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Playing this Greene King IPA Championship Round 6 match away to London Scottish, under Friday evening floodlights the Cornish Pirates suffered yet another frustrating defeat against their west London opponents.
The Pirates had travelled with incentive aplenty, hoping to end this season’s first block of six league matches with a victory that would give them a return of five wins and just the one loss – versus Newcastle Falcons. Hopes were also high to hold on to second place in the Championship and to win away against London Scottish for the first time since 2011. It was not to be.
Naming the same set of backs as had started in recent matches, there were though three changes in the Pirates pack from the one that had faced Ampthill the previous weekend. James McRae was selected at No 8, Tom Cowan Dickie at hooker and Craig Mitchell at tight-head prop, the trio swapping places with Tom Duncan, Dan Frost and Jay Tyack who were all named on the bench.
On a wet, breezy and bitter evening in at the Richmond Athletic Ground, both sides were guilty of giving early penalties away. Happily, when one was awarded the Pirates, fly-half Javier Rojas Alvarez was successful with a well struck penalty kick.
The early lead for the Pirates did not last long, as from the restart the home side soon recorded the game’s opening try. Centre Bobby Beattie’s chip ahead was crucial, with his midfield partner Matt Gordon taking advantage to ultimately score. Fly-half Will Magie, an experienced USA international, added the conversion.
Midway through the first half some impressive off-loading created space for full-back Joe Luca Smith to blast off, his injection of pace gaining territory that led to skipper and flanker Lewis Wynne adding support and scoring his side’s second converted try.
As is often the case for the Pirates in London, exile supporters and the travelling faithful present strive to make themselves heard, and once again getting behind the team they were about to witness a morale booster. Wing Robin Wedlake first went close before centre Callum Patterson was then on hand to notch up his fourth league try of the season. In less than ideal kicking conditions, Rojas Alvarez was luckless with his conversion attempt.
The Pirates were now applying extra pressure on their opponents and, after London Scottish lock Luke Frost was yellow-carded, Rojas Alvarez slotted his second penalty to reduce the deficit to three points.
As the clock clicked to half-time, for the Pirates there was a fine run witnessed from Wedlake, but there would be no further score. The second period would start with the scoreboard reading 14-11.
The Pirates were very much still in the match, the result likely to be decided by fine margins. Maintaining discipline and executing play well in the conditions would though be vital.
A Magie penalty extended the home team’s lead, but after the Pirates developed a driving maul close to the London Scottish line it was the in-form and determined Mr Patterson who added yet another try to his tally. Also converted, the Pirates had regained the lead.
As this game was building to what would surely be a tense last quarter, hopes for the Pirates were at least enhanced when London Scottish went down to 14 men for a second time in the match, their hooker James Malcolm the man sin binned. Rojas Alvarez kicked the penalty on offer, however Magie quickly responded with one of his own.
Both kickers had done well for their respective teams, so when another penalty kick opportunity materialised it thankfully went the way of the Pirates, with Rojas Alvarez delivering once more.
Holding a four points advantage, nearing the end of this match could the Pirates hold out? Well, the question was quickly answered, and it would be no, as smart play from Magie saw him nudge the ball forward once again for centre Bobby Beattie to score an unconverted try. It was the killer blow.
The Pirates pressed hard in the dying seconds, but to no avail. Conceding a penalty, it was game over, as the losing run away to ‘Scottish’ sadly continues.
It was disappointing, however in sporting terms credit was due the home side for not only recovering from a 44-17 defeat at Hartpury the previous week, but for also winning this encounter having played 20 minutes of the match with just 14 men.
Speaking after the game, Cornish Pirates’ Director of Rugby, Chris Stirling, commented:
Unfortunately, we came up short tonight but not through a lack of effort. Yes, we are disappointed to not finish this first league block with five wins and one loss, as everyone has worked extremely hard over this period and we have made some excellent progress.