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Coach Gavin Cattle had said pre-match that this game would prove both tough and exciting, and he was right, as the Cornish Pirates ended their season at the Mennaye Field on a sensational and sunny high!
Trailing 8-15 at the break, the jubilant Pirates dug deep to ultimately dominate the last quarter with a truly impressive performance. Also, in recording seven Championship league wins on the trot, it was the best such run of results they have ever recorded in the competition, not forgetting also that their total of 681 accumulated points ‘For’ is also their highest attained figure in the regular league season. With a small squad these are incredible achievements for which the coaches and players are to be truly applauded.
Having suffered two narrow defeats against the Londoners away this season – one in the Championship on the opening day of the league campaign (29-28) and another in the quarter-final of the British & Irish Cup (28-25) – this was always a result sought from this 4th versus 2nd place clash.
Falmouth Marine Band entertained pre-match, also forming the Guard of Honour alongside young rugby players from Penryn and Torpoint Tigers, and when fly-half Laurence May led the Pirates out on his 100th appearance, the colourful funnel stretched almost to the opposite touchline.
Milestone man May’s selection was one of two changes in the backline from the one that started at Bedford last time out, the other seeing Nicolas Coronel named to partner skipper Nicolas De Battista in the centre, whilst in the forwards there were returns for prop Jack Andrew and back-rowers Dan Lee and Chris Morgan.
Because of their expected involvement in the forthcoming Premiership Rugby A League final, certain dual-registered Exeter Chiefs players were unavailable for selection.
The Pirates got off to an encouraging start thanks to May’s fourth minute penalty from 35 metres out, however following the sin-binning of prop Christian Judge the visitors were quick to take advantage with a try scored at the Newlyn gate corner by No. 8 Ollie Stedman.
Keen to respond, the Pirates attacked with purpose. Hooker Dan Frost led the charge but full-back Kyle Moyle was ultimately held up over the line. Then, from a penalty award at the scrum, the Trailfinders firstly relieved the pressure and then proceeded to extend their lead with a penalty kicked by full-back Peter Lydon.
A second yellow card in the match, this time shown to Ealing prop Will Davis, gave the Pirates a heightened chance to score again, and five minutes before the break they did just that. Of no surprise it was No. 8 Tom Duncan who was quick to add to the hat-trick he scored at Bedford. Unconverted it looked likely that the teams would arrive at half-time with the scores level, but not so, as in time remaining Stedman galloped over for his second try of the match, this time converted, to make it 8-15.
This was a contest that was always expected to be tight, which was confirmed once again when four minutes into the second period Morgan crossed to the left of the Newlyn posts. May’s conversion levelled matters once more but the Trailfinders then all but immediately regained the lead thanks to a fine try scored by skipper Mark Bright.
With two sides at full bore, play was inevitably a little feisty at times, and following the sin-binning of Ealing replacement Will Harries the Pirates first went 22-20 up with the award of a penalty try, and then 29-20 ahead thanks to wing Alex O’Meara’s try which was magnificently converted from wide on the right by May.
A sense now pervaded about the ground that this really was going to be the dream end sought by the Cornish Pirates, and although the Trailfinders scored once more through flanker Rayn Smid, it was indeed the Pirates who finished in the ascendancy.
Two more yellow cards were issued, one to ‘Pirate’ lock Brett Beukeboom and the other to his opposite number Ollie Curry, before the Pirates proceeded to put the result beyond doubt. May was firstly on target with a penalty slot, and he then converted O’Meara’s second excellent score.
The Pirates had defied all early season odds to make it into the top four, so to finish the campaign fourth was a tremendous achievement. Alongside supporters it was time to celebrate both a very pleasing season and the good news announced last week with reference to the Stadium 4 Cornwall – Sportva Kernow!
Speaking after the game, proud player/coach Alan Paver commented:
Our spirit shone through once again and it really is second to none. We were down to bare bones but everyone just stuck the socks on, got the boots ready and went out and did the job.
There were a few mistakes, especially in the first half, but overall our physicality and mental strength, sustained for the full eighty minutes, saw us come out on top.