got to give credit to Cornwall, they played a game that suited the conditions, and delivered it well.
“We tried to play from deep and spilled the ball on too many occasions. We didn’t get into a position on the pitch where we could get some real attacks, but the crucial element was we conceded two soft tries.
“One, where we didn’t get our guard in place, and then from a lineout, and that gave us too much against a very committed defence.
“We were five down with three or four minutes to go. If we had a chance at a set-piece in their 22, we might just have sneaked it for the draw, or a shot to win it.
“I don’t think that we particularly put them under enough pressure in the first half. I think we put ourselves under more pressure.
“Everybody is disappointed, we know we could probably have performed at a higher level. When we look back in days to come, we’ve been to another final.
“It was a tight game and Cornwall deserved to win in the end.”
Captain Evan Stewart was equally down, but was keen to look ahead: “It’s always a massive thing to get to Twickenham, but all credit to Cornwall. There’s no other way of saying it, they fully deserved to lift the cup this year.
“They had a game plan, and stuck to it. After the first try, the key message was not to panic, and we didn’t do.
“Full credit to Cornwall, they were putting pressure on us to make mistakes, they were getting in our faces, not giving us time to breathe.”
Speaking of the younger members of his team, Stewart looked ahead to next year’s campaign: “Anthony Bingham made some cracking runs, Jordan is a big game player who also made some great runs, it’s a stepping stone for those guys, and hopefully we’ll be back here next year, and it won’t be as big a shock to the system for them.”
15 Warren Spragg (Fylde), 14 Jordan Dorrington (Fylde), 13 Chris Briers (Fylde), 12 Scott Rawlings (Fylde), 11 Anthony Bingham (Rossendale), 10 Steve Collins (Sedgley Park), 9 Ryan De La Harpe (Fylde); 1 Ben Black (Sedgley Park), 2 Alex Loney (Fylde), 3 Adam Lewis (Fylde), 4 Jonathan Nugent (Bergerac), 5 Gareth Rawlings (Fylde), 6 Evan Stewart (Fylde) (Captain), 7 Steve McGinnis (Loughborough Students), 8 Matt Lamprey (Sedgley Park)
Replacements (all used) -
16 Louis McGowan (Caldy), 17 Pete Altham (Preston Grasshoppers), 18 Phil Mills (Preston Grasshoppers), 19 Paul Arnold (Fylde), 20 Chris Johnson (Fylde), 21 Oli Brennand (Fylde), 22 Niall Crosley (Hartpury College)
Try: Stewart 72
Conversion: Johnson 72
Penalty Goals: Collins 11, Johnson 28