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This second Pool 3 game in the Championship Cup for the Cornish Pirates was always going to be a tough prospect, and so it proved.
There were five changes in the starting line-up from the team that ran out and ultimately won 22-20 at home to Bedford Blues the previous Sunday. Rory Parata and Harry Strong formed the centre partnership, AJ Cant came in on the wing, Jake Clemson at lock and Matt Bolwell on the blindside flank. Named on the bench was Tom Concu, keen to make his first appearance for the Cornish Pirates in a competitive match.
Scrum-half Scott Steele led London Irish out for what was his 100th appearance for the Exiles, whilst flanker Dan Lee was making his 50th outing for the Pirates.
Former Northampton Saints star, fly-half Stephen Myler, opened the points scoring for Irish with a fifth minute penalty. He also, following a first try of the match scored by prop Lovejoy Chawatama, added a further two points.
Midway through the first half, the hosts extended their lead, this time with a converted try scored by centre Tom Fowlie.
A charged down kick by lock Danny Cutmore saw the Pirates go close and maintaining pressure for a spell led to home No 8 Jake Schatz being shown ‘yellow’. The Pirates looked to benefit from several penalty awards, and their first points of the match would eventually be delivered thanks to a try scored out wide by wing Alex O’Meara. Fly-half Javier Rojas Alvarez duly slotted the conversion.
The first half had shown a level of promise for the visitors, only for a 17 points gap to be opened once more following the conversion of a try scored by London Irish full-back Greig Tonks. 24-7 is how it remained come half-time.
The Pirates had shown on two past visits to the Madejski Stadium that they could compete well in the second half, as indeed they had recently before losing 38-29 in the league. We would see.
The second forty certainly started well for the visiting Cornish team, thanks to a successful penalty strike by Rojas Alvarez.
However, soon after pressurised at scrum time it was of no surprise to witness a penalty try signalled to the hosts. It was a score that also delivered their bonus point.
Although perhaps too early to be certain that the Pirates were staring down the barrel of a gun, the thought was soon justified, and especially so following centre Harry Strong being sent to the sin bin. In quick time, prop Ollie Hoskins bundled over for Irish’s next score and then there was a sixth try of the afternoon this time scored by wing Ben Loader. Both efforts were converted.
For London Irish, the 50 points mark was one clearly in sight. Indeed, they first reached it thanks to a try scored by flanker Max Northcote-Green and then passed it thanks to the trusty boot of Myler.
The Pirates showed spirit to conjure up for them a second converted try of the afternoon, this time scored by replacement hooker Marlen Walker, before the hosts wrapped up their convincing win thanks to tries from Schatz and wing Napolioni Nalaga, the first of which was converted by replacement Jacob Atkins.
Speaking after the game, Cornish Pirates co-coach Gavin Cattle said:
London Irish have a depth in their squad and had a side with calibre, as it showed in the scoreline.
In the first half we had some good go forward but ultimately there were aspects of our game that could have been controlled better. It also didn’t help in that we gave away too many penalties because of tackle height and at scrum time.
The boys will be bitterly disappointed, but they didn’t lack for effort and the game time experience given certain players was a plus. A few more faces will be available next week to make life a little bit easier, so it is up to us to prepare well and strive for a good result at home to Hartpury.