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Playing this Round 18 league game away to table toppers Ealing Trailfinders was always likely to pose a tough challenge for the Cornish Pirates, and so it proved.
For the Pirates, who had not won a league game at the at the Trailfinders Sports Ground since emerging victorious 22-16 winners in December 2016, there were several changes in their starting line-up from the previous weekend.
Hooker Morgan Nelson got the nod to make his firstleague start and Olly Adkins was named at loose-head prop. Young Ben Grubb, who made his Pirates debut off the bench at London Scottish was selected in the number 8 shirt, and James Fender returned on loan from Ospreys to partner Steele Barker in the second row. Another returnee, in a side where centre Rory Parata once again skippered the side in the injured absence of club captain John Stevens, was fit again wing Robin Wedlake. Also listed among the replacements to provide backrow cover was MaxNorey.
After Pirates’ fly-half Harry Bazalgette kicked the game off into a tricky wind, the Trailfinders opened their account in just the third minute, when gathering possession following a line-out it was flanker Ollie Newman whose try at the posts gifted fly-half Craig Willis the easiest of conversions.
Soon after the restart, following a run right on the right flank by Ealing wing James Cordy-Redden, the ball was worked left to find the lurking hands out wide of former Scotland ‘A’ hooker Alun Walker, who scored an unconverted try.
Conceding two tries in the space of just seven minutes hardly provided the best of starts for the Pirates. However, with some first meaningful possession they immediately took advantage, when wing Robin Wedlake showed his considerable pace to blitz a course to the line for a try out that was brilliantly converted by fly-half Harry Bazalgette.
Approaching midway through the first half a converted try from prop Will Davis extended the Ealing team’s lead, giving them a fair sniff of a chance to secure a bonus point providing fourth by halftime.
The Cornish Pirates though then managed to score once again, after some slick passing ended with wing Arthur Relton notching up his ninth try in team colours this season. The period of play had followed a kick up field by Grubb, and shortly after a fine 50:22 kick out of hand by scrum-half Alex Schwarz.
Despite their best efforts, for the rest of the half the Pirates found Ealing firstly miserly stubborn defensively, and then nearing the end just too difficult to keep out.
Under immense pressure the Pirates gave several penalties away and, in the process, tested the patience of referee Mr. Hudson. Tellingly, in the overall context of the game, they received two yellow cards, with the first shown to skipper Rory Parata after an accumulation of team penalties, and then a second card shortly after to prop Harvey Beaton.
Playing with just 13 men, it was of no surprise that the Pirates conceded an all but inevitable bonus point try just before the break. It was scored by wing Cian Kelleher but remained unconverted. Willis had earlier departed proceedings injured, and it was his replacement Dan Lancaster who was unable to add the extras.
Opening the second period still two men short, and with the score reading 24-12, was less than ideal for the Pirates, and using their numerical advantage their hosts soon conjured up another try – a second of the match for prop Davis. Lancaster was again off target with his conversion attempt, but he made no mistake seven minutes later after experienced South African centre Pat Howard added to their try tally.
A converted try for Cory-Redden took Ealing past the 40 points mark, with there time to reach 50 unless the Pirates could not only rally to deny them but perhaps even conjure up a couple of tries of their own. As things worked out, for the visitors it was not to be, but there was just enough time for the home side to make the half century. A try from former ‘Pirate’ Max Bodilly provided the opportunity, with Lancaster’s successful conversion taking the Trailfinders score to 50, which in the process recorded a convincing and clearly deserved victory.
Speaking at the end of the match, a reflective and realistic Cornish Pirates joint head coach Gavin Cattle said:
“There were those moments when Ealing got on top and did what Ealing do, with a couple of their tries coming from powerplay which is difficult to stop, but I thought the telling factor was when we went down to 13 men, plus in my view it looked like their first try came following a clear knock-on.
“We did well to hold them at 19-12 for a lengthy spell until just before halftime, and the penalties we conceded were not through ill discipline but from pressure put on us. There is a difference, and ultimately when you come up against a team that is geared to play Premiership rugby, and who won the competition last year, that can happen.
“Ealing are well resourced and layered and deserve to be at the top. Their set piece play is strong, which enables them to acquire scrum penalties, gain good field position, and get a sound foothold in the game.”
“Today our pack had an average age of just 23, including 19-year-old Ben Grubb who did well in his first start for us. We showed a lot of grunt and character, scored two good tries in the backs, and generally young and developing there is a lot of growth in our squad.”