CORNWALL will once again rely heavily on Plymouth Albion players as they look to take a giant step towards a third successive Twickenham final appearance on Saturday at Hertfordshire.
The Duchy have named seven Albion players – Matt Shepherd, Jake Murphy, Robin Wedlake, Billy Searle, Rupert Freestone, Sam Matavesi and Herbie Stupple – in their starting line-up to face Hertfordshire at Bishop Stortford and another – Jon Dawe – on the bench.
Both Cornwall and Hertfordshire opened their County Championship group campaigns with narrow home wins last weekend. Cornwall needed a late try from Freestone to beat Gloucestershire 33-27, while Hertfordshire overcame Surrey 31-28.
A win for either county on Saturday would put them in pole position to win the group and reach the final.
“Playing up at Hertfordshire is going to be a tough test,” said Shepherd, who will start at full-back on Saturday.
“Bishop Stortford is quite an open ground and I know their backs like to run a bit, so it is going to be a tough test, but we are looking forward to it.
“If we could win it would put us in good stead and we’d be going in the right direction, but, like (head coach) Graham (Dawe) said, if we lose one game we could be relegated. We just have to try and make sure we win at all costs.”
Cornwall managed to do that last weekend when it looked like Gloucestershire, under former Albion assistant coach Simon Lane, were going to win. But the Duchy snatch victory with the last play of the game.
“Touch-wood that might be the turning point,” said Shepherd. “I think we knew we had a lot to work on going into that game but hopefully this week we can work on things and do what we want to do on Saturday.”
He added: “We started last week’s game really well. We had two penalties, which we kicked but all of a sudden we just couldn’t catch a ball or balls did not go where we wanted them to go. It was quite frustrating because we know we could do it but just not execute as well as we wanted to.
“This week at training Graham has given us some strict instructions that we have to stick to. We just have to stick to our game-plan and play in the right areas of the pitch.”
Shepherd admitted Lane’s in-depth knowledge of Albion, having worked alongside Dawe for nine months, probably helped Gloucestershire.
“Simon knows Jake does not play at full-back and he just knew how Dawesy wanted to play,” said Shepherd. “He got his team to execute what he wanted them to do, which almost got them the win, but thank God they didn’t.”
Shepherd, who is settled in the West Country, is one of the players likely to stay at Albion next season, although he is probably going to get the County Championship out of the way before making any decisions on his future.
“Nothing has been decided yet,” he said. “We have had a few talks, but I’m just letting everything settle first before I decide.
“It is looking positive. I want to keep speaking to them and see what their plans are in terms of getting coaches. I’ll just see what happens. I am open.
“But I’d like to get the County Championship out of the way and play as well as I can and just go from there.”
CORNWALL TEAM TO FACE HERTFORDSHIRE
15 Matt Shepherd (Plymouth Albion)
14 Lewis Vinnicombe (Redruth)
13 Jake Murphy (Plymouth Albion)
12 Nielson Webber (Redruth)
11 Robin Wedlake (Plymouth Albion)
10 Billy Searle (Plymouth Albion)
9 Greg Goodfellow (Chinnor)
1 Rupert Freestone (Plymouth Albion)
2 Richard Brown (Redruth)
3 Craig Williams (Redruth)
4 Ben Hilton (Launceston)
5 Tony Whittle (Camborne)
6 Kyle Marriott (Redruth capt)
7 Sam Matavesi (Plymouth Albion)
8 Herbie Stupple (Plymouth Albion)
17 Tom Cowan-Dickie (Redruth)
18 Barry-John Chapman (Taunton)
19 Damien Cook (Camborne)
20 Chris Fuca (Redruth)
21 Jon Dawe (Plymouth Albion)
22 Sam Parsons (Redruth)
23 Richard Kevern (Camborne)