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Winning on the road is never easy and arriving at Round 11 in this season’s RFU Championship, the Cornish Pirates expected opponents Ampthill would be a tricky customer. Thankfully it was a hurdle negotiated.
Kick-off at Dillingham Park for this ninth versus second contest was scheduled for the slightly earlier time of 1.30pm. However, because the on-duty ambulance arrived late, it was delayed until near 2pm.
Changes in the Cornish Pirates starting line-up this weekend saw Callum Sirker selected on the left wing, and Marlen Walker and Alfie Petch named as the propping pair, both making their first Championship starts of the season. A new face on the bench was replacement prop Ollie Adkins. A former England under 20s international, he is on a short-term loan deal from Gloucester.
In initially dry and calm conditions the Pirates got off to a fabulous start, when Tom Kessell made an interception near halfway and ran to the posts for a try converted by his halfback partner Arwel Robson.
Soon after the restart the hosts had an opportunity to pull three points back when awarded a penalty from some 40 metres out. Then, on his full debut for the Bedfordshire side, it was fly-half Jack Bergin who stepped forward and saw his strike sail successfully over the posts.
As if a little bruised, the Pirates responded to register their second try of the afternoon following an attack down the left. Centre Shae Tucker ran and off-loaded well to Sirker, who crossed the line for an unconverted score.
When ‘The Mob’, as Ampthill are nicknamed, pressed strongly and were awarded a penalty, Bergin slotted his second kick of the afternoon, only for the Pirates to underline early domination by scoring two tries to the right of the posts – the second a bonus point effort – within the space of just a few minutes. Both were converted by Robson and came from potent driving mauls that ended with hooker Tom Channon adding to his incredibly impressive try tally this season of eight in the last seven matches.
Ampthill could be forgiven for feeling a little deflated. However, with former Pirates’ backrower Paddy Ryan in their ranks they made the occasional foray into enemy territory, though all to no avail. Indeed, it was the visitors who finished the half strongly, although they were unable to add to their 26-6 points advantage.
Because of the delayed start to this encounter, half-time was reduced from 15 to just six minutes, giving supporters little time on this now damp, cold, and slightly windy afternoon to scurry for a tea or coffee, or perhaps something a little stronger.
Making front row changes early in the second forty saw Adkins make his debut for the Pirates, whilst replacement hooker Syd Blackmore was keen to make an impression against his former club.
Weather conditions perhaps had an impact, as both sides made errors in a second half was more evenly contested. When under pressure the Pirates defended well, but after replacement fly-half Harry Bazalgette was directed to the sin bin, as lock Josh Caulfield had been in the first half, it was Ampthill who were on this occasion able to make numerical advantage count. First taking play close to the posts, when the ball was moved right a telling grubber was followed up by centre Ben Cambriani, whose try-scoring effort was converted by replacement Russell Bennett.
The home side was now in sight of striving for a losing bonus point, their prospects added to when in fading light the Pirates saw one more man yellow-carded, this time in the shape of centre Rory Parata.
As it worked out there would be no more scores, with the Pirates reflecting that their impressive first half performance was sufficient to deliver their undoubtedly deserved bonus point victory that sees them hold onto second place in the league table.
Speaking at the end of Saturday’s contest, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Gavin Cattle commented:
“It’s always dangerous mentally when you score four tries early on, because you can draw the handbrake up a little bit and often then get involved in a bit of an arm wrestle.
“Having been in complete control at the start of the match, come the second half our discipline was simply unacceptable, and it is something we’ll address this coming week. Ultimately, however, despite losing some polish in our play there were naturally pleasing aspects to our game and securing five points at a place that it is difficult to visit is very much welcomed.”