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Looking likely winners for most of this match, the Cornish Pirates succumbed at Lady Bay to a final seconds sinking – the gift of an easy penalty kick seeing Nottingham to victory.
Both sides went into this 8th versus 9th Greene King IPA Championship clash on a run of league losses, and for the Pirates it was also one where their Canadian international lock Brett Beukeboom was making his 50th appearance for the club.
This contest at Nottingham’s Lady Bay ground was always expected to be closely fought, it remembered that the Pirates, who have played one game less in the league than their opponents, succumbed to a narrow 34-31 defeat at home to the ‘Green & Whites’ in October.
Considering weather conditions experienced about the country, all was pretty good for this floodlit affair, the evening still but not surprisingly just a little slippery underfoot.
After fly-half Will Cargill kicked the game off, first touches would make it a dream start for the Pirates. No 8 Tom Duncan made an initial midfield burst and, after the ball was worked to the right, full-back Kyle Moyle did exceptionally well to create space for the sudden scoring opportunity. Wing Matt Evans, making a welcome return to the start line-up, lent support, and it was his pass that sent skipper Nicolas De Battista in for a try. Cargill converted well from out wide, and with just two minutes on the clock the scoreboard read 0-7.
There was, however, an early set-back for the visitors, as flanker Alex Cheesman was forced to depart proceedings. He was injured when making a tackle, but the Pirates continued to impress with their energy levels and a performance where clever inter-passing was once again soon on display.
The Pirates scrum also appeared solid, and although Cargill was unlucky with a first long-range penalty attempt, a second easier opportunity was successfully slotted. So far, so good, but another change in personnel was now called for as wing Nic Coronel trundled off next with what appeared a shoulder injury.
Nottingham opened their account in the 17th minute, when their fly-half Tiff Eden, who is the league’s second highest points scorer, added to his tally with a penalty.
Sensing that the home side were getting back into this game drew a response from visiting Pirates supporters, as chants of ‘Pirates! Pirates! resonated about. Indeed, their efforts appeared to have an impact, as the team responded with purpose. Scrum-half Alex Day concentrated the home defence and then hooker Sam Matavesi carried well. Also, by now, there was no lack of body steam rising in the still evening air.
Just past the half-hour mark the ‘Green & Whites’ mounted their first meaningful attack, and it was one that ended with a try scored in the left corner by No 8 Shane Buckley. Tiff’s conversion went wide, however confidence levels in the Nottingham side were surely lifted.
Late in the half the Pirates had one more chance to score, but Cargill was also luckless with his strike, so an 8-10 scoreline it was – at the break.
A further energetic display from the Pirates was evident right at the start of the second half, firstly showing determination in defence and then when a mass of bodies was formed close to Nottingham’s line. A second try in the match looked a ‘cert’, and it was Evans, with a beaming smile on his face, that confirmed him as the try-scorer. Cargill’s conversion made it 8-17, with the Pirates good value for their lead.
Nottingham looked to react, and it at first took a fine cover tackle from De Battista to deny them. However, a further home team score would soon materialise, as the now under pressure Pirates suddenly gave too many penalties away. Also, to rub salt in wounds it was a Cornishman, man-of-the-match hooker Jimmy Stevens, from St. Ives, who scored a converted try to once again bring the hosts within two points.
With just under a quarter of an hour to go the outcome of this one was still in the balance, although it looked as full-time approached that the Pirates would not only hold out but also perhaps score again. Unfortunately, and almost seemingly cruelly, they didn’t, as the ability to give penalties away at crucial moments would cripple them once more.
The Green & Whites were firstly given a chance to work their way upfield, and then in the final seconds they were given the opportunity to deliver what would prove to be a killer blow. Eden had a little earlier missed one simple opportunity, so he wasn’t going to fail again, whilst the win for Nottingham also delivered for them their first double victory over a team this season.
Speaking after the game, Cornish Pirates co-coach Gavin Cattle, said:
There were positives in our game and it was probably one of our best defensive displays. Ultimately though it was a couple of unfortunate penalties that gave them field position to take advantage and sneak it.
It was such a pity because it was in our control to win the match and if we took our opportunities it wouldn’t have been a fist fight at the end. Having said that, credit to Nottingham for hanging in there.