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Making it three league wins on the trot, a bare bones Cornish Pirates side can take considerable heart from this latest impressive performance.
Travelling to Hartpury RFC for a third time this season, the Cornish Pirates were expecting a competitive 9th versus 7th clash in the Greene King IPA Championship, the match kicking off at Hartpury’s Gillman’s Ground at the earlier than usual time of 1pm.
It was remembered that the teams had met three times already this season, with the Cornish Pirates winning 35-19 and 41-0 away in British & Irish Cup encounters, and 25-13 at home in the league. The second Cup fixture for the Pirates should have been played at home, however because of pitch conditions prevailing at the Mennaye Field the game was switched to Hartpury.
The Cornish Pirates side showed two changes, both in the backs, from the one that started against Doncaster Knights last time out. A fit again Matt Evans returned on the left wing, and selected at fly-half was Laurence May, who replaced the injured Will Cargill.
A familiar face in the Hartpury team’s line-up was that of former ‘Pirate’ Darren Dawidiuk. The experienced hooker joined London Irish from Gloucester for the start of this season but was then diagnosed with testicular cancer. His right testicle was removed, and after undergoing chemotherapy he is now returning to full fitness by playing again, on loan, at Hartpury. Alongside props Rupert Harden and Dan Murphy, he was also forming part on an all ex-Premiership and ex-Gloucester front-row.
On a bitterly cold and breezy afternoon, and with the floodlights soon switched on despite the early start, the home side opened the scoring in just the fifth minute. Full-back Mike Wilcox kicked the ball deep into the Pirates ‘22’, and from a line-out flanker Iain Grieve scored. On a less than easy day for kicking, fly-half Jacob Perry was luckless with his conversion attempt.
Quick to respond following the sudden set-back, the Pirates soon scored themselves, and in similar fashion to their hosts, as from a driving line-out they also made it over the line. And who was the identified try-scorer? Well it was surprisingly wing Matt Evans, who happily mixed it with the forwards to score in a fashion that had also been witnessed at Nottingham in February. Fly-half Laurence May was unable to add the extra two points.
The Pirates looked keen to now push on, and they did. A super run from prop Marlen Walker set a position from where supporting lock forward Josh Caulfield scored, and then, following initial good work from flanker John Stevens, it was hooker Sam Matavesi who registered another try. Both were converted by May.
Hartpury were under the cosh and adding to their woes they soon went down to 14 men after lock Alex Craig was shown a yellow card and directed to the sin bin by referee Mr. Kirby. Naturally keen to take advantage, the Pirates firstly knocked the ball on in their attempt to score, however from a second surge it was No 8 Tom Duncan who made it over the line for the team’s bonus point providing, and converted, fourth try.
If victory already looked assured, it most certainly did right on the stroke of half-time when, following a quick tap and run from scrum-half Alex Day, and further fine play from full-back Kyle Moyle, and centres Dan Koster and Nicolas De Battista, it was Stevens who deservedly scored a converted try that made it 5-33 at the break.
The Pirates had played with the elements and their performance had been pleasing to say the least. It was important though not to take anything for granted and to maintain their focus and discipline into the second period.
Starting the second forty in positive mode, the Pirates showed considerable enterprise. However, it was the home side who opened the scoring as they had in the first half, this time through an unconverted try from Wilcox.
As if sparked to make an immediate response, the Pirates did just that with Evans a creator who instigated a passage of play that ended with his fellow wing Alex O’Meara getting on the try-scoring sheet for a third match running.
Again, there was credit to the Gloucestershire team for next notching another try of their own thanks to No 8 Darrell Dyer, but this was soon cancelled out when Duncan dotted down his second of the match. May duly recorded his fifth successful conversion.
The Pirates would score no more, but there was one more effort from a Hartpury side that had put in an admirable second half performance. Scrum-half Harry Randall was a livewire performer throughout, and it was his influence that led to replacement George Boulton crossing for a score that also delivered a bonus point.
Speaking after the game, Cornish Pirates’ player/coach Alan Paver commented:
There was credit to both teams today for going out with the right spirit, as the conditions had a heavy bearing as to how the game was played. I was a bit sceptical about playing with the wind in the first half but we said we’d endeavour to kick well and take all the space available, and also stay disciplined and take our opportunities in attack. There was a reverse in the second half when we were occasionally a little bit loose when throwing the ball around, but in general we still stuck to task and all in all it was a deserved victory once again.
Hartpury have a number of experienced players and theirs is a team we respect. They are well drilled and coached and given field position showed what they can do. Also, of course, it was especially great to see Darren Dawidiuk out there playing again.