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The Cornish Pirates made it three league wins on the trot with this hard-earned result away to a determined London Scottish side in Round 17 of the RFU Championship.
Although having beaten London Scottish 32-0 back at their Mennaye Field home in October, the seventh-placed Pirates knew pre-match that playing at the Athletic Ground offered a completely different challenge. The Pirates have a less than impressive record in games played between the two sides at the Athletic Ground in the last decade and, although the home team presently lie at the foot of the Championship table, they have competed well in games, run several teams close, and could not be taken lightly. And that is exactly how it worked out.
The Pirates starting line-up showed several forced changes from the one that ran out against Coventry the previous week, with centre Rory Parata named to captain the side in the injured absence of skipper John Stevens. Number 8 Jarrard Hayler was making his first league start, and a new name on the bench was that of 20-year-old Cornishman Ben Grubb, who was keen for action whilst on dual registration from Exeter Chiefs.
Conditions were just a little bit slippery but otherwise fine at the Athletic Ground in south–west London as Cornish Pirates fly-half Harry Bazalgette kicked the game off playing towards the town end of the ground.
Lock Matas Jurecivius, who was one of several Harlequins-associated players in the home side, stole an early line-out, but in general his side was guilty of giving too many penalties away.
Scrum half Alex Schwarz was again in lively mode for the Pirates, who proceeded to apply considerable pressure with a series of ‘pick and go’ drives for the line, The Scottish defence initially held firm, however in the fourteenth minute, following a strong carry near to the posts from lock Will Britton, the ball suddenly found the hands of Bazalgette. Quickly assessing the situation, he fired a long pass left to enable wing Will Trewin to take advantage of available space and breeze in for the game’s opening try. Bazalgette also added the extras.
London Scottish looked to respond with full-back Cameron Anderson, a former Scotland under 20s player, influential in glimpses, but they then lost the services through injury of Army man lock Dan Lewis.
To add to home woes, the potency of a Pirates driving maul, with several backs adding their weight, ended when referee Sara Cox raised her arm to signal a try scored by hooker Will Crane, which was again by converted by Bazalgette.
It was a promising first quarter of the match for the Cornish side, much appreciated by their mix of travelling and exile support who were not shy in making themselves heard.
An excellent attack from Scottish saw them work the ball through 10 phases, and it was not long before they managed to open their account with a try scored by Anderson and converted by fly-half Cameron Scott.
Soon after the restart the Pirates looked forceful once more inside their opponents’ half, with forwards and backs in determined mode, However, when home wing Luke Mehson intercepted nobody was going to stop the former ‘Wasp’ as he ran 80 metres to score. His effort was also converted to level the scores.
There was no doubt that the Pirates had in general dominated matters, but it is points on the board that count and Scottish had found a way back into this match. As it worked out, there was just enough time for the Pirates to regain the lead before the break, which they did thanks to a well-struck penalty slotted by Bazalgette.
So, with a 14-17 scoreline there was all to play for in the second half, with the Pirates pleasingly getting off to an encouraging start. A third try was very welcome, and it one scored by full-back AJ Cant who has been in superb form of recent. Acquiring possession some 30 plus metres out he showed accustomed footwork, strength to perhaps belie his frame, and his usual pace to score a converted try.
Making it clear that they were still very much in for the scrap, London Scottish promptly replied with an unconverted try scored by wing Billy Wara. They were also shortly after unlucky when replacement Noah Ferdinand appeared to have scored, only for the Pirates to be awarded a goal line drop out.
It had been a let off for the Cornish side, but it did not last long as further good play by the home team saw Mehson notch his second try in the match. Scott’s conversion attempt again missed for the score to remain level.
From the restart the Pirates caught London Scottish cold, a sudden burst from replacement hooker Morgan Nelson ending with replacement prop Olly Adkins scoring a try that was once again converted by Bazalgette.
Both sides had now registered four try bonus points, with the outcome of this one still too close to call.
After an excellent 50-22 kick from Pirates replacement Carwyn Penny provided an opportunity for the visitors to trouble the scoreboard operator once more, the award of a penalty saw Bazalgette given the nod to step forward. Once again his kick was on target, plus it opened a likely vital 10 points gap. In the process he also impressively remained faultless off the tee.
With just seconds remaining Mehson closed the gap when scoring his hat-trick try, this time converted by replacement Nathan Chamberlain. It gave the never–say–die London Scottish a deserved losing bonus point, whilst the Cornish Pirates equally deserved their victory. It had been quite some match.
Speaking at the end of Saturday’s contest, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Gavin Cattle said:
“We knew it would be tough against a side boosted by several Quins players, and although a nail biter it was a good game.
“We again showed immense character but also of course came a bit unstuck at times too.
“Training was difficult this week because and we had to have a prop covering six, and Ben Grubb only arrived with us on Tuesday, though he did very well. Jarrard Hayler also played for the Navy midweek and Will Britton was unable to train ahead of the match, so all in all I’m just chuffed with the effort and achieving the result.”