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Making a return to Greene King IPA Championship action, this was a mightily impressive performance by the Cornish Pirates, winning well against a gifted Doncaster Knights side.
Both teams arrived at this game in buoyant mood, ‘Donny’ having the previous Sunday defeated previously unbeaten Championship leaders Bristol Rugby in the British & Irish Cup, whilst the Cornish Pirates had recorded two excellent wins in the Cup away to Hartpury RFC and home to Ulster A.
Doncaster Knights had finished fourth in the league last season, although it will be remembered that the Pirates (who ultimately finished sixth) emerged victors from their two encounters – 35-26 away at Castle Park and 34-17 at home. Pre-match it was a question as to whether the Cornish outfit could topple the Knights once more.
The return to Championship action also saw a return to Pirates colours for three players who are dual-registered with Exeter Chiefs, namely centre Pete Laverick, No. 8 Tom Lawday, and flanker Josh Caulfield. Included on the bench was back-rower Chris Fuca, an on loan signing from Redruth and man-of-the-match against Ulster A, who was now naturally keen to get a first taste of Championship rugby.
On a sun-kissed Castle Park, Canadian international Brett Beukeboom, who has skippered his country this year, led the Pirates out, with his charges looking lively right from the start. Prop Marlen Walker was one player who appeared to be popping up everywhere, however the Knights could and perhaps have scored first, but for a knock-on.
Playing at a high tempo, the Pirates responded to the brief scare with some fine running from both wing Alex O’Meara and Laverick, and with pressure maintained they forced Doncaster into giving a penalty away. Opting for a kick at goal, fly-half Will Cargill’s spot on connection gave the Pirates the lead.
There were two big packs in opposition. Doncaster’s club captain Matt Challinor, normally a lock, played on the blind-side flank, whilst the Knights second-row pairing of Tom Hicks and USA international Nick Civetta each measured in at 6’ 8”.
It was felt that tries aplenty would surely be scored on what was such a fine day, although it took until nearly the half-hour mark before a first one was delivered. From what had thus far been witnessed it was of no surprise that it was scored by the Pirates, with special plaudits directed at their back-row. Lawday, Rupert ‘Borgia Bull’ Cooper and Caulfield each made carries and, after the ball was moved swiftly right, it was full-back Toby May who scampered over for a try well-converted by Cargill.
Just a few minutes later the visitors were at it again, controlled play from the pack followed up by good work from scrum-half Alex Day, who fed the ball to an eager Kyle Moyle. The hungry wingman has been in fine finishing form this season, and scoring once again it was his seventh try in the present Championship campaign, to which Cargill added the extras.
Such was the visitors overall dominance, it took until near half-time before the home side made their second appearance inside the Pirates ‘22’, but at least they made it count. A well-worked ploy from a line-out saw team skipper Michael Hills send hooker Ben Hunter over for a try, although fly-half Simon Humberstone was unable to land the conversion.
A 5-17 scoreline at the break made happy viewing for the Cornish contingent, however their tally could quite easily have been more but for occasional penalties given away in areas that offered promise.
It was clear at the start of the second period that Donny’s ‘DoR’, Clive Griffiths, had delivered certain succinct words during the interval, as his troops remerged full of purpose. Home hopes were high for a second score, their cause helped when the Pirates soon lost the services of injured hooker Tom Cowan-Dickie. Cargill was also then helped off, but only after O’Meara made an interception and showed a clean pair of heels on an 80 metres run to the line. In Cargill’s sudden absence, Moyle had to step forward to attempt the conversion, which missed.
The Pirates were again in the ascendancy, and following a determined break by Koster, with equally determined lock Toby Freeman in support, Knights’ full-back Declan Cusack was yellow-carded.
A bonus point delivering fourth try was a formality, soon delivered by Lawday, with replacement Laurence May gifted an easy conversion. Looking at the 5-29 scoreline, victory for the Pirates was now surely assured.
The Knights responded with a try scored by Challinor, before replacement Nicolas Coronel, making his first Championship appearance for the Pirates, powered in for a converted try at the posts. Confirming a try-fest at Castle Park, centre Lloyd Hayes showed no lack of skill and pace to score a converted try, whilst the Pirates then settled for a penalty kicked by May.
Into the last few frantic minutes, replacement Tom James crossed for a converted try that earned Doncaster a bonus point, Lawday notched his second for the Pirates, and there was a final try in the match scored by replacement James Wright.
For the Pirates, a final glance at a scoreboard reading 29-46 provided immense satisfaction, as this was indeed a terrific result for the players and their coaches to be proud of, especially following the frustration of losing certain other games this season by the narrowest of margins. A week off was to be enjoyed, and deservedly so, ahead of seeking another victory when they host Hartpury RFC at home on Sunday 12th November, kick-off at 2.30pm.