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The Pirates always knew that a tough encounter awaited them away to Coventry, who at the end of a fully committed contest held on to their unbeaten home record in the Greene King IPA Championship this season.
For this fifth versus second contest at the Butts Park Arena there were several changes to the Pirates starting XV from the selection that ran out against Bedford Blues the previous weekend. In the backs Harry Davey and fit again Alex O’Meara formed the wing pairing, replacing the unavailable Robin Wedlake and AJ Cant, and Javier Rojas Alvarez, who replaced the injured Will Cargill against the Blues, was selected at fly-half. In the forwards, Jack Andrew returned at loose-head prop for the injured Marlen Walker, and Will Wilson was the selected blind-side flanker with James McRae moving to No.8. Josh Caulfield was another player unavailable for this encounter, so Danny Cutmore was named to partner skipper Brett Beukeboom in the second row. Fresh faces on the bench were Hayden King and Fa’atiga Lemalu, who has made a welcome return to fitness.
The Cornish Pirates experienced a tough fixture away to Coventry last season, when under their floodlights and in poor conditions the result narrowly went against them. Since then the Midlanders have installed an artificial surface on their ground, so the potential was there to perhaps witness some fast running rugby between two good sides. We would see.
On a fine afternoon, an early penalty slot by Javier Rojas Alvarez saw the Pirates get off to a good start, only for Coventry’s fly-half Rory Jennings to level matters in the eighth minute.
A former ‘Pirate’ playing for the home side was scrum-half Tom Kessell, who demanded attention before the Pirates nudged ahead again when Rojas Alvarez, the league’s top points scorer ahead of this match, landed his second successful penalty.
The Pirates would soon extend their lead still further after Cutmore delivered clean ball off a line-out. Scrum-half Alex Schwarz initially probed, centre Callum Patterson and then full-back Kyle Moyle advanced, and after support was given it was Patterson who popped up again to score a converted try near the posts.
Jennings kicked a second penalty for ‘Cov’ midway through the first half and a third shortly after a frustrated Cutmore was shown a yellow card.
The penalty account against the Pirates was mounting and they also went briefly down to 13 men when referee Mr. Chivers now sent Patterson to the sin bin.
The spell to half-time would likely prove an immense test for the Pirates, noting once again that they were playing against a side with an impressive home record. There was considerable pressure to withstand, however they admirably held out to lead 13-9 at the break
Patterson was out of the sin bin seat to start the second half, and with a full list of personnel the Pirates took advantage. Forcing the home side to defend, it was good play from Moyle who set the Pirates on the front foot. Harry Davey and Will Wilson would also play important roles before Jack Andrew applied the power to score a converted try.
It was not long, however, before Coventry’s influential No.8, Ryan Burrows, charged forward, with support given by Jennings who scored and converted his try to reduce the arrears.
This game was always expected to be close, and so it was proving as the Pirates now introduced certain replacements to proceedings, including back-rowers Fa’atiga Lemalu and Tom Duncan.
A catch-and-drive opportunity gave Coventry the chance to snatch a lead for the first time in the match, and they did just that when midway through the second period former Harlequins back-rower Luke Wallace scored a converted try.
All of a sudden it was the home team who were in the ascendancy, which was duly confirmed when young winger James Martin, who has been a prolific try-scorer for Cambridge in National One this season and was making his Coventry debut, gathered a kick from some 40 metres out. To considerable applause from the large crowd, he ran forty metres to score.
In remaining time, the Pirates needed a little magic to get back into this contest, and although Rojas Alvarez was luckless with a dash that offered promise, he immediately after kicked a penalty to get within five points of the hosts.
The finale inevitably proved mighty tense, and after Coventry replacement Senitiki Nayalo was yellow carded for having made a deliberate knock-on, the Pirates were surely in with a chance. Sadly, however, it was not to be, as they at the end had to settle for a losing bonus point, in what was only their third league loss of the season.
Speaking after the game, Cornish Pirates’ Director of Rugby Chris Stirling commented:
Today was inevitably extremely disappointing because we didn’t carry out what we trained to do.
Our first half discipline was poor, and we can’t afford to give eleven penalties away, which is again disappointing because our penalty count has been going down. When the referee awards penalties we have to simply suck it up and get on with it, as both teams had the same referee.
Scoring a good try at the start of the second half, we were in a good position and perhaps shouldn’t have lost the game, but it just went downhill from there. We lost our structure, did stuff in the wrong areas of the field and just didn’t make good decisions.
Although we have to look at ourselves, in fairness to Coventry they are probably the strongest team we have played in the last eight weeks, and with a good back row were able to take extra advantage because of the pressure put on us at the set piece.