CORNWALL overcame the first-half dismissal of centre Duncan Tout to retain the Tamar Cup by beating Devon 33-17 at Tiverton on Monday night.
Former Bude player Tout, who now turns out for Lancashire side Rossendale, was given his marching orders towards the end of the opening period by referee and former Premiership prop Nick Wood for an alleged kick.
Wood, who went on the advice of his touch-judge, knows himself what it is like to pick up a red card for illegal use of the boot, having famously got sent off for stamping on Jacques Burger after just 73 seconds playing for Gloucester against Saracens in 2013.
Cards are normally a rarity in the annual Tamar Cup, but there were three in the first half on Monday, with both sides picking up a yellow for professional fouls in the opening 40 minutes.
Tout’s sending off did not really help either county, who were both using it as a trial match to look at players for May’s County Championship.
Devon, coached by Dan Parkes, Jon Hill and Lewis Paterson, had decided to field two different teams in each half, but it made it tough to compare players with one group playing against 15 and the other 14.
The Green and White dominated large spells of Monday’s match, but Cornwall’s defence was outstanding, particularly in the second half, and the home county could not turn their possession into points.
Devon were boosted by the surprise inclusion of Plymouth Albion scrum-half Cameron Setter and he was at the centre of most things while he was on the field, but unfortunately he took a heavy bang to the head and had to come off early.
The first 15 minutes were all Devon. Sidmouth’s Tom Whelan, who was playing for Rosslyn Park last season, missed a penalty on four minutes.
However, the home side did take the lead three minutes later when Barnstaple winger Will Topps scored in the right corner and Whelan converted.
Cornwall did cut the gap to 7-3 with a penalty by Rhys Brownfield, but Devon, with Setter pulling the strings, continued their dominance of the early stages.
On 15 minutes, Cornwall had Penryn flanker George Jones sin-binned and Whelan kicked the resultant penalty.
But being reduced to 14 players seemed to wake Cornwall up and suddenly they picked their game up.
Brownfield reduced the deficit to 10-6 with a penalty on 21 minutes, before he surprisingly missed an easy effort three minutes later.
A minute after they were restored to 15 players, Devon had Whelan sin-binned as Cornwall pressed their line. From the resultant penalty, the Duchy opted for a five-metre scrum and from it they were awarded a penalty try. That put them 13-10 up.
The home side had a good chance on 36 minutes but were unable to make a good break tell and Cornwall made them pay by going up the other end and scoring through Tom Notman after Tout had done well.
That made it 18-10 to the Black and Golds. Devon, though, continued to look threatening but they suffered a kick in the teeth as they attack in the closing stages of the half. Setter went for a killer pass out wide but it intercepted by Everard Reid, who broke up field before off-loading to the supporting Notman, who scored his second try.
That made it 23-10 to Cornwall but their supporters were left shocked when deep in injury-time Tout was given his marching orders.
Devon started the second half well and reduced the gap to 23-17 when Okehampton’s Tom McGratton crossed for their second try after Paterson had come close. Whelan added the conversion.
Cornwall replacement David Mankee came on and kicked a penalty on 59 minutes to crucially put his side two scores ahead.
Devon then spent 20 minutes on Cornwall’s line. It was like a game of attack v defence, but 14-man Cornwall somehow kept their rivals out.
A couple of times Devon had an overlap out wide but took the wrong option.
And it was Cornwall who finished the stronger. They scored a fourth try deep in injury-time when Chris Fuca got the ball down following a five-metre line-out and Mankee converted.
The two counties will meet again in the County Championship on May 13. That game will be played at Ivybridge, who provided seven of Devon’s squad on Monday.