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Nearing the end of a match that the Cornish Pirates looked odds on to lose, their spirit and effort ultimately saw them snatch a truly dramatic victory. A penalty from fly-half Arwel Robson nudged them in front with four minutes to go, and then, at the death, he converted a try scored by replacement centre Shae Tucker.
There were two changes in the Cornish Pirates starting line-up from the one that featured in the 19-0 victory at home to London Scottish last time out. Fully fit again club captain Nicolas De Battista was named to partner Tommy Wyatt in the centre, plus there was a return for the experienced Marlen Walker at loose-head prop.
Before kick-off there was a minute’s applause respectably observed in memory of Evesham player Jack Jeffery who had so sadly died after being hurt in his team’s recent match against Berkswell and Balsall RFC. Then, with Storm Eunice having thankfully departed Britain on a path to Europe, the home side’s fly-half Lewis Grimoldby kicked the game off playing down the Goldington Road’s infamous slope.
For the Pirates, territory proved difficult to acquire in the opening period, and with Eunice having left a breeze in its wake, plus with wet conditions underfoot, it looked that the large crowd present were perhaps unlikely to witness a usually expected exciting and high-scoring affair. Indeed, there was very little to raise the pulse in the first forty, although few could argue that the Blues deserved their 5-nil half-time lead thanks to a try registered in the 21st minute. From a maul the familiar figure of Cornishman Joel Matavesi first juggled with acquired possession before moving it to his centre partner Reuben Bird-Tulloch, who opened the scoring. Grimoldby’s conversion’s attempt went just wide.
If, with the breeze behind them and playing down the slope, the Pirates were looking for an encouraging start to the second half, then it just didn’t work out, as flanker Antonio Kiri Kiri was almost immediately sent to the sin bin and then Bedford wing Matt Worley’s run on the right led to a try scored by their skipper Rich Lane. He was one of three former Pirates in the Blues squad, the others being scrum-half Alex Day and replacement back-rower Joe Atkinson.
In the context of this game, a 12-nil lead was a challenge for the Pirates to claw back, so a penalty soon kicked by fly-half Arwel Robson was, for a starter, very welcome.
As play entered the last quarter another quick score was sought by the Pirates as replacements, including scrum-half Tom Kessell and hooker Tom Cowan-Dickie, brought fresh energy to proceedings. One would not right away materialise, but after Kiri Kiri drove low over the line to score a converted try near the posts, it was ‘game on’.
Well, if the contest hadn’t offered much thus far in terms of tension and excitement, in time remaining both would surely be in abundance.
After a brief break when a Bedford player was injured, when action resumed advantage went the way of the home side, who had a couple of catch and drive opportunities. The Pirates, however, decisively gained possession from the second attempt and were thankful that Robson was able to boot the ball 70 metres up field. A penalty chance was created and, with the score reading 12-10, all about went silent.
Showing coolness under pressure, Robson stepped up to nudge the Pirates ahead, but there was still time remaining for the Blues to hit back. Securing possession from the restart was essential, so due thanks, not for the first time, were due dependable Pirates’ lock Josh Caufield.
A late penalty was conceded to give Bedford a glint of hope, however after Caulfield stole possession and replacement prop Jack Andrew carried strongly, the hopes of the home side were about to be dashed. Replacement scrum-half Tom Kessell put up a box kick, Kiri Kiri gained possession and it was replacement centre Tucker who scored the Pirates vital second try, which was duly converted by Robson.
Acknowledging the efforts of the squad post the final whistle, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Alan Paver said:
“It was a nerve-racking game early on, and one with a lot of errors and unusual mistakes, but we never give up.
“Credit was due Bedford for coming out very hard and being competitive, but as you saw the lads have got spirit, they stayed in there, and achieved a couple of crucial decisions near the end.
“At the end of the day, if you are going to win something then some days it is ugly and some days you need to steal something, and today I felt we did that and we keep moving forward.”