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It was stated pre-match that this 2nd versus 1st Round 5 Greene King IPA Championship encounter would be a measuring stick for the Cornish Pirates and to a degree it was. Yes, there were problems at the set-piece, but the way the team fought back to acquire two bonus points was admirable. In the process they also stay top of the league table.
Changes in the Cornish Pirates starting XV from the one that faced Richmond the previous week saw Josh Caulfield selected at blind-side flanker, with Matt Bolwell moving to Number 8, whilst alongside them in the back-row John Stevens was making his 50th appearance for the club. One other change was in the front-row, where Jack Andrew returned to the starting line-up at loose-head prop.
On a perfect late September’s afternoon the home side opened the scoring in just the seventh minute. Fly-half Craig Willis measured his cross-kick to the right and lanky centre Guy Armitage used height advantage to gather and make the touchdown. Willis added the extra two points.
Problems faced at scrum time led to the Pirates giving penalties away. However, after the Trailfinders missed touch it gave an opportunity for full-back Kyle Moyle to counter, the momentum providing a position from where Caulfield scored an unconverted try.
The Pirates were back on track but with better still to come. Centre Callum Patterson used initial power midfield for the ball to then find wing Robin Wedlake. Having scored five tries in the previous two games could he make it six in his first Championship season? The answer – yes, a mix of strength and pace seeing him run clear to the line. The conversion again missed
Ealing Trailfinders lost the services through injury of full-back David Johnston, his departure enabling former ‘Pirate’ Laurence May to enter the fray earlier than expected as a replacement.
The Pirates attacked strongly in search of a third try when a knock-on suddenly enabled their hosts to counter attack with vengeance. USA international flanker Andrew Durutalo led the charge upfield and ball moved right it was wing Seb Stegmann who scored.
A well-struck Cargill penalty nudged the Pirates back in front but things were about to go downhill for the visitors in time remaining before the break. The impressive Willis, a former Newcastle ‘Falcon’ and one of many new faces at Vallis Way, ran cleverly for a try that he also converted, and the Pirates then lost the services of prop Tyler Gendall to the sin bin. To make matters worse Willis also added the extras to a second try scored by Stegmann.
To go in at half-time 26-13 down was naturally disappointing for the Pirates but considering their problems at the scrum and in general giving too penalties away, plus going a man down, it was no surprise.
A second try for Armitage at the start of the second half was quickly followed by a second penalty for the Pirates kicked by Cargill, and then a converted Durutalo try that surely put the result beyond doubt.
Even after Durutalo was soon after sin-binned there was no advantage to the Pirates, as a penalty from Willis made it 41-16.
The Pirates were in danger of staring at a really hefty defeat, so now really was the time to show accustomed character. They did. A fine pass from replacement Harvey Skinner saw Moyle latch onto it at pace to score a try to the right of the posts that Skinner converted.
Fresh legs were making an impact, including among them back-rower James McRae, with thoughts now focused on perhaps securing a bonus-point-providing fourth try.
In time remaining, the Pirates would go one better with two more tries scored by Wedlake. If his second, right near the end, could be converted, then a second bonus point was the prize. The kick to be taken was anything but easy, so credit to Skinner for slotting it so well. Suddenly, the final result gave considerable satisfaction – it almost felt like victory.
Commenting after the game, Cornish Pirates co-coach Alan Paver said:
The first hour was frustrating and our set-piece was disappointing, which we will be giving attention to, however we are an 80 minutes team – 90 minutes team if need be – and we again showed good resilience at the end.
After the whole momentum of the game went away from us I am absolutely delighted with the character we showed to get back into the match.
The guys looked at each other and said to themselves we have to dig in here and find a way, and with the bench then bringing a different type of energy they lit the game up a little bit and to get two points from the match is not to be sniffed at and we’ll take as a plus.