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Playing their 1st Leg game away to Doncaster Knights in Round 1 of the Championship Cup, the Cornish Pirates recorded this excellent victory in what was a closely fought encounter. It was also the home team’s first loss in a competitive match at Castle Park since their defeat at the hands of Saracens last April
With the pressure of the league behind them, the Cornish Pirates selected a side littered with young talent, and skippered by back rower Matt Bolwell. All were keen to give a good account of themselves, including for one, replacement Bear Williams, who made his first outing for the Pirates in a Championship fixture.
On a breezy but generally beautiful day at Castle Park, prop Sam Rodman unluckily received a mouth wound in just the third minute. It led to Hayden King coming on as a replacement and playing his first game at tight head for the club where he did a sterling job.
Both teams tested each other but it was the Pirates who looked the more likely to score first, and they indeed did on the quarter of an hour mark. Centre Joe Elderkin had made a half break to take play to Doncaster’s ‘22’, but the threat was held. However, the Pirates would maintain their go forward, and following sharp play from scrum-half Ruaridh Dawson it was wing Robin Wedlake who made it to the line for the game’s opening try. Fly-half Harry Bazalgette was narrowly just off target with his conversion attempt.
When the Pirates were put under pressure, the team’s effort was epitomised by flanker Will Gibson who won an important turnover, though the home side would eventually hit back and level matters. It followed a kick from fly-half Billy McBryde that was well gathered by former ‘Pirate’ Harry Davey, who then timed his pass to supporting full-back and try-scorer Mark Best. McBryde was also luckless with his conversion attempt from out wide.
As the clock ticked to half-time the Pirates still appeared to have the edge in this contest. Having said that, they were though put under pressure at the death, but thankfully survived for the score to stay at 5-all.
Overall, the Pirates could feel reasonably content with their performance thus far, with hopes that they could maintain their effort in the second forty.
Well, the Pirates certainly got off to a perfect start as centre Shae Tucker first ran with confidence to score at the posts, and then there was another try scored soon after, this time by replacement hooker Marlen Walker. Both efforts were converted by Bazalgette.
Gifted penalties, the Knights responded to threaten. McBryde’s kick out of hand was posted to the corner and at the resulting driving maul Donny’s backs added their weight to the cause, but all without joy as they were driven into touch.
The points deficit was narrowed, however, midway through the second period, as following Pirates’ full-back AJ Cant being shown a yellow card a penalty try was awarded the home team.
Missing a man for the next 10 minutes would likely prove a testing period for the visitors, and it did. McBryde found an excellent touch from a penalty kick, and from a close-range driving maul it was replacement hooker Will Holling who scored a converted try to suddenly make it 19-all. The end of this match would surely be tense, and true to form it was.
When the Knights looked to move out of defence it was Cant, now back in the action, who intercepted and ran in a bonus point providing fourth try which was converted by Bazalgette.
There was now all but seconds left for the home team to secure a draw and from a driving maul right at the very end they went very close. Replacement Thom Smith scored his team’s fourth try but McBryde missed the conversion to draw the match.
The smaller than usual crowd had certainly been entertained, whilst from a Pirates perspective there was much to admire, especially away from home.
Speaking after the game, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Gavin Cattle commented:
“It was great to get such a win on the road especially after the enduring league season.
“I was a little bit worried about the energy levels coming up here, and it could have gone either way in an at times scrappy affair, but the boys put up a terrific front and came out on top
“In a match where both teams had a lot of changes I thought our half backs Ruaridh (Dawson) and Harry (Bazalgette) controlled the game really well and it helped their development.
“Looking back, to travel up to Doncaster and get such a result provides confidence. The boys were excited, the attitude great, and throwing themselves into it and there was some good stuff to reflect upon.”
Attention now turns to the second leg in Round 1 of the Championship Cup competition, when the Cornish Pirates will host Doncaster Knights at the Mennaye Field on Saturday the 23rd April (ko 2.30pm)