Cornwall's U18 squad travelled to the home of Hornets RFC in Weston-super-Mare this Sunday to open their U18 England Counties U18 campaign.
They faced a relative stranger at this age group in Oxfordshire, to my memory not a county Cornwall have ever played in this age group, or certainly not for a long time.
Playing on the recently laid artificial pitch at Hornets RFC, both sides were hoping for a quick flowing game and Cornwall seemed to start the stronger. With early pressure by the Cornwall pack leading to a try by U17 player Charlie Short from 3m out. At the request of the selectors there was to be no conversions taken during the campaign so as much game time could be played ( Cornwall 5 - 0 Oxfordshire)
Oxfordshire then began to bring some of their big forwards into the game with some very strong running close to the breakdown, Oxfordshire looked intent on trying to bludgeon their way through the Cornish defence but the "black & gold" held firm and managed to relieve the pressure through tenacity and commitment.
The game ebbed and flowed through the first half with both sides having good spells in their opponents "22" but Cornwall were unable to convert their territorial advantage into points. Had this been any other game either side may have been able to convert a number of penalties into points but, again at the request of the selectors, there were no kicks for goal from penalties allowed.
Oxfordshire were next to cross the line with more powerful running from their pack "sucking in" the Cornish defence which allowed the Oxfordshire back line to get to the outside of the Cornish line. Some weak tackling allowed the Oxfordshire winger to run in from 25m (Cornwall 5 - 5 Oxfordshire)
The first half came to an end 2 minutes early when a head injury to the Oxfordshire tighthead stopped the game. Quick reactions from from a Cornwall player made sure the injured player was immediately protected and the referee stopped the game. The Oxfordshire and Cornwall physio's attended to the player until an ambulance arrived. The second half was delayed around 45 mins while treatment was carried out and the player was removed from the field.
We have since found out that the player was taken to hospital for full checks but was released late last night with no serious injuries. Heavily concussed and will be out of the game until the New Year, everyone at Cornwall RFU U18 wishes him a quick recovery.
When the second half finally got back under way it was again Cornwall that began the stronger, this time however Cornwall were able to convert some of the pressure they were applying. With gaps beginning to appear around the park, Cornwall's more free flowing style began to pay dividends and players were seeming to make meters at will, but again the final decision or execution of the final pass weren't always good enough. However Cornwall managed to score a further three tries to take the score to 25-10.
With a number of changes to the Cornwall side, both personnel and positional, Cornwall lost a little structure late in the second half, and the last 10 mins seemed to be facing a strong last push from Oxfordshire. This continual pressure, linked in with team changes and fatigue, led to a number of penalties against the "black & gold" and had this been any other fixture could probably have seen a yellow card.
Oxfordshire finished the game with two late tries to bring the scoreline closer but the final whistle came in time and the victory was theirs (Cornwall 25 - 20 Oxfordshire)
Good to have the victory but Cornwall were disappointed that they didn't convert all the pressure they had in to points, the coaching team will be looking for a more clinical performance when the face Somerset in two weeks time at the same venue.