Benji to step down after final
DAVE 'Benji' Thomas wants to end his time as Cornwall's head coach in perfect fashion with victory at Twickenham on Sunday.
The Duchy face Lancashire in Sunday's final (3.15pm) at English rugby headquarters – a game, The Cornishman can reveal, that will bring to an end Thomas's six-season spell leading the county team, after taking over from Joff Rowe in 2007.
It will provide a lovely symmetry to Thomas's reign, as he took Cornwall to Twickenham in 2008, in his first season back in the role he had previously held, when Cornwall lost the second-tier County Shield final 25-11 to Northumberland, but were promoted back to the top flight of county rugby.
This time, though, they will be playing for the big prize which has eluded the Black and Golds since they beat Gloucestershire 25-15 14 years ago.
Thomas, who informed Cornwall RFU chiefs before this season's Championship campaign started that this would be his final year in charge of the team, said: "I am absolutely delighted.
"Instead of finishing my time as head coach with defeat against Hertfordshire at Camborne, I have got a last game bowing out at Twickenham, and I think that is brilliant. I think I have been in my position long enough. I am sure there are other younger men who can come in and do it. I have enjoyed every minute, but I just think it is time for me to stop.
"With all the youth rugby coaching I do in Cornwall, it is time to let someone else have a go with the county team, but what a way for someone to come in and take the job, off the back of a trip to Twickenham!"
The win over Hertfordshire was the stuff of dreams – though Thomas admitted afterwards it was beyond anything he had come up with!
Scintillating rugby from both sides in beautiful sunshine in front of a crowd well in excess of 2,000 people was in some ways a real hark back to the glory days of county rugby in Cornwall, when they took an estimated 40,000 people to Twickenham for the 1991 final against Yorkshire.
"It was like The Days of Yore!' exclaimed Thomas. "The crowd was unbelievable. You looked around the ground, and everywhere was gold and black. I am sure our treasurer is really delighted!
"It was great and it was a very emotional day for lots of people. The crowd were baying for blood in the second half, and the players responded.
"It encapsulated what Cornish rugby is all about - a big crowd to watch the county team, and the players playing their hearts out.
"It was mind-boggling. It was these types of games I was trying to dream about on Friday night, but I didn't get to the conclusion that we got on Saturday!"
Lancashire lost their final pool game 20-13 away to Cheshire, but still topped Division One North by one point to set up a clash between two of the biggest names in county rugby, in a repeat of the 1992 county final, which Lancashire won 9-6.
Redruth fly half Paul Thirlby is looking forward to featuring in his first County Championship final on Sunday, after 13 years of being involved with the Cornwall team.
The 32-year-old played an important part in Saturday's victory over Hertfordshire, contributing 16 points, including an injury-time try.
Thirlby was part of the Cornwall team that lost the second-tier County Shield final 25-11 to Northumberland at English rugby's headquarters in 2008, and he is now hoping to put that heartache behind him with victory against Lancashire this weekend.
"It is great to get to Twickenham, it is great for the county and great for rugby in the area," said Thirlby.
"Redruth have had a good season this year, Launceston have been strong, and Camborne have had a great year, and it is really good for the county to be moving forward and going up to Twickenham.
"We just want a massive following on Sunday, and whoever can make it, it will be all the better for us."
Thirlby was bowled over by the support the team received from thousands of people at the Camborne Rec on Saturday.
"The people who turned up were awesome," said the Penzance-born utility back. "The atmosphere was superb, and when you run out onto the pitch, it lifts the side and it is like a 16th man.
"For us to get a win like we did in that style, playing some good rugby, in good weather with a good crowd, is fantastic."