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Travelling to Nottingham for this Sunday afternoon Round 2 league game in the RFU Championship, the Cornish Pirates recovered from trailing 19-9 down in the second half to achieve a closely fought but deserved victory.
The ‘Archers’, who finished tenth in the league last season, had a resounding 31-10 points win away to London Scottish the previous Saturday, so were expected to be somewhat buoyant coming into this game on the back of such an impressive result.
As for the Cornish Pirates, following their 21-14 opening league match win at home to Richmond, they made just the one change in their starting XV, with Cory Teague named to partner Will Britton in the second row in place of James Fender who was selected on a bench. Also, among the replacements, hooker Max Norey and prop Matt Johnson were ready and keen to make their first appearance for the Cornish Pirates in Championship match.
Getting off to a sound start, when fly-half Arwel Robson spotted an opportunity to strike a long-range drop goal – his first such successful effort wearing Cornish Pirates colours – it gave the visitors an early lead.
Nottingham hit back in the eighth minute when home skipper Josh Poullet made it over the line for a try. Fly-half Sam Hollingsworth was luckless with his conversion attempt.
From the restart the Pirates looked to apply pressure back on their opponents. They initially conceded a penalty at maul time and then, after wing Robin Wedlake looked to counter, were penalised again, enabling Nottingham to clear the threat.
As expected the home team looked a useful outfit and after Hollingsworth made a break from deep inside his own half he ended up running nearly the whole length of the pitch for a try to which he this time added the extras.
Maintaining their focus, however, the Pirates built play inside their opponents’ half, with their efforts to ultimately be rewarded. Robson kicked a penalty midway through the first half, and was then impressive off the tee soon after with a second successful effort, this time from near halfway.
In the build to half-time play continued to be keenly contested, but with hope that the Cornish team could use their potent maul to advantage. As things worked out, it was not to be, and the score remained at 12-9 come the break.
The Archers perhaps deserved to be narrowly ahead. They had certainly been impressive at the breakdown, but when the second half got underway one sensed that this contest would stay close right to the very end – wouldn’t it?
Well, the start to the second period was for the Cornish Pirates anything but one sought. Indeed, after all but immediately giving another penalty away at the breakdown, from territory quickly acquired it was not long before a converted try from Nottingham scrum-half Liam Slatem opened a 10 points gap.
Now was a test for the Pirates, and it was one that for the moment they would answer. Gifted a penalty, Robson kicked well to the corner and, from pressure applied, following a second penalty award the Pirates momentum was rewarded when referee Mr. Tempest signalled a penalty try. Not just that, for a misdemeanour by Nottingham centre Charlie Thacker, he was yellow carded.
But better still was to come, as within just a few minutes the Pirates would regain the lead with another try. There was an impressive build up in a phase of play that ended with replacement prop Matt Johnson a happy scorer followed by Robson being on target once more. Johnson, along with the imposing figure of backrower Rusiate ‘Rus’ Tuima, had entered the fray for the start of the second half.
The home side had the opportunity to pull three points back, however Hollingsworth saw his effort bounce off a post.
Now into the last quarter, there was still everything to play for. The Archers had made more errors in the second forty but the scoreline was too close for the Pirates to relax.
In the final minutes it looked all but certain that a final surge from Nottingham would see their efforts rewarded, with fear that the scoring of a standard five-pointer or the award of a penalty try could quite easily gift them a win. A mix of steel-like effort and discipline were keys for the Pirates, who thankfully regained possession close to their line and held out for victory. Phew!
Speaking after Sunday’s contest, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Gavin Cattle commented:
“For what was another learning curve it was a good to get the win. We were slow out of the blocks in the first half, and it was certainly not a perfect performance, but we did show a lot of character in that second half and put Nottingham under a lot of pressure.
“We also had first half opportunities, but didn’t take them, relying on Arwel’s boot to keep us in the game. Importantly, we did though stay calm, and despite a couple of hairy moments after regaining the lead did very well to hold out for victory, with our discipline and composure was pleasing.”