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Welcoming Coventry to the Mennaye Field for this seventh versus third league contest in the Championship, this was a terrific result for the Cornish Pirates, and especially so when considering that with 33 minutes on the clock the visitors held a 26-7 lead. The comeback was somewhat special, and the victory ultimately richly deserved.
Having lost to Coventry 32-19 in the away encounter played last October, in a game which kicked off at the earlier time of 1.30pm, the Pirates were keen to gain revenge against a side who are enjoying a fine season.
Changes in the Cornish Pirates starting XV, some forced from the one that faced Ampthill the previous week, saw returns for lock Cory Teague, and for loose-head prop Marlen Walker and wing Tommy Wyatt who both saw action at Ampthill as replacements. Lock Steele Barker, who had made his league debut off the bench in Bedfordshire, was also ready to make his first league start, whilst fresh faces returning on the bench were those of Ollie Adkins, Joe Elderkin, and Will Trewin.
In initially damp and dull conditions, the Pirates were quick to test Coventry’s defence, for whom flanker Josh Bainbridge showed he was up for the test.
Displaying defensive qualities one minute, following a line-out steal the
visitors soon after threatened. Using acquired possession well, their attack deep inside the Pirates half ended with scrum-half Will Chudley, who has a wealth of Premiership experience behind him, scoring the game’s opening try. His Aussie halfback partner Pat Pellegrini added the extra two points.
The Pirates were then immediately reduced to 14 men after scrum-half Alex Schwarz was sent to the sin bin, apparently for perceived foul play at the time his opposite number scored.
One player already impressing for Coventry was young hooker Suva Ma’asi, a son of former Pirates favourite Vili. He was well involved in events leading to his team’s second try, one scored by centre Lucas Titherington, and again converted by Pellegrini.
The Midlanders certainly had an air of confidence about them, and understandably so, which was added to further when prop Ollie Andrews drove over the line to register try number three.
It all looked a little worrying for the home side who needed points of their own. They would, thankfully, materialise, thanks to a try scored by skipper John Stevens after pressure was applied close the Coventry’s line. Fly-half Arwel Robson followed up with a successful conversion.
The visitors would though hit back, with a bonus point providing try scored by Ma’asi and converted by Pellegrini. Their slick passing and good support play had impressed, but the Pirates thankfully managed to conjure up one more converted try before the break, it scored by hooker Will Crane.
A 14-26 halftime scoreline provided some encouragement, before a fascinating second forty was about to unravel.
The half did not start well for the Pirates, who were quick to lose the services of yellow-carded Stevens for 10 minutes, but with resolve and introducing fresh legs they would leak no more points. Yes, with ball in hand Coventry went close on several occasions, and a penalty goal attempt by Pellegrini also drifted wide, but the tide to decide the outcome of this match would turn in favour of the Pirates.
Losing the services of lock James Tyas and replacement hooker Will Biggs to the sin bin in the space of just five minutes hardly helped Coventry’s cause, as did Pirates’ replacement hooker Morgan Nelson, a hat-trick hero in the win at Ampthill, firstly scoring a try converted by replacement fly-half Harry Bazalgette. Then, with the game now at fever pitch, not only did Biggs depart but the Pirates were also awarded a penalty try that gave them the lead for the first time in the match.
With 14 minutes left on the clock, one could be forgiven for thinking that the game was still in the balance, but it did not feel like that. With the Pirates in the ascendancy, there was a strong sense that they were simply not going to lose. A final score, a fine penalty strike from Bazalgette, had though to wait until the very last seconds before the team, who had shown immense character, and their supporters could joyously rejoice, and boy they did!
Speaking at the end of the match, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Gavin Cattle said:
“After an indifferent first half when things weren’t going our way and we strived to put two phases together, there were some straight words spoken at half-time.
“Coventry are a good transition side and they cut us open two or three times, but the Pirates are about character, and it was really important that we responded in the right manner, and we did.
“The front-row and bench made a massive impact after halftime, with near the end a crucial turnover made by replacement flanker Jarrard Hayler. It’s good to see the efforts made by such boys in training just to get a crack at the action, and the celebrations at the end spoke for themselves.
“It perhaps wasn’t pretty, or perhaps a great performance, but it was one that had massive amounts of character, and was ultimately very pleasing.”