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Passing the 60 points mark in the Championship league for the first time since 2017, a superb second half performance by the Cornish Pirates was the key to this convincing result.
With the previous weekend a reserve one in the fixture list, following their recent Cup encounter away to Ampthill the Cornish Pirates were making a prompt return to face the Bedfordshire side away at Dillingham Park for a 9th versus 8th Round 15 league match encounter.
The teams had already met three times this season, the Pirates winning 15-13 at home in the league in October, whilst also emerging victorious from two Cup games played – 27-18 at home in November and then 23-14 away in February.
Changes in the Cornish Pirates XV from the one that faced Ampthill last time out saw Arthur Relton selected on the wing and AJ Cant moved to full-back, with Garyn Smith also returning to partner Rory Parata in the centre. In the forwards there were starts for props Jack Andrew and Matt Johnson, hooker Will Crane, and flanker Alex Everett, whilst fresh faces on the bench included experienced prop Marlen Walker and fit again scrum-half Ruaridh Dawson. For replacements Steele Barker and Jarrard Hayler, they were inevitably keen to get a call to action for what was their first Championship league game.
On a breezy and cool afternoon, Ampthill were first to emerge from the changing rooms, led by former Gloucester man Charlie Beckett for what was his 50th appearance for ‘The Mob’.
Fly-half Arwel Robson kicked the game off for the Cornish Pirates who opened the scoring in just the second minute. After the ball was moved to AJ Cant on the left, he ran from halfway, avoided would be tacklers and passed to supporting scrum-half Alex Schwarz who scored a try at the posts to which Robson added the extras.
The Mob, however, after a period of dominating possession hit back approaching the quarter of an hour mark. Space was created on the right, from where flanker Harry Wilson found the hands of wing Ben Harris who passed back inside to try-scoring scrum-half Pete White. Fly-half Tom Hardwick added the extra two points.
The response from the Pirates was though immediate with wing Robin Wedlake making a powerful run almost to the line. Support came from his fellow wingman Arthur Relton who was able to dot the ball down in the corner for a try superbly converted from by Robson.
Looking eager to maintain their performance, the Pirates were soon applying pressure once more inside the Ampthill half, and after stealing an Ampthill line-out there was also another fine run from Cant. A penalty ensued to enable the Pirates to post the ball to the right corner, and from the resulting line-out it was flanker Alex Everett who shortly after scored a converted try.
21-7 up with just twenty-seven minutes on the clock was pretty pleasing, as the visitors now went in search of a bonus point. However, when a next score came it was one that went the way of the home side, as former Pirate and hooker Syd Blackmore stretched an arm to the line, with Hardwick again slotting the conversion.
The Pirates had an opportunity to add to their tally late in the half, only to see Robson’s penalty attempt drift to the left of the posts, whilst in the very last minute of the first period a chance at the other end from Ampthill’s Hardwick saw his effort successfully sail through the sticks for halftime to arrive with the scoreboard reading 17-21.
So, the game was thus far as close as everyone likely expected, with an intriguing second period anticipated.
Keen to secure a fourth five-pointer, the Pirates were quick to deliver when action resumed. Cant gathered a bouncing ball near the right touchline and sped forward before looping a pass to Robson who scored and then converted his own try to open up an eleven points gap.
Ampthill, with three former Pirates now in their pack, replacement backrower Paddy Ryan and lock Ed Scragg having joined their on-field ranks alongside Blackmore, showed some resolve to hold the Pirates at bay, but it was all to no avail as when the Cornish side next attacked it was following another potent driving maul that replacement hooker Morgan Nelson got on the scoresheet with another converted effort.
Into the last quarter the Pirates had an opportunity to add to their try tally, with another driving maul again working like a well-oiled machine. The line-out throw found replacement lock Steele Barker, the drive button was pressed, and it was Nelson who regained possession to score once more, with Robson also again converting.
The Pirates back three had combined well all afternoon, and their seventh try was registered in the sixty-ninth minute with Cant and Wedlake initially involved in a move finished off in the right corner by Relton. It was his second of the match, to which replacement fly-half Harry Bazalgette was unable to convert.
The outstanding Cant next snaffled possession just inside the Ampthill half and ran clear to the posts for a try this time converted by Bazalgette, and then Ampthill appeared to have the last say when replacement Gwyn Parks scored an unconverted consolation try. In remaining time though it was Nelson who, in scoring the Pirates ninth try of the match, at the same time recorded his hat-trick. Bazalgette also nailed the conversion, to rubber stamp the convincing victory.
Speaking at the end of Saturday’s contest, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Gavin Cattle commented:
It was a bit of an arm wrestle up to halftime, but we got a bit more possession in the second half by exiting our own half a bit cleaner.
In the first forty we had struggled at times in certain areas but talking at halftime we rectified that and were able to put a few phases together and score some good tries.
Our kicking game improved, the back three were sharp, and with the pack performing well it was overall a pleasing performance, but with more work to do as we roll our sleeves up in a bid to move forward.