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Hartpury break the bogey as Pirates slip to a disappointing defeat
Having recorded a 33-18 points opening league game win at home to Richmond the previous Saturday, for their first game on the road the Cornish Pirates clearly hoped for another victory. Their opponents, however, had other ideas, and having lost the previous 10 matches played between the two sides they well and truly broke the bogey with a thoroughly deserved victory.
Although the Hartpury side lost 54-20 in their league opener away to Ealing Trailfinders, that result was actually one of no surprise against the Championship favourites. Also, now playing at home, they were clearly extra keen to upset the visiting Pirates who had former scrum half Jean-Baptist Bruzulier in action as co-captain of the Gloucestershire side.
Changes for the Pirates in the starting XV from the one that ran out against Richmond included a return to the starting line-up for Rory Parata at outside centre. Replacing the injured Shae Tucker, he partnered Tommy Wyatt this week wearing the number 12 shirt. John Stevens was another returnee who, replacing open-side flanker Will Gibson, was also named to lead the side.
As for the bench, hooker James Benjamin was primed and ready to make his debut, whilst after each appearing in a pre-season friendly lock Lewis Pearson and back-rower Caleb Montgomery were understandably keen make their first Championship appearances in a Pirates shirt.
Wearing their new predominantly white away shirts, after fly-half Arwel Robson kicked the game off at the Alpas Arena, when the Cornish Pirates were shortly soon awarded a penalty in front of the posts his successful strike made it a pretty good start.
Play was evenly contested for a spell until around the quarter of an hour mark home fly-half James Williams threatened with a fine break. A penalty award followed, Bruzulier kicked the short distance to the corner, and following a break off from the line-out’s resultant catch and drive, his fellow co-skipper, hooker Will Crane, scored a try to the right of the posts. Fly-half James Williams added the conversion.
The Pirates, however, in the fine conditions were quick to respond, as Stevens lent impressive support to wing Callum Sirker’s run to score a try converted by Robson.
It was felt perhaps pre-match that the ‘Red & Blacks’ of Hartpury would have to be at their best to ultimately get any points out of this game, so even at a fairly early stage in the game a successful penalty next kicked by Williams was for them a welcome score to draw level.
The Pirates soon hit back with a well struck penalty slotted by Robson, only for Hartpury to regain the lead when, after the Pirates lost possession, a kick ahead and foot race to the ball was won by centre Robbie Smith who scored a converted try.
Hartpury rightly held a feel-good factor as half-time approached, so when Williams landed his second penalty in the very last seconds, the 20-13 scoreline enhanced the feeling still further.
The Pirates now had a challenge on their hands and therefore it would be extra interesting to see what the second forty minutes would bring.
If the visitors were hoping for a good start to the second period, then Hartpury were clearly keen to deny them. Gifted penalty awards, from a potent catch and drive opportunity option, replacement Harry Short scored a try that was once again converted by the overall impressive Williams.
The script for this fixture was thus far clearly not one expected, despite the Pirates appreciating that any game on the road can be tough going, and when yet another Williams penalty made it 30-13 it was surely a big ask to expect a comeback.
There was a slight glimmer of hope after No. 8 Tom Duncan picked up the ball at the back of a scrum and wing Callum Sirker scored wide on the right, but after replacement Harry Bazalgette was luckless with a difficult conversion attempt there would be no more points for the Pirates.
Unfortunately going down to 14 men after replacement Lewis Pearson was shown a yellow card, the home side extended their lead when Short scored his second try of the match off a driving maul, and Williams once again added the extras.
It was said pre-match that the Pirates approach to the game needed to be important, with all boxes ticked and everyone in the right frame of mind to get on the right side of the score. Regardless, whether this was or was not the case full credit was due Hartpury for playing so well to deny the Pirates and at last break their Pirates bogey.
Speaking after the game, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Gavin Cattle was honest, as ever, in his assessment, commenting:
“The scoreline reflected the game. We were poor and just couldn’t get a foothold in the game. Our physicality wasn’t at a level where we are used to, we gave away too many penalties, were sloppy and our performance was nowhere near what we expected.
“Credit was due Hartpury who chop tackled us well and got us to the deck and making our breakdown a mess from there dominated collisions.
“Our basics were nowhere near what they should be and then we were trying to find the space out wide without earning it in the middle of the pitch, and with Hartpury making that contact area a mess we were still trying to play the same game. We also didn’t adapt our kicking, as I think we over played in the first half and then perhaps over kicked in the second.“
“Every week is tough, and this was a game when we became unstuck. Yes, it is clear we have a lot of potential, but these are experiences we must learn from.”