11 December, 2017
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League / Cup
With the Cornish Pirates already based in their hotel, prepared and ready to face Scarlets Premiership Select at Carmarthen Park on Sunday, severe weather conditions dictated that this Round 3 match in the British & Irish Cup would have to be postponed. It was frustrating, but ultimately just one of those things.
The Pirates were sportingly ‘sangfroid’ in reaction, and following a flurry of phone calls the fixture was quickly rescheduled, it decided that the match would be played at the Talbot Athletic Ground, home of Aberavon RFC, on Monday evening.
Competing this year in Pool 5 of the Cup, the Pirates were keen to seek a third consecutive victory, having already won their opening two games in the competition away to Hartpury RFC (35-19) and home to Ulster A (23-14), but after settling for a second night’s accommodation in Wales victory eluded them.
Club captain Chris Morgan made his return from injury to lead a side that also saw a welcome return, following a 12 month lay-off, of wing Matt Evans. Dual-registered with Exeter Chiefs, centre Harry Strong was selected to make his first competitive match start for the Pirates, whilst similarly dual-registered colleague Harrison Cully was named on a bench that included player coach Alan Paver. Kieran Westlake, on loan from Camborne and having made two previous appearances as a replacement, was also making his first start in a Pirates shirt.
In the build up to the game, and without knowing too much about the Scarlets, the Pirates felt it welcome not to have all the mental pressure of having to check and plan to the ‘nth’ degree. Their focus, against a young Scarlets team littered with players who have represented their country at under 20s level, was simply to perform well and show the best of themselves.
Jacob Botica, son of former ‘All Blacks’ and Llanelli Scarlets player Frano, was certainly one opposition name that demanded attention, and it was he who opened the scoring with a penalty slotted for the Scarlets in in the twelfth minute.
Soon after the restart, a scrum penalty award on halfway enabled the ‘home’ side to threaten a second score from a line-out inside their opponents ‘22’. Thankfully, however, the Pirates the foiled the danger and responded to happily play a little rugby, with wing Nicolas Coronel displaying raw power and pace when making a break. Unfortunately, he also departed the field injured shortly after.
Midway through the first half the hosts did though score again, it a fine individual effort by centre Tom Hughes which seemingly boosted his team’s confidence.
The weather was inevitably very cold, with there very few supporters present, but on an otherwise calm evening the Pirates kept their focus and at last earned a kick at goal chance just before the break. Fly-half Laurence May duly stepped forward to not only make it 8-3, but to also provide hope for the second half.
On the resumption of play it was sadly not a start the Pirates were looking for, as they firstly conceded three more points through the boot of Botica, and then leaked another seven when Scarlets skipper Tom Phillips scored a converted try.
Now a real test for the visitors, there was a commendable response. Centre Dan Koster made a terrific break, with good support from his midfield partner Strong. The push for the line was initially held up, but then, on this frosty Port Talbot night, it was appropriately named hooker, Dan Frost, who scored – his second try in just two appearances since joining the Pirates on loan from Taunton. May’s conversion made it 18-10.
The game was opening up, with both sides threatening with ball in hand. Full-back Tom Rogers was always a menace for the Scarlets, whilst his opposite number in a Pirates shirt, Kyle Moyle, also showed his credentials.
As it worked out, on this uniquely memorable trip away, in minutes remaining there would be no more scores, meaning the Pirates were denied even a bonus point, which was somehow surely the least they deserved. It was one of those nights when there were, of course, some positives, but also ultimately disappointment.
Pre-match the Pirates, who still top their Pool on points difference, did not know what to expect of the Scarlets, but they will when the two teams meet again this Sunday, in the home leg at the Mennaye Field. It promises to be pre-Christmas cracker of a contest when the Pirates will look to return to winning ways.
Speaking after Monday’s game, and at the end of their elongated trip to Wales, Cornish Pirates coach Gavin Cattle said:
After the disruption of the weekend the game was played in all but perfect conditions, and against a young and talented side. They had a decent pair of half-backs, a pack that held the upper hand at scrum time and it also one that foiled our driving line-out.
For us, despite the result there were pluses, including getting 80 minutes from Matt (Evans) and Morgs (Chris Morgan) also playing his part, which bodes well and will be great for the team going forward.
Looking ahead to this weekend, Gavin added:
There are inevitably a number of areas that we will focus on in training this week, as we now look forward to welcoming the Scarlets to the Mennaye on Sunday.
Chris Morgan (c)
Tom Phillips (c)