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The Cornish Pirates will be understandably disappointed with this result, however there was much for them to be proud of playing against very good opposition.
The focus all week had been to prepare for what they knew would inevitably be a tough British & Irish Cup quarter-final contest away to Ealing Trailfinders. It was also the second time this season that the Pirates travelled to Vallis Way, remembering they lost narrowly at the same venue, 29-28, on the Championship’s opening weekend in September.
Both teams and sets of supporters were looking forward to what had always promised to be an enthralling Easter Saturday encounter, and it was. Yes, the Trailfinders were favourites, keen to ultimately lift the silverware, but this was Cup action and the Pirates were in turn determined to give a more than good account of themselves.
There were two changes in the Cornish Pirates starting XV from the one that faced London Scottish the previous weekend. In the backs a fit again Will Cargill was selected, whilst in the forwards Tom Lawday returned at blindside flanker. The occasion also marked skipper Nicolas De Battista’s 50th appearance for the club.
Playing on their 3-G pitch, the Trailfinders were keen to make an early statement of intent, and they did. Spurning kick at goal attempts from penalty awards, in the opening minutes they twice opted for catch and drives, and from the second experienced lock Sam Dickinson scored a try that was converted by wing Luke Daniels.
The Pirates opened their account thanks to Cargill’s eleventh minute penalty, however they soon after leaked a second score. Scrum-half Luke Carter was a lively performer for Ealing, and with ball spread it was a superb off-load by centre Lewis Jones that enabled wing James Cory-Redden to cross for a second converted try.
For the Cornish side, this was clearly not the start wanted, and against a team that would likely grow in confidence. However, showing determination and spirit the Pirates started to apply a little extra pressure themselves, which derived benefit especially at the breakdown.
An encouraging phase of play, initially involving De Battista and full-back Kyle Moyle, ended with wing Alex O’Meara being ushered into touch.
The Pirates set-piece had experienced its problems, however nearing the end of the first half a penalty award was followed by a clinically efficient line-out ploy that ended with prop Marlen Walker a try-scorer. Cargill added the extra two points and then three more right on half-time with a fine penalty effort from 40 metres.
Recovering late in the first forty from 14-3 down to 14-13 provided a statement of intent. It also, surely, raised belief for the Pirates going into the second period.
Well, they certainly started the half in confident mode, before the Trailfinders were gifted seven points. A pass that might well have delivered a scoring opportunity for the Pirates was suddenly intercepted, latched on to by Daniels who sped in for a try that he also converted.
The beginning of the second half would quickly mirror that of the first, as following a penalty award the home team were quick to take advantage, their advance ending with a yet another converted try, this time scored by skipper Kieran Murphy.
Now was a real challenge for the Pirates, who looked to respond. The pack, with Sam Matavesi, Tom Lawday, Tom Duncan and Brett Beukeboom to the fore, looked to advance, and with two scrum awards there was hope of a score. A resolute Ealing team, however, held tight and then managed to clear the danger. For the Pirates it was a sense of an opportunity lost.
The effort from the visitors could not be questioned, it was just that by making a few too many mistakes they were making their task more difficult.
With the clock ticking away there was surely no way back, until suddenly, matching the arrival of welcome sunshine, the afternoon for the Pirates brightened once more when wing Matt Evans dashed over for a try that was converted by replacement fly-half Laurence May.
As had happened in the first half, the Pirates were now admirably back in the ascendancy, with a tense finale guaranteed.
Following a line-out drive a third, unconverted try from replacement prop Billy Keast – his first five-pointer for the Pirates – narrowed the deficit to just three points, leaving the outcome very much in the balance.
There was still time for the victory to be snatched from the grasp of the Trailfinders, however when gifted back possession the Ealing outfit were happy to hold territory and wind the clock down.
The Pirates had one last chance to work their way upfield, but with a knock-on the referee’s whistle then blew, to end what had been the close and hard-fought contest expected.
So, in the final season of the British & Irish Cup, the first ever winners of the trophy bowed out of the competition, but not without a fight. Ealing Trailfinders will also, surely, be more than a good bet to ultimately be the final name inscribed on the to be archived silverware.
Commenting after the game, Cornish Pirates coach Gavin Cattle said:
In the first 20 minutes counted against us but having said that Ealing have a good strong set piece and they put us under the pump a little bit. Going from scrum penalty to line-out penalty and to try you have to give credit to the opposition for pressure applied.
“The start to the second half was also obviously disappointing, but overall I’m proud of the boys. Our effort was definitely there, as we expected it to be, and we looked the more dangerous team with ball in hand, so Ealing shut up shop and played the power game, which was effective.
It was a contest that was in our grasp to win, and on our day we know we can give anyone a game. Ultimately, however, it comes down to those decisions made when under pressure.