The Cornish All Blacks were simply outclassed by Northampton yesterday on their second trip to Franklins Gardens in a month. But the expected loss was not the bitterest pill for the Launceston side. Wins by both Sedgeley Park and Pertemps Bees confirmed relegation in bottom slot and even the chance of a reprieve if Coventry go into administration has gone.
The manner of the Northampton win was no fluke. They are not just a team which deserved to win the league title. But their 35 and 0 winning season demonstrates that they will be genuine contenders in the Premiership next year. And there couldn't be a more deserving bunch of fans in the game. Franklins Gardens was packed with more than 13,500 spectators who enjoyed the sunshine and the tries. Chris Ashton alone scored six of them to set a new League One record for tries in a season. And Bruce Reihana, the Saints captain, scored a further four and converted more than he missed.
The Saints fans were superb with the visiting Cornish contingent throughout. From meeting us off the bus to take us to the pub, to drinking and dancing after the game, they couldn't have been more welcoming. There was no gloating and genuine sorrow that it was us who had fallen through the League One trapdoor.
Of the game itself, the 81-0 scoreline is all your eally need to know. The All Blacks had little posession and every handling error was punished with another try. Matt Jess and Hamish Smales were completely engulfed every time they got the ball and the forwards reverted to one of their off days.
So what now for the All Blacks? It fell to Joint Head Coach Chris Brown to break the news to the players that the team had been relegated. Matt Jess was inconsolable after hearing the news. We know he is off to pastures new (probably to Franklins Gardens if the rave reviews in the programme are anything to go by) but it is quite clear that his heart and sould were with Launceston this year. Also going are Wayne Sprangle, Neil Clarke, Hamish Smales and Tinus du Plessis for sure. We also know Wayne Reed is taking up a player coach role with Crediton. He has my complete admiration for his efforts - and for being a firm fans favourite. Of the rest, nothing is yeat certain. We can assume there will be more comings and goings than if we had held our place in League One but I hope that a few players are able to stay with us - particularly the likes of Steve Pape, Jon Fabian, Sam Alford and Josh Lord. I don't suppose we will be able to keep Larry Ovens, but Tim Collier is approaching the end of his career and reportedly loves life in Cornwall and so we may be able to persuade him to stay.
Pictures: All Blacks fans give the team a noisy welcome; Josh Lord leads the team out; Wayne Sprangle is brought to earth by Alex Rae; Hamish Smales is tackled; Tinus du Plessis chases down Carlos Spencer; Tim Collier is distraught at the news of relegation; Matt Jess is consoled by Josh Lord; The team watches as the Saints lift the trophies and spray the champagne; Wayne Reed and Hamish Smales get 'close'. Sam Alford looks like he is auditioning for the role of best man!