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Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 4LY
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Travelling to Ampthill on Saturday in search of just one point to secure a home-semi-final place in the Championship Cup, the Cornish Pirates comfortably managed that with their sixth win from six games played in Pool C. Also, in the process, by actually completing the pools stage as the highest rank club they will play the lowest ranked semi-finals qualifier in a fixture at present scheduled to be played on the weekend 6th May.
Personnel changes in the starting XV from the one that faced Caldy last time out included Carwyn Penny at full-back and Robin Wedlake on the right wing. Rory Parata partnered Shae Tucker in the centre, and there were also returns for fly-half Arwel Robson and for Cory Teague who was selected at blind-side wing forward. Finally, Harvey Beaton started at tight-head prop.
All but from the start of the game Ampthill’s skipper Morgan Strong, a former Wales under 20s and Ospreys player, showed the threat that he posed with a surging line break. A penalty also followed to enable the home side to threaten with a driving line-out opportunity. However, the Pirates upset ambitions and were awarded a scrum.
After working their way back up field, following a couple of Ampthill errors it was Arwel Robson who also opened the scoring for the Pirates with a successful penalty kick at goal.
Further Pirates points also looked on the cards when Rory Parata went close to scoring a try, his effort only denied by a superb tackle from Ampthill’s full-back Tom Bacon.
The visitors were enjoying the opening quarter of the match, and it came as no surprise that a try would ultimately materialise when, following a spell of applied forward pressure close to the opposition line, it was captain John Stevens who scored, with Robson adding the extras.
Points on the board, the defence solid, and looking sound in the set piece and at maul time, for the immediate present all was looking good for the Pirates, before the hosts reminded one and all of the danger they posed. Their selection included two former Pirates in hooker Syd Blackmore and flanker Paddy Ryan, and when a response came it was Ryan who made it to the line for a try converted by fly-half Tom Hardwick.
With the clock ticking towards halftime, after Pirates’ flanker Will Gibson made an important steal at a breakdown, it was wing AJ Cant who kicked for territory with a lengthy boot from hand. Then, a couple of minutes later, Cant was again in the limelight when scoring his side’s second try. Robson had firstly made a telling break, with excellent support then given by centre Tucker. Robson’s conversion attempt from out wide missed and halftime arrived with the team holding a 15-7 points advantage.
For Cornish Pirates’ supporters the hope for their side was to hold onto their lead, and perhaps even deliver a sixth consecutive bonus point win in the competition. We would see.
The start of the second period was less than ideal for the Cornish team, as not only did Ampthill, with former Tongan international prop Aleki Lutui, now aged 44, still in action, apply considerable pressure for a lengthy period, but the Pirates also briefly lost the services of skipper Stevens, after he was directed to the sin bin by referee Mr. Cook, seemingly for making an apparent deliberate knock-on.
A next score soon followed, as the home side prospered from numerical advantage when Blackmore scored a converted try from close range – his fourth in three games – which reduced the deficit to just one point.
Robson’s second successful penalty strike soon after did though extend the Pirates lead, and during a period when they emptied their bench it was replacement prop Jack Andrew who, after a series of controlled phases, powered over the line for an unconverted try to add to his proudly acquired tally over the years.
A bit of a gap had opened, and striving for the bonus point win was still the focus, but it was not to be. However, in overall terms, there was just satisfaction in that it was a mission accomplished.
Speaking after the match, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Alan Paver said:
“The game wasn’t a classic, but we achieved what we set out and needed to do and got the victory.
“Having not played at our best in the league the guys have got the bit between their teeth in the Cup, with I think it helping that we had two decent wins initially that gave us belief to kick on and see the end game, which was can we move on and get a home semi and can we win the Cup?
“All of those things have allowed us to get out there and really get the emotion right, so here we are. We have so far done exactly what we needed to do, and we are looking forward to the next game.
“Achieving home advantage in the semi-final is huge, because having any such game at home is massive. However, also because of the fact we are so close to making the final, it is going to be important not only for the team but also for the supporters.
“It’s great to get behind and try to win something, and today was a big step forward, a big milestone – and the guys are just over the moon.”