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Overcoming something of an indifferent start to this contest, when they went 12 points down with just eight minutes on the clock, the Cornish Pirates recovered so admirably well to not only back into the game but to also proceed to comfortably win it. For wing Robin Wedlake it also proved especially memorable, as he registered an incredible four tries in the match.
For this latest encounter, which followed two bonus point wins from their opening two games, the Pirates named the same 22 players, starting XV and bench, as had featured against Coventry Rugby the previous weekend.
In opposition was a Hartpury RFC side that had finished 10th in last season’s Championship – their first playing at the level – and who had performed pretty well in this season’s opening two games, winning 16-5 at home to Yorkshire Carnegie and then losing a closely fought contest, 28-17, away to Doncaster Knights.
New faces at Hartpury RFC include the half-back pairing of Richard Bolt and Luke Cozens, who arrived at the Gillman’s Ground from Rouen in France. Scrum-half Bolt is a former ‘Pirate’, whilst for Cozens it is a second spell with Hartpury for a player who has also performed for Bath.
The Cornish Pirates won all four games (two in the League and two in the Cup) played between the teams last season, however they were expecting a much tougher examination in this match, which is how, at the start anyway, it turned out.
In the previously mentioned indifferent opening period, full-back Kyle Moyle did well to deny his opposite number Ben Foley from delivering an early score from a kick-chase, however it mattered little as a third minute try was all but immediately after scored by Hartpury centre Steven Leonard. Cozens duly converted.
Clever with the boot, it was a pinpoint kick out of hand by Cozens that led to his team’s second try. Left wing Jake Henry was the ball recipient and scorer with Cozens this time luckless in adding the conversion.
A thought pre-match was that this game perhaps had the potential to be a ‘banana skin’ for the Pirates. The display in the first quarter strengthened the view. However, managing acquired possession, approaching midway through the first half the Pirates, wearing their purple-coloured ‘Tribute’ away shirts, at last settled into the game. A platform was set by the forwards and from space then created it was Wedlake who was over for his first ever Championship score. Fly-half Will Cargill added a fine conversion to narrow the deficit.
It has recently been said that the Pirates have a deep belief in what they are doing, so to get on the scoreboard was clearly a step in the right direction. Indeed, as if to rubber stamp the view, good inter-play from Moyle and centre Callum Patterson ended with the latter making it over for a converted try that gave the Pirates a two-point lead.
In celebration, supporter chants of ‘Give us a P, Give us an I, Give us an Aargh!’ reverberated about the ground, whilst Wedlake, who has settled quickly at the level, then intercepted and ran 80 metres for his second score, with Cargill again adding the extras.
A penalty goal by Cargill extended the Pirates lead, but it was Hartpury who ended the half strongly. After backs had joined forwards in a driving maul, hooker Will Tanner, who made five appearances for the Pirates when dual-registered with Bath Rugby back in 2012/13, was identified as a try-scorer. The conversion attempt from Cozens drifted wide, for the scoreboard to read 17-24 at half-time.
Applying extra pressure on their opponents at the start of the second period, following several penalty awards it was Cargill who breezed over for the Pirates fourth try of the afternoon. The conversion attempt to his bonus-point-providing score, however, missed.
Pressure, of course, always tests the discipline of players, so when the Pirates applied a further squeeze it was no surprise to see Hartpury lose a player to the sin bin. Experienced centre Luke Eves was the man shown yellow by referee Mr. Hudson.
Continuing to dominate it was not long before the Pirates scored their fifth try of the afternoon. Wing Harry Strong initially went close, before from a scrum Alex Day linked play through Cargill, Patterson and then Wedlake who secured his hat-trick.
Although not a try-scorer this week, hooker Sam Matavesi displayed accustomed power and then a subtle offload that led to Cargill feeding Wedlake once more. Could it be a fourth try for the young Cornishman? Yes, it was – and he could be forgiven for thinking it a dream.
Both teams made changes and for the Pirates replacement Harvey Skinner scored the last try of the afternoon, which he also converted to deliver a 46-17 points victory.
Hartpury had been denied any points in the second half and having recorded seven Championship wins on the trot to end last season, and now opening this new campaign with three more (and with a bonus point from each), the Pirates had made it 10 x consecutive victories, which is quite some record.
Coach Gavin Cattle was a happy man after the game, commenting:
We didn’t start particularly well but the pleasing thing is that when we found our feet I was really pleased how well the boys stuck to task.
Conditions were good for playing positive rugby and we freed up a bit once we got a few scores. There was some wonderful offloading play and running of support lines by the likes of Toby Freeman and Sam Matavesi and the backs also performed well. Credit to Robin Wedlake for scoring four tries and showing what’s he’s got especially with his well taken interception score.
In winning the game we showed a lot of energy and the spirit was very good, including the replacements who made sure we kept our foot on the gas.