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Playing this Round 19 Championship fixture at the Mennaye Field on Sunday, the Cornish Pirates achieved a hard-earned bonus point win that saw them pleasingly move up to fifth in the league table.
The teams had already met three times this season, with the Pirates losing 15-14 away to the ‘Ravers’ in the league back in December but having in the Cup won 26-7 away in November and 52-5 at home on the Mennaye Field in February.
Changes in the Cornish Pirates starting line-up from the one that ran out at Ealing Trailfinders the previous weekend saw Jack Andrew and Hayden King named as the propping pair. For the latter it was his first league start of the season. Cory Teague and Will Britton formed a fresh second-row pairing and fit again flanker John Stevens returned to captain the side. In the backs there was just the one change, where Garyn Smith partnered Rory Parata in the centre.
After a minute’s silence held just ahead of kick-off in memory of five Pirates-associated people, namely former players Roger Roberts, Mike Berryman and Graham Rescorla, supporter Stephanie Russell, and local journalist Douglas Williams, it was the visitors from the Wirral who got off to an impressive start.
Led by experienced former Northampton ‘Saint’ Sam Dickinson, the ‘Ravers’, as Caldy are nicknamed, opened their account in just the seventh minute when, shortly after a tackle by Pirates full-back AJ Cant had denied Caldy winger Mike Cartmill a score, it was their fly-half Ezra Hinchcliffe who spotted space to cross for a try near the Penzance posts. Full-back Elliot Gourlay added the conversion.
The Pirates were positive in response and it wasn’t long, following good play from wing Robin Wedlake, with fellow flyer Arthur Relton, centre Garyn Smith and full-back AJ Cant involved, that skipper John Stevens was on hand to power his way to the line for a try converted by fly-half Harry Bazalgette.
It was a good riposte, and one that soon got better, firstly when applied pressure from the Pirates led to the award of a penalty try, with Caldy lock Tom Sanders also being directed to the sin bin, and there next a third home try. Bazalgette initially nudged the ball ahead perfectly for Wedlake to determinedly follow up and score at the old Western National corner, and with a fine kick Bazalgette also added the extras.
Now in search of a fourth try to earn a bonus point, after the Pirates held out several Caldy threats, with scrum half Alex Schwarz kicking well out of hand, the chance looked very much ‘on’, only for ambition to then be stunted when their line-out faltered. Anyway, a 21-7 lead to take into half-time looked reasonably healthy enough.
As had happened in the first half, the visitors started brightly. Dickinson, hooker Ethan Caine, and prop Adam Aigbokhae looked to make dents in the Pirates defence, as did flanker Nyle Davidson who carried strongly to score a converted try near the Newlyn posts.
Caldy now looked full of confidence. However, the Pirates managed to secure their sought after fourth five-pointer on the hour mark. Cant and replacement scrum-half Ruaridh Dawson were both influential in the build-up, before replacement prop Olly Adkins suddenly burst on the scene to score a try to which replacement fly-half Arwel Robson added another conversion.
Refusing to cave in, Caldy not only showed considerable resolve, but also took advantage when the Pirates lost the services of replacement hooker Max Norey to the sin bin. Number 8 Callum Ridgway scored a converted try, whilst in the process referee Mr. Walbaum also issued a second yellow card, this time to Pirates’ centre Rory Parata.
The pressure nearing the end of the match was understandably tense, with both sides striving for further points. As it worked out, no more came, as the Pirates thankfully held out to secure the victory that sees them move up to fifth in the table.
Commenting at the end of the match, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Gavin Cattle commented:
“We scored three good tries in the first haIf and had an opportunity just before the break to put the game to bed, only to come a little bit unstuck.
“Caldy are also tricky customers, and after starting the second half brightly, they kept the ball for long periods, and their maul put us under a bit of pressure as well, so hats off to them.
“When we had possession, we did though look dangerous on the ball and ultimately held out to record the sought after bonus point win.”
(The Cornish Pirates are next in action away to Doncaster Knights on Saturday 15th April, whilst their next home game is on Saturday 22nd April against Hartpury. The matches, which are both in the league, will kick-off at 2.30pm)