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Playing Ealing Trailfinders away was always going to provide a tough Greene King IPA Championship opener for the Pirates. However, in falling just short of achieving victory there was also much to commend in a display that showed no lack of grit, spirit and determination.
Making their first Championship appearances for the Cornish side were Kiwi centre Dan Koster, No. 8 Tom Lawday, flanker Rupert Cooper, and lock Toby Freeman. Three others waiting for their turn off the bench were Cornish props Christian Judge and Billy Keast, and centre Pete Laverick.
On a stiflingly hot afternoon, in the absence of injured skipper Chris Morgan it was centre Nicolas De Battista who proudly led the team for the first time, but not with the start he would have hoped for. Indeed, the Trailfinders opened the scoring in just the second minute, when of their own new boys, flanker Andrew Durulato, floated a pass to try-scoring wing Will Harries. Another new face at Vallis Way, former London Scottish full-back Peter Lydon, landed the conversion from out wide.
Thankfully the Pirates settled into the game and created pressure to bounce back, with the boot of fly-half Laurence May landing two cleanly struck penalty kick opportunities that came his way. For a spell the Pirates chase and tackle game would also stunt the home side’s ambition, with flanker Alex Cheesman and wing Alex O’Meara setting the tone.
A 7-6 scoreline with a quarter of an hour gone gave no cause to worry. Move forward just 12 minutes, however, a 19-6 reading provided quite natural concern. Clean line-out possession for the Ealing side saw the ball moved to midfield, when man-of-the-match Durutalo took a pop pass and in a flash sped in untouched from the ‘22’. Lydon converted but was luckless from the touchline following another well-taken try scored by wing Seb Stegmann.
Their character tested for the second time in the match, the Pirates clearly needed to score next, which they did. Lawday, Battista and full-back Toby May made yardage, and when the ball was worked left it was wing Kyle Moyle who cleverly nudged the ball into space and followed up to score the Pirates first try of the afternoon. May’s fine conversion helped bring the visitors further back in contention.
Losing scrum-half Alex Day to the sin bin – for an adjudged high tackle – applied pressure back on the Pirates, and although Lydon opened up a nine points gap with a penalty, on half-time May was similarly successful to leave the scoreboard reading 22-16 at the break.
The Pirates need a good start to the second period, but as in the first half they leaked an early score with USA international Durutalo touching down his second converted try of the afternoon.
For the Pirates yet another test of character beckoned, and quick to show they were once again up for the challenge their patience would be rewarded. A pass from Koster found the hands of Moyle who slipped to ground agonisingly close to the line, however with possession maintained it was Lawday who scored a converted try to bring the Pirates back to within six points of their hosts.
There was still half an hour to go, with the outcome of this one now difficult to predict. The Pirates were very much back in contention, of that there was no doubt, with the efforts of Battista, hooker Tom Cowan-Dickie and others regularly testing Ealing’s stubborn defence.
The Pirates kept battering away, and in the 76th minute Freeman determinedly stretched and forced his way over to leave May with a conversion attempt that would likely have secured victory. His kick would unluckily miss, just to the right of the posts – to the immense relief of the home faithful.
In conclusion, it appeared obvious that a further strengthened Ealing Trailfinders will again perform near the top in the Championship this season, whilst the Pirates also showed that they too have the potential to do well.
Speaking after the game coach Alan Paver said:
“We lost a few key personnel going into this opener so we’re proud of how the boys performed.
“It was a little frustrating that we weren’t quite able to get over the finishing line but we showed immense character and with the grit and determination sought spent a lot of time in their red zone in the second half. It’s just a shame that we didn’t show just an extra five per cent composure to have scored a couple more tries.”
15 Peter Lydon (Luke Carter 59), 14 Will Harries (Lewis Robling 56), 13 Piers O’Connor, 12 Joe Munro, 11 Seb Stegmann, 10 Aaron Penberthy, 9 Grayson Hart; 1 Will Davis (Djustice Sears Duru 59), 2 Alun Walker (Matt Cornish 63), 3 Mark Tampin Sam Rodman 63), 4 Glen Townson (captain), 5 Barney Maddison, 6 Rayn Smid (Dan Temm 56), 7 Andrew Durutalo, 8 Mark Bright
Replacements (not used): Harry Casson
15 Toby May, 14 Alex O’Meara, 13 Dan Koster (Pete Laverick 59), 12 Nicolas De Battista (captain), 11 Kyle Moyle, 10 Laurence May, 9 Alex Day (Mike Pope 59); 1 Marlen Walker, 2 Tom Cowan-Dickie, 3 Jack Andrew (Christian Judge 59), 4 Josh Caulfield, 5 Toby Freeman, 6 Rupert Cooper, 7 Alex Cheesman, 8 Tom Lawday.
Replacements (not used): Billy Keast, Matt Bolwell, Dan Lee, Will Cargill.
Yellow card: Day.
tries: Durutalo (2), Harries, Stegmann; cons: Lydon (3); pen: Lydon.
tries: Moyle, Lawday, Freeman; cons: L. May (2); pens: L. May (3).
Referee: Greg Macdonald (RFU)