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Having successfully completed their first block of three Championship Cup games, the Cornish Pirates returned to league action on Saturday when unbeaten league leaders Ealing Trailfinders visited the Mennaye Field.
On a cold and dry afternoon, which firstly saw the teams, officials and supporters hold a minute’s applause in respect and memory of the inspirational former Scotland international Doddie Weir, who had recently passed away, the Cornish Pirates led 12-0 at half-time. Hopes were high that the seventh placed home team could inflict upon their visitors a first league defeat of the season, but it was not to be, as in the second forty the Trailfinders came back strongly to score 25 unanswered points.
After the Pirates applied pressure upon their opponents all but from the start of the game, suddenly it was Ealing’s centre David Johnston who went close to scoring to the left of the Penzance posts. Injured in the process, he was replaced by former Wales under 20s player Steven Shingler, who was making his 50th appearance for the Trailfinders.
As the Cornish Pirates eased the pressure upon them, it was their man-of-the-match Ruaridh Dawson who used his up and under kicking skills to good effect. Forcing opponents to make mistakes, the Pirates were awarded a raft of penalties which led to them going close to scoring on several occasions. Then, following Shingler being shown a yellow card, the Pirates achieved a score they fully deserved when hooker Will Crane made it over the line for an unconverted try.
Well, the home team certainly had the edge in the first quarter, but could they keep it going? Answer – a definitive ‘yes’. Defending magnificently for a lengthy spell, after a score eventually looked very much on for the Trailfinders at the clubhouse corner, full-back AJ Cant acquired possession inside his ‘22’ for the ball to quickly reach Tommy Wyatt. It looked as if the centre’s obvious ambition would be thwarted, but he suddenly escaped attempted Trailfinder clutches and ran some 75 metres to score a try near the Newlyn posts to which fly-half Arwel Robson added the extras. It was a terrific effort, which had supporters in raptures, and the Pirates were unlucky not to score again before the break.
The atmosphere come half-time was electric, the home crowd greatly appreciating what they had witnessed, with expectations suitably heightened in anticipation of a likely enthralling second period.
Sadly, as it worked out, for the Cornish Pirates and their supporters the second half would prove a real disappointment, as their team had to soon withstand continuous waves of pressure, leading to the visitors scoring an unconverted opening try through flanker Simon Uzokwe. Also soon used as a replacement was former Pirates lock Danny Cutmore.
Midway through the half, in the space of just two minutes the Pirates went down to 13 men following referee Mr. Gayther showing ‘yellow’ to both Crane and centre Joe Elderkin. This naturally now made it a big ask of the home team, and it was therefore in reality of no surprise when they leaked a second try, this time scored by replacement Carlo Tizzano, a former Waratahs backrower.
When back to 15-a-side for the final 10 minutes, there was a brief hope that the Pirates could either hold out for a draw or perhaps even find their feet again and sneak a win, but with lock Will Britton a third Pirate to be sin-binned, it was not to be. Indeed, not even a losing bonus point was secured, as their opponents put the result beyond doubt thanks to a penalty slotted by fly-half Craig Willis and there two tries scored by replacement Jordan Burns, who not for the first time in recent years proved a thorn in the Pirates side.
Speaking at the end of the game, Cornish Pirates’ man-of-the-match Ruaridh Dawson commented:
“Delighted to be 12-0 up at half time, perhaps the final scoreboard didn’t fully reflect the game. It obviously didn’t help that we gave away penalties to allow them back into the match, and at the end we were naturally very disappointed not to at least get a bonus point.
“We had spoken during the week about Ealing being a very a good team in the second half, which makes it even more disappointing to have let them back in. Everyone was buzzing in the build up during the week, and the atmosphere was perhaps the best we have experienced all season. It showed when the boys really got stuck into the match in the first half, but there was unfortunately a drop off around the sixty-minute mark and the yellow cards also inevitably proved costly. Going down to 13 men against a strong side like Ealing inevitably made it very difficult.
“Looking for positives, against a particularly strong side our game plan coming into the match was good and our physicality up front was encouraging again, as we had showed in the first period.”