16 September, 2023
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League / Cup
Having the previous weekend suffered a narrow 29-23 defeat at home to Bath in their first ever in Premiership Rugby Cup game, this Round 2 game away to Exeter Chiefs naturally set another tough challenge for the Cornish Pirates, and so it proved. They led 13-12 at the break but it was the Devon side who took control in the second forty to emerge comfortable winners.
With a strong selection, in the heat of September sun the Devon side had blasted away the challenge of a young and inexperienced Bristol Bears side in Round 1. Indeed, the 75-0 scoreline spoke for itself, so the Pirates were under no illusions of what potentially lay ahead against the present trophy holders who had many familiar faces on show who have featured for the Pirates in the past.
There were four changes in the Cornish Pirates starting XV from the one that ran out against Bath at the Mennaye Field in their Cup opener. Centre Ioan Evans and fly-half Iwan Jenkins were given starting roles after having appeared off the bench, as was lock Steele Barker who partnered Will Britton in the second row, Finally, fit again Alex Everett was selected at blindside flanker, him taking the place of skipper John Stevens who moved to number 8.
Included among the replacements was new arrival Oli Burrows, a young hooker who has joined the Pirates ranks on loan from Exeter Chiefs, whilst dual registered utility back Dan John was also named, keen to make his first competitive match for the Cornish side against his ‘parent’ club.
Getting off to a fine start, the Cornish Pirates opened the scoring in the sixth minute when scrum half Ruaridh Dawson was sharp to anticipate and take advantage of an interception opportunity that saw him smile and run from near halfway to score a try. The conversion was not straightforward, and fly-half Iwan Jenkins’ effort unluckily rebounded off the right-hand post.
Exeter Chiefs soon levelled matters when wing Tommy Wyatt crossed in the left corner, and they then took a two-points advantage thanks to fly-half Will Haydon-Wood’s well struck conversion.
The hosts extended their lead when number 8 Ross Vintcent scored an unconverted try on 14 minutes but play from the Pirates showed they were keen to hit back.
Midway through the half a penalty kicked by Jenkins from 35 metres out took the Pirates within four points of their hosts, and after Exeter failed to control matters at the restart the spilt ball was instinctively hacked on through skipper John Stevens and centre Joe Elderkin, ending with wing Will Trewin scooping it up to score an unconverted try that regained the lead.
So, great credit thus far to the visitors who were industriously competitive and, taking the game against illustrious opponents, took their chances.
Several penalties were awarded the Chiefs in the build to halftime, which led to them probing with a series of pick up and goes to test the Pirates’ defence, and a scrum just five metres out provided them with a real chance to score again. Scrum half Tom Cairns, a local product from Teignmouth, picked up and brought skipper Ethan Roots into play before Exeter’s Australian international prop Scott Sio spilled the ball which enabled the Pirates to regain possession and clear to touch.
A period of kick tennis in the final few minutes of the first forty saw neither side derive benefit and, more importantly for the Pirates, they pleasingly held on to their 13-12 lead.
It was said pre-match that the Pirates’ aim had simply been to prepare well and come match time put their best foot forward. Little more could be asked for, and regardless of the eventual outcome their efforts thus far were to be commended.
Hopes for the Cornish side at the start of the second half would have been to get off to a solid start. Sadly, however, what evolved proved anything but. The ball was dropped from the restart, and hooker Morgan Nelson was also shown a yellow card for blocking.
The Chiefs would take all but immediate advantage when fly-half Haydon-Wood’s kick out of hand was gathered by wing Ben Hammersley, whose try Haydon Wood also converted.
Nelson’s sin binning led to replacement hooker Oli Burrows making his debut for the Cornish Pirates, although it sadly didn’t last long because quickly picking up an injury, until Nelson’s return Marlen Walker was called upon to cover hooking duties.
The Pirates had to withstand immense pressure when down to 14 men, as would actually continue to be the case the case when they were back to a full XV.
Exeter’s bonus point providing fourth try was a second of the match for their young Italy under 20s’ star Vintcent, which was this time converted to make it 26-13, and there was a second try also scored by Wyatt, to which replacement fly-half Harvey Skinner added the extras.
Pirates’ winger Arthur Relton provided some temporary late second half spark before the Chiefs underlined their second half dominance with a final try scored by full-back Josh Hodge.
Speaking at the end of Saturday’s Sandy Park contest, Cornish Pirates’ joint head coach Gavin Cattle commented:
“In terms of ingredients wanted from a Pirates team I felt that there was plenty of fight there. The Chiefs had a lot of scrum power and obviously come the start of the second half the yellow card and then an injury to our replacement hooker didn’t help matters.
“There was a lot of individual error which we need to work and improve on, and along with our development there are naturally a lot of lessons that we are in the process of learning, which is a good thing.
“Overall, we know we are naturally not polished yet, but I must say I am proud of the boys for in the first half forcing Exeter to make errors – it is just that first 10 minutes of the second half in particular where I would have liked things to have been different.”
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Josh Hodge 14 Ben Hammersley 13 Tom Hendrickson
12 Ollie Devoto (23 Joe Hawkins, 58) 11 Tommy Wyatt 10 Will Haydon-Wood (22 Harvey Skinner, 58) 9 Tom Cairns (21 Niall Armstrong, 58); 1 Scott Sio (17 Billy Keast, 52) 2 Dan Frost (16 Jack Yeandle 28) 3 Ehren Painter (18 Josh Iosefa-Scott, 52) 4 Rusi Tuima (19 Jack Dunne, 64) 5 Lewis Pearson 6 Ethan Roots (captain) 7 Jacques Vermeulen 8 Ross Vintcent (20 Aidon Davis, 58).
Cornish Pirates: 15 Kyle Moyle 14 Will Trewin (16 Oli Burrows, 41; 3 Marlen Walker, 46; 14 Will Trewin, 50) 13 Ioan Evans (23 Dan John, 50) 12 Joe Elderkin 11 Arthur Relton 10 Iwan Jenkins (22 Tom Pittman, 63) 9 Ruaridh Dawson (21 Alex Schwarz, 59); 1 Leftheri Zigiriadis (18 Jack Andrew, 40) 2 Morgan Nelson (16 Oli Burrows, 46) 3 Marlen Walker (Fin Richardson, 40) 14 Will Trewin, 50) 4 Will Britton (19 Josh King, 40) 5 Steele Barker 6 Alex Everett 7 Will Gibson 8 John Stevens (captain; 20 Harry Dugmore, 59).
Yellow Card: Morgan Nelson (40)
Tries: Tommy Wyatt (11, 63) Ross Vintcent (14, 54) Ben Hammersley (42) Josh Hodge (72)
Cons: Will Haydon-Wood (12, 43, 54) Harvey Skinner (64)
Tries: Ruaridh Dawson (06) Will Trewin (23)
Pen: Iwan Jenkins (22)
Referee: Simon Harding