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Defeat But Heads Held Deservedly High
by Phil Westren
Ealing Trailfinders 36 Cornish Pirates 26
Yes, the Cornish Pirates fell just short in this Championship Cup semi-final contest, however to a man the players can hold heads deservedly high, and were a credit to themselves, their coaches, and the club.
For this fixture under the clear blue skies at the Trailfinders Sports Club, the Cornish Pirates team showed several changes in their starting line- from the one that faced Bedford Blues in a thriller the previous weekend, including a number forced through injury,
In the backs, Ruaridh Dawson was selected at scrum half, whilst in the pack there were first time starts for prop Olly Adkins, lock Steele Barker, and No. 8 Rusiate Tuima. Lewis Pearson was the named at blindside flanker, and fresh faces returning on the bench were Sam Rodman, Ed Scragg, and John Stevens.
The Cornish Pirates were blown away from the start of the game on their last visit to Ealing, but this time around it was anything but the case.
‘Rus’ Tuima made his considerable presence felt early on, with scrum half Ruaridh Dawson applying pressure with his kick game and also looking lively with ball in hand.
However, nine minutes into the game a penalty award to the home side saw them post the ball to the left corner for hooker Cam Terry to power over from the resultant line-out. Fly-half Steven Shingler’s conversion attempt narrowly missed.
From the restart the Pirates were soon under pressure again, but after holding the Trailfinders up by the posts, fly-half Arwel Robson was then able to clear the danger.
Ealing’s number ‘9’, Jordan Burns, also threatened with his running, as is so often the case, but penalised when tackled it enabled the Pirates to regain possession and take play back up the sun-baked 5-G pitch.
From pressure applied, Ealing’s full-back Dave Johnston was yellow-carded, and after the Pirates opted to kick to the right corner it was Tuima who was identified as the try-scorer following a line-out drive. Robson added the extras.
Unfortunately, after the Trailfinders next applied meaningful pressure, it was Pirates’ lock Cory Teague who was shown ‘yellow’ by referee Mr Wood. Then, from a line-out drive on the left, which mirrored their first try-scoring effort, it was Terry who once again scored. Shingler this time added the conversion.
The maul was in general proving a potent weapon for the hosts, their powerful forwards now beginning to make a real impact.
For the Pirates, super handling skills were displayed by centre Rory Parata and flanker Will Gibson, which was followed by two penalty awards and catch and drive attempts, but without any joy.
On regaining possession, the Trailfinders attacked strongly down the right through centre Reuben Bird-Tulloch. After gaining good yardage he then passed to supporting full-back David Johnston who crossed for a try that was again converted by Shingler.
At this point, a 19-7 scoreline seemed an unfair reflection on the game, therefore when that man Burns gathered the ball and ran in another converted score to make it 26-7, the question asked was could the Pirates, who had enjoyed a fair percentage of play, and would have been disappointed to leak two scores late in the half, work their way back into the game?
Having ended the first half very much in the ascendancy, it looked as if the Trailfinders would continue such a path at the start of the second forty when Shingler soon extended his team’s lead with a successful penalty strike.
The Pirates, however, were quick to hit back, with backs lending their weight to a drive that enabled hooker Syd Blackmore to score a converted try, it is sixth five pointer of the season.
Various replacements were now in action, and following a catch and drive in the left corner one of them, John Stevens, suddenly broke off with ball in hand and scored. Robson was again on target with his conversion attempt and the deficit had been reduced to just two points.
Approaching the last quarter, after winning a scrum penalty and attempting a fruitless catch and drive, from a second penalty the Trailfinders did a tap and go which led to wing Charlie Walker going over in the corner. Shingler converted well from out wide but was luckless shortly after with a penalty kick attempt from some 37 metres out.
The penalty count had mounted against the Pirates, but at least the Trailfinders would score no more. Indeed, the Cornish side ‘won’ the second half, with replacement scrum-half Tom Kessell busy and some neat handling leading to a final try of the afternoon scored by flanker Lewis Pearson.
Having been the inaugural winners of the Championship Cup in 2019, when they beat London Irish 23-17 in the final, and taking into account the two-year Covid hiatus since, the final 36-26 result meant that the Trailfinders will defend their title at home to Coventry next weekend. Springing what many perceived to be a surprise, ‘Cov’ had won their semi-final 20-7 away to Jersey Reds on Friday night.
Despite their defeat, the Cornish Pirates can now look back on a very good season overall. They not only reached the semi-final of the Cup but were also third in the League, where for the first time ever they were unbeaten at home. As previously mentioned, heads can be held high and they should now enjoy a short, but fully deserved, close season break.
Speaking at the end of Saturday’s contest, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Gavin Cattle said:
“Looking back on the game, the spell just before half-time was telling. There was some individual error and we had also left some opportunities out there but having said that I must make mention of our pack that today had an average age of just 22. I thought they matched Ealing for much of the game and credit to young Steele Barker who in his first start for us at this level ran the line-out well.
“The competition has been all about what development growth we have for next season and giving boys an opportunity to put a really good shift in, so I am really happy that we applied ourselves, despite it on the day being a bridge too far.”
“We have developed a dogged spirit, whereby even if the chips are down and we are not on our mettle, there is always that commendably dogged team spirit. It certainly makes us immensely proud to be part of the club and what the boys have achieved this year.
“Perhaps we didn’t quite reach our full potential but having said that we have to be realistic and accept that the growth made has been brilliant.”