Cornwall have long had a successful history in county championship rugby, with the senior side making it to the finals five times in the last five years and claiming the title on two of those occasions in 2015 and 2016.
But this year is the turn of the Under 20’s who have risen above everyone they have faced so far this season, earning their spot in this year’s Jason Leonard U20s County Championship Final which will be played at the Home of Rugby on May the 6th.
But despite going unbeaten all season the road has not been easy. Their last game had an extremely tight finish, with Cornwall emerging as 9-8 victors over northern side Cheshire after 80 minutes.
Despite not scoring a try and with fly-half James Tucker not in optimum form, the young side managed to grind out the victory and Tucker came to the front and proved his quality when it was needed most – successfully converting three penalties. The last came in the 76th minute to put Cornwall into the lead and set up a gruellingly agonising finish.
Second rower and U20s Captain Torin Clarke was replaced mid-way through the half and was visibly nervous as Cornwall tried to close out the final moments.
“It was agonising not to be on there,” said the young Cornish captain.
“As soon as that whistle went it was just unbelievable.”
As the final whistle went, the squad, the some 300 attendees and even the Cornish media erupted in celebration as the young side had achieved what previous sides had not done since 2002 – to reach the final which will be played against a very talented Yorkshire side who won their semi-final 79-24 against Hertfordshire.
“Everyone is buzzing. We talked previously about 80 minute performances and that was an 80 minute performance and a very controlled one,” said captain Clarke.
As soon as that whistle went it was just unbelievable
But if they needed someone with experience of what it is like to perform at the highest level then they are in safe hands with coaches Matt Shepherd and Josh Lord who have both represented Cornwall on the biggest stage.
Coach Matt Shepherd said after the win: “We like to keep supporters on the edge of their seats and the boys certainly kept me on the edge of my seat there today.”
Shepherd has always shown confidence in the squad and believes the young side can go all the way and take this year’s title.
But he was quick to ground his side after the game and said: “I told the boys to remember this feeling now because you are still one step away from winning the cup.
“It’s just another pitch. I know there’s a massive stadium around it but it is just a piece of grass with fifteen versus fifteen and subs on the bench.”
Cornwall can justify their confidence with their unbeaten record seeing off the likes of Gloucestershire, Cheshire, Kent, Hampshire and Dorset and Wiltshire, but they certainly have a lot to live up to going into what could potentially be the biggest game of their careers so far.
Josh Lord coach and former U20s captain was part of the squad who faced Hampshire in that 2002 U20s final just losing out 29-12 with two late tries meaning that Hampshire ran away with the title.
“I’ve played there three times and lost three times,” he said.
“There is nothing worse than getting there and losing it’s not a great feeling so we obviously want to avoid that.”
The thought of losing will not even be crossing the minds of Cornwall when they face northern giants Yorkshire on the 6th. The team has an unbeaten record so far in the championship, and confidence will be at an all-time high.
Despite this, they are now only one step away from achieving the glory that no Cornwall U20s side has claimed before.