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After seven rounds played in the Championship League to date, for the seventh placed Cornish Pirates attention turned to this Round 1 match in the Championship Cup, which was won with some ease.
The Cornish Pirates had won 21-14 when the two teams met at the Mennaye Field in the league early in September, so in the build up another closely fought game might have been expected. The Richmond side was in understandably buoyant mood following their excellent 36-33 league win at home to Bedford Blues the previous Saturday, when they recovered from a 17-33 half-time deficit. However, for this Cup contest both teams had rotated their squads, which naturally impacted on the predictions process. We would see.
The Cornish Pirates made several changes in their starting XV from the one that ran out in the league against London Scottish the previous Saturday, including AJ Cant moving from 11 to 15 and there a fresh wing combination comprising Arthur Relton and Callum Sirker. For Relton, who is dual registered with Exeter Chiefs and played youth rugby for Penzance & Newlyn RFC, it was his first appearance for the Cornish Pirates. Harry Bazalgette and Tom Kessell were the selected halfback combination, with the latter named to captain the team. As for the forwards, there were starts for prop Olly Adkins, hooker Max Norey, lock James Fender, and flanker Will Gibson, whilst the bench included backrower Jarrard Hayler who was set to make his first competitive match appearance for the Cornish Pirates.
On a dull afternoon in west London, the Cornish Pirates started in a positive mode that was witnessed through most of the match. Awarded an early penalty, the option taken was to kick for the corner, and from the resulting line-out the Pirates took play near to the posts for the ball to then suddenly be moved right, enabling Callum Sirker to cross for the game’s opening try. The conversion attempt for Harry Bazalgette was not an easy one and it narrowly missed.
Dominating the opening exchanges, the Pirates forwards looked lethal in their approach, and following a series of pick and goes they promptly scored their second try thanks to number 8 Seb Nagle-Taylor – his maiden such effort for the club – to which Bazalgette this time added the extras.
The Pirates soon pressurised their opponents once more, their efforts earning them a series of penalty awards, and after home flanker Miles Wakeling was shown a yellow card by referee Mr. Chivers, the Pirates took immediate advantage. Once again it was their potent driving maul that led to them extending the lead with a try scored by hooker Max Norey – another first in Pirates’ colours.
Richmond’s was a much-changed squad to the one that faced Bedford Blues. Indeed, their squad selection in fact showed 21 changes out of a possible 23. Scrum-half Stephen Kerins and centre Zuriel Makele caught the eye but in reality the challenge was proving a little too much for the chosen home outfit.
Approaching the half-hour mark the Pirates strived to register a bonus-point-providing fourth try, and successfully so. It was Sirker again who finished well, his effort following good approach work by influential skipper Tom Kessell. Bazalgette’s conversion was again an excellent one.
Happy to keep scoring, the visitors would conjure up one more converted try before the break. Nagle-Taylor concentrated Richmond defenders, Kessell saw space to kick the ball into, and debutant Arthur Relton blitzed his way to the line.
Taking a 33-0 lead into halftime was surely as good as the Pirates could have asked for, there no need for November 5th fireworks to light up the RAG, though a flick of the floodlit switch came handy for supporters after the interval.
The actual start of the second half saw the home team have their best spell thus far in the game, as for the first time in the match they took play inside the Pirates ‘22’ and were quick to score a try by flanker David Massey which was converted by replacement Craig Duncan.
Play was more evenly matched for a spell before a successful attack down the blindside saw hooker Max Norey score his second and the Pirates sixth try of the match.
More tries would follow, with replacement hooker Morgan Nelson getting his name on the scoresheet post yet another fine driving maul.
Bazalgette added the extras as the Pirates now set their focus on reaching the 50 points mark.
For a second week running there was much to please in the Pirates performance. The defence was generally solid, whilst it was Relton who scored his second try of the afternoon to take the Pirates to the sought after half century of points.
Sirker recorded a personal hat-trick after hacking on the loose ball to score, whilst a late kick to the corner by Bazalgette provided a chance for the Pirates to add another final score, which they did through Nelson once more. It was their tenth try of the afternoon to which Bazalgette added his sixth conversion.
Speaking at the end of Saturday’s contest, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Gavin Cattle commented:
“Both sides made a lot of changes for this match, but for us it was a pleasing performance because the foundations of our game functioned.
Tom Kessell led from the front and took good options, and Harry Bazalgette also kicked well.
“We started the game impressively and overall I am really happy with the performance and the cohesion and discipline showed. Having taken a commanding lead it puts pressure on the opposition, and they have to react, which often leads to passes being forced and mistakes made.
“The boys likely expected a sterner test, but they did what they had to and controlled the game well, with players putting their hands up for selection in the process.”