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In a crucial top of the table Championship clash, it was the current leaders Doncaster Knights who ran out 22-15 winners to leave the Pirates with a tougher route to glory than before the game. The Pirates still have three fixtures to the Knights one and two games in hand over their victorious opponents – Ealing of course will have their say too. Ultimately though, it was first half ill-discipline that left the Pirates too much to do and cost them dearly.
It was a slow start and perhaps understandably, given the magnitude of the game. Both side were looking to feel each other out and grasp the difficult wind, but it was loose and error strewn for the most part. The first chance of the game fell the Pirates way, as Arwel Robson found the returning AJ Cant with a lovely looping pass. The winger couldn’t put his man away for the score, but it was a promising start.
It was the home side who opened the scoring though, in the shape of what was an impressively strong maul in the first 40. George Edgson crashed over for an early 5-0 lead after Olver missed the chance to extend it to seven. The Pirates responded well though and soon moved in front. A purposeful carry into the 22 from the centurion, Josh Caulfield, got the Pirates close, before Matt Bolwell hit a lovely line packed full of aggression, to reach out and score. Robson converted for 5-7.
At this point the game burst into life from what had been a stodgy affair, with the Castle Park crowd treated to a high quality battle by two teams at the peak of their powers. Doncaster regained the lead through the impressive John Kelly, who got the hosts over from short range again. Olver missed again, but Doncaster were back in front.
Unfortunately, there was to be no response this time from the Pirates and rather a punishing end to the half instead. The visitors paid the price for a double figure penalty count in the first half, losing Antonio Kiri Kiri and Jack Andrew in quick succession, as the referees patience ran out. To compound the issue, the home side made the Pirates pay the full price for going down to 13 by scoring to further tries from the maul through Edgson again and Thom Smith to secure what could be a potentially crucial bonus point try. When Olver kicked his first conversion at the fourth time of asking to end the half, the Pirates had a mountain to climb at 22-5 and the game looked all but over.
Thankfully for the Pirates, the second half was a completely different tale. The 13 men began the half with real purpose and slowly but surely, stemmed the tide of the referees whistle and shifted the momentum of the game. That good early start to the half was rewarded, as Arwel Robson kicked a penalty to reduce the gap to just 12 points.
The hosts were no longer getting the same kind of joy that they had in the first period and perhaps shut up shop a little too early, maybe even understandably so following their first half blitz. The Pirates plugged away manfully and continued to provide a threat, despite ending the game with a make shift backline due to Arwel Robson’s injury on the hour mark.
Four minutes after Robson left the field, there was hope. Josh Caulfield capped a fine milestone performance by finishing off a cute move from the maul to take it to a one score game. Carwyn Penny couldn’t add the extras, but there was a growing sense that there was still something in this for the Pirates.
It was a heart stopping, if not a frustrating finale, as the visitors came so close to pulling off what would have been an incredible and unlikely comeback as they held the Knights scoreless for the second forty. As the Pirates crept forward with menace on 75 minutes, it looked ominous for the hosts as the referee awarded another in a string of penalties to the away side. A seemingly innocuous scuffle saw that penalty reversed and a crucial chance went begging. There was still time for another dangerous foray into the Doncaster 22 as the clock ticked into the red. Camped on the Knights line, the Pirates normal precision from a metre out deserted them and a knock on ended their hopes of snatching a late and dramatic draw.
Captain Tom Duncan on his milestone 150th appearance gave an honest appraisal post match.
We were outplayed in the first half, but we got a bit more joy in the second and got on top a bit. Our inaccuracies and ill-discipline are a bit of a trend for us at the moment and we’ll have to address that next week. I said to the lads have five minutes, have a sulk if you need to then it’s full focus on winning three games to win the league.
The Pirates return to action next Saturday against Hartpury at The Mennaye – Kick Off 2:30pm.