Sunday 18th December 2016
British & Irish Cup Rd 4
Mennaye Field Penzance
Phil Westren's Report
Cornish Pirates went oh so close to winning this competitively fought encounterand it was a somewhat relieved London Irish who departed the Mennaye Field with their season’s unbeaten record still intact.
Having previously lost two close matches against ‘Irish’ – at home in the Championship and away in the British & Irish Cup the previous weekend - the Pirates arrived at this game keen to learn from those encounters.
There were once again a number of changes in their side, including the selection of Max Bodilly at outside centre. Dual-registered with Exeter Chiefs, it was the first time he has worn the Pirates colours this season, having previously made 42 appearances for the club.
With a blend of purple and red about the ground – the purple ‘Tribute’ beanies given out by match day sponsor St. Austell Brewery, and the red inevitably Santa hats – this match kicked off in unseasonably mild and calm rugby conditions.
The Pirates started well, with their scrum in particular looking stable. On 11 minutes a first score came, and it was deservedly one for the home side. Matt Evans counter-attacked from full-back, prop Marlen Walker impressed with a dummy, run and pass, and it was Evans who then lent support to be confirmed as a try-scorer at the Newlyn gate corner. Fly-half Will Cargill missed the difficult conversion attempt.
The line-out was also functioning at this stage for the Pirates, and when territory was acquired from where a penalty was awarded, Cargill stepped forward to this time fire the ball through the sticks.
So far, so good, for the Pirates, however there was a feeling that the visitors would start to find their feet, and they did. Led by former England back-rower Luke Narraway, they pressed close to the Pirates line, and despite losing hooker Dave Porecki to the sin bin it wasn’t long before set up an impressive 20 metres driving maul which ended with prop Richard Palframan applying the necessary downward pressure. Fly-half Greig Tonks duly kicked the conversion from just to the left of the Penzance posts.
Lapses at line-out time were now suddenly letting the Pirates down, and thus stalling momentum when windows of promise appeared. Wing Ciaran Hearn and No. 8 Senitiki Nayalo both threatened for London Irish, but it was a penalty from Tonks that put them in front.
In the final seconds of the half hopes were raised that the Pirates could regain the lead. Cargill dummied well and ran into space, and the ball was worked efficiently right, only for Irish to foil the threat, and in the process hold onto their 10-8 points lead.
Cadgwith Singers came out on the field to sing carols at half-time, Helston under 8s enjoyed playing an exhibition game of mini-rugby, whilst there was also a collection for Kernow Young Carers, which is the Cornish Pirates chosen charity for this season.
Back to the Cup match action, this was a contest predicted to be closely fought, and so it had proved – thus far. The Pirates were very much in this game but they suffered a clear setback just two minutes into the second period when the inspirational Evans was carried off with a leg injury.
London Irish soon extended their lead when Joe Cokanasiga powered his way to the line for a converted score, and there was a worry then that they would pull away to extend the gap between the two sides. The Pirates, commendably, had other ideas.
Approaching the last quarter wing Alex O’Meara once again showed his pace and went close to scoring, but unluckily knocked the ball on. However, by holding territorial advantage the Pirates forced their opponents into conceding a penalty, and Cargill landed the kick on offer.
Both sides were giving it their all in a match that was clearly now building to a crescendo. No. 8 Dan Lee and Walker made inroads for the Pirates, and Cokanisiga went close for Irish, but it was the Pirates especially who maintained enormous determination nearing the end. Their reward was a try delivered by burrowing hooker Tom Channon, leaving Cargill with a kick to possibly win the match. His attempt narrowly missed.
There was still at least five minutes for either side to score again, but the operator stayed put. At the final whistle there was praise for the effort displayed by both teams, but it was also a time to for the present put Cup thoughts aside and start to enjoy Christmas. Yes, there was a little frustration in defeat, but that’s sport – it was a time for carols to be sung.
With 19 points London Irish top Pool 3 with their place in the quarter-finals stage all but guaranteed. As for the Pirates, they hold onto second with 10 points, Ospreys Premiership Select are third with nine, and Connacht Eagles lay at the foot of the table with just one. Remaining important Pool games for the Pirates are away to Ospreys Premiership Select at Maesteg on the weekend 14th January, and home to Connacht Eagles on Saturday 21st January (ko 2pm).
Speaking after Sunday’s contest, Coach Gavin Cattle said:
“To lose was inevitably frustrating. We made some basic errors, especially in the first half when we were beginning to get momentum, but there were also really pleasing elements and overall we had a better mix to our game.
“Unfortunately it was ultimately the one that got away, because with a little more control, and taking opportunities that were there, we could have secured a third time lucky win.”
15 Matt Evans (Laurence May 42), 14 Jack Arnott, 13 Max Bodilly
12 Bar Bartlett (Nicolas De Battista 65), 11 Alex O’Meara, 10 Will Cargill
9 Mike Pope (Stuart Townsend 45)
1 Marlen Walker, 2 Tom Channon, 3 Tyler Gendall
4 Edd Pascoe (Brett Beukeboom h/t), 5 Chris Morgan (capt), 6 Alex Cheesman
7 John Stevens, 8 Dan Lee.
Replacements (not used): Alan Paver, Luke Chapman, Tom Duncan.
15 Tom Parton (Jacob Atkins 74), 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Matt Williams
12 Ross Neal (Ben Loader 61) 11 Ciaran Hearn, 10 Greig Tonks
9 Connor Murphy (Rory Brand 74); 1 Harry Elrington, 2 Dave Porecki
3 Richard Palframan (Ollie Hoskins 61), 4 Jack Cooke, 5 Jerry Sexton
6 Luke Narraway (capt; Luke Frost 68), 7 Conor Gilsenan, 8 Senitiki Nayalo.
Replacements (not used): Austin Hay, Josh Basham.
Yellow card: Porecki.
Cornish Pirates – tries: Evans, Channon; pens: Cargill (2).
London Irish – tries: Palframan, Cokanasiga; cons: Tonks (2); pen: Tonks.
Referee: Fergus Kirby (RFU).
Man-of-the-Match: John Stevens.