All the Latest News & Fixtures...
Ending their Championship league season at theRichmond Athletic Ground in south-west London, this hard–earned result for the Cornish Pirates saw them secure their sought after and satisfying fifth place finish.
For their proud opponents, however, relegation loomed stark and clear and was an inevitable outcome. They had started this game at the foot of the table, after London Scottish had firstly leapfrogged them in their derby encounter at the ‘RAG’ the previous Saturday and then won at Nottingham the night before.
There were good reasons for the Cornish Pirates totravel with confidence, but they were also aware that Richmond could be dangerous opponents. Last season’s away game in the league was drawn 24-all, whilst at the Mennaye Field in September the Pirates only emerged narrow 21-14 winners. Also, although Richmond already appeared doomed relegation-wise, they were expected to still scrap to the very end.
Selected at scrum half for the Pirates was Tom Kessell, about to make his 150th appearance for theclub. Him and his named halfback partner Harry Bazalgette were two changes in the backs from the starting line-up that ran out against Hartpury at home last time out. As for the forwards, Ben Grubb wasnamed at number 8, with skipper Johns Stevens moving to open-side flanker, whilst lock Cory Teague stepped back a row to this week slot in on the blindside berth. Steele Barker partnered Will Britton in the second row, and Morgan Nelson was the chosen hooker.
On what was at last a warm and sunny spring afternoon, after the match kicked off with the Pirates playing towards the town end of the ground, they opened their account in just the second minute. Looking immediately lively they attacked purposefully deep inside Richmond’s half. Full-back AJ Cant was as sharp as ever and it was then fly-half Harry Bazalgette who put in a cross field kick that was gathered and dotted down out on the right by wing Will Trewin. Bazalgette’s conversion attempt drifted just wide.
Trewin was unlucky not to score again soon after the restart, only to be denied by a chase back fromformer ‘Pirate’ Alex O’Meara, playing at full-back for the hosts, who did very well to prevent a try.
After the Pirates next conceded a couple of penalties, Richmond had the opportunity to set what would prove a potent driving maul. At the line-out, hooker Joe Vajner’s throw found the hands of lock forward Rhys Anstey, and after advancing to the line it was Vajner who scored the try. Fly-half Alex Burrage wasunable to add the extras.
Approaching midway through the first half, some terrific approach play involving several players, including centres Shae Tucker and Joe Elderkin, and wing Robin Wedlake, ended with Cant then suddenly on hand to score the Pirates second try to which Bazalgette this time added the two points.
With Tom Kessell directing matters, plus number 8Ben Grubb and Trewin among those to the fore, it was not long before Cant was once again on hand toburst clear and score his second try of the match, which was well converted by Bazalgette.
Travelling supporters were enjoying what was beingwitnessed in the sun, and when the Pirates were called upon to defend it was the second –row pairing of Steele Barker and Will Britton who held a man up and earned a turnover.
The Pirates were naturally keen to secure a four try bonus point, but they would have to wait, as it was the home side who scored next when alert scrum-half James Lennon dummied and touched the ball down at the posts. Burrage slotted the simple conversionfor what proved the last points of the half – one thatended with the Cornish side holding a close 19-12 points advantage.
After Bazalgette kicked the second half off, with faithful travelling Pirates supporters still making themselves heard, it was not long before the Pirates were awarded a penalty, following which hooker Morgan Nelson scored. Bazalgette was luckless withhis conversion attempt, but he would make no mistake when five minutes later his successfulpenalty kick off the tee opened up a 15 points gap.
With both teams introducing replacements, one talismanic figure appearing for the hosts was the familiar figure of New Zealand-born Mark Bright. Aged 44, will we see him in the Championship again? You can never say no, and time, as ever will tell.
This was a spell when the Pirates appeared a little disrupted. Bazalgette was forced to depart injured on 51 minutes, and Richmond were quick to score two tries. A created overlap firstly led to wing Zuriel Makele scoring a converted try, and they were quick to score again as replacement scrum half Jack Stafford suddenly charged down a kick and registered his team’s fourth try. Burrage saw his conversion bounce back off a post, but it was still all to play for with the score reading 24-27.
For the Pirates, replacement fly-half Carwyn Penny would provide a much-needed spark, and after Trewin scored his second try in the match it was Penny’s conversion which gave the Pirates a 10 points advantage.
Approaching full-time skipper John Stevens was yet again at the forefront of the Pirates effort, whilst in opposition Richmond’s captain David Massey and his team admirably never gave up. To their credit they not only earned their four try bonus point but would also end the game with a second bonus point for losing within seven points after replacement hooker Alex Post scored the final try in the match.
So, as mentioned at thebeginning, it was a fifth–place finish for the Cornish Pirates who impressively won seven of their last eight league games of the season. Satisfying? Yes, and deservedly so. When in ninth position at the turn of the year the focus was to keep developing, maintain belief, and climb to into top half of the table by the season’s end, and with credit they have achieved just that. A worrying disappointment, however, was to surely lose the services of Harry Bazalgette for next Friday’s home Championship Cup semi-final versus Jersey Reds.
Speaking at the end of Saturday’s encounter, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Gavin Cattle said:
“To their credit Richmond, as expected, gave their all. But looking at our game I thought we looked dangerous at times on the ball, though perhaps just lacked that bit of physicality at the breakdown. I also think we just did enough at crucial times, as itappeared we were in preservation mode ahead ofnext week’s Cup match when we will have to be much better.
“It got close in the second half, but I wasn’t worried because we looked in control most of the time and when on the ball looked like we could score when we wanted and needed to. Also, we left a few tries out there today, and especially late in the game.
“Having said all this there was good decision making out on the pitch and our forwards are moving better but it’s just that physicality at the breakdown that needs to go up a notch or two.”
“What was very unfortunate, was losing the services of Harry Bazalgette who has a suspected broken leg.It is bitterly disappointing both for him and the team, because he has had a big season for us, and it inevitably put a bit of a dampener on the day.”