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Arriving at Round 17 in the RFU Championship for an eighth versus third contest in the league, the Cornish Pirates continued their good run of results which was sealed by a super second half performance.
Changes in the Cornish Pirates starting line-up from the team that won convincingly at home to Nottingham last time out saw flanker Matt Bolwell return to the side, with Josh Caulfield moving up into the second row. Another returnee was fly-half Arwel Robson, whilst a fit again Callum Patterson, who appeared the previous week as a replacement following an ACL knee injury suffered just ahead of the Saracens match last March, was selected at outside centre. On the bench hooker Tom Cowan-Dickie, who has made a return to the Pirates on loan from Leicester Tigers, wore the number ‘16’ shirt.
Played at Coventry’s Butts Park Arena in dry but blustery conditions, it was Robson who kicked the game off and soon after kicked a penalty to give the Pirates an early lead.
The Coventry team was quick to respond, as in the space of just a couple of minutes they scored two tries. From a quick tap penalty, it was scrum-half Josh Barton who first made it over the line for a try converted by his half-back partner Tony Fenner. Then, from the restart, when ‘Cov’ immediately snaffled possession again, and cheered on by a large gathering of enthusiastic supporters, hooker Jordon Poole, who is on loan from Exeter Chiefs, crossed for unconverted score.
12-3 down with just 10 minutes on the clock proved not an ideal start for the Pirates. However, from a penalty awarded in the eighteenth minute,
Robson posted the ball within 10 metres of the Coventry line. It was now over to hooker Tom Channon, whose throw in was on the button to set what would prove to be a potent driving maul. And who scored? Well, it was that man Channon yet again, recording his ninth in the Championship this season. Robson was luckless with his conversion attempt, but when a penalty kick at goal shortly materialised he slotted the opportunity to take Pirates within a point of their hosts.
Unfortunately, for the remainder of the half, it was one of considerable disappointment for the Cornish side, as not only did a penalty count against them enable Coventry to kick three penalties to hold a 21-11 half-time lead, but the Pirates also lost the services through injury both of a luckless Callum Patterson and full-back AJ Cant. After a break in play, seeing the former depart the field on a stretcher provided a particularly worrying sight.
Despite the Pirates emerging 40 points to 5 winners back at the Mennaye field in October, it was known pre-match that Coventry would be difficult customers on their own patch, noting that their only previous defeat at home this season was against Ealing Trailfinders. So, how would the second half go? We were about to find out.
Well, as we now know, the Pirates put in an admirable second half performance to turn things around, with their scrum and line-out functioning, and pressure now applied forcing their opponents to give penalties away. It was clinical-like, with Robson also kicking particularly well out of hand.
After an attacking line-out opportunity arose nearing the hour mark, and clearly playing now with extra focus and energy, Bolwell, skipper Tom Kessell and wing Callum Sirker were to the fore. The pressure led to a penalty being awarded in front of the posts, and Robson’s successful strike duly reducing the deficit.
As play was about to enter the last quarter of the game, with Cowan-Dickie the latest of several replacements introduced by the Pirates, it was up to him to deliver at line-out time, and he did. Indeed, from his first throw-in play was quickly taken to the posts from where Bolwell was identified as the try-scorer. Robson’s conversion was a formality, which also drew the scores level.
Tension levels were by now well and truly boiling at the Butts, although there was in the latter stages just the one team in charge – the Cornish Pirates.
With penalties awarded, opting for driving line-out opportunities rather than taking kicks at goal would prove their worth. A Cowan-Dickie throw-in to lock Danny Cutmore ended with replacement number 8 Tom Duncan scoring the Pirates third try, which put them in front for the first time since near the start of the game. Also, with Coventry having lost replacement prop Luc Jeannot to the sin bin, persistency by the Pirates led to replacement prop Olly Adkins scoring his maiden try for the club, which justly provided a bonus point.
The Pirates had managed not to leak a score during the second period, with a second half performance that proved just terrific.
Speaking after the game, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Alan Paver commented:
“After looking a bit shaky in the first half we did terrifically well to come out on the right side of the score. They were very physical, and we looked a little bit unsettled for long periods, but in the second half we put the handbrake on, turned it around and emerged worthy winners.
“We threw caution to the wind to go for those tries at the end because if we want to accumulate those five points, and it is something we had discussed, the mentality was that we had done so much to get to this point so let’s finish it off – and accumulative pressure did just that.”