Photo: In the gathering gloom Wedlake scores the late winner.
Hartpury RFC 29 Cornish Pirates 36
In the very final seconds of this match, and with the scores level at 29-all, the Cornish Pirates snatched victory with a dramatic late try scored by wing Robin Wedlake, reports Phil Westren.
Having met at the Mennaye Field six days earlier, when the Cornish Pirates won comfortably 53-17, both sides had made changes for part two of this Pool 3 double header played in Round 4 of the Championship Cup.
For the Pirates, hooker Sam Matavesi and lock Nodar Cheishvili were welcomed back fresh from international duty with Fiji and Georgia respectively, the latter player making his first appearance for the Cornish team in a competitive match. Dan Koster and Javier Rojas Alvarez formed the centre partnership, Will Cargill returned at fly-half and there were also starting roles for scrum-half Alex Schwarz, back-rowers James McRae and John Stevens, and prop Tyler Gendall. Prop forward Jack Andrew had the honour of skippering the side.
Before kick-off at the Gillman’s Ground there was a minute’s silence in memory of Martin Baber, a much-respected former President of the Hartpury club who had sadly passed away earlier in the week.
Match action underway, the Pirates got off to a good start as, continuing their try-scoring exploits from the previous week, McRae delivered after three minutes with his first such score in a Pirates shirt. Rojas Alvarez converted.
The Hartpury team managed to hit back and level matters when, following an attacking line-out opportunity, experienced centre Luke Eves scored. Fly-half Luke Scully, on loan from Worcester Warriors and making his first start for the home team, added the conversion.
Hartpury held territorial advantage for a spell, their cause helped when awarded penalties. Scully also nudged them ahead with one slotted on the quarter of an hour mark.
Showing good spirit to regain the initiative, the Pirates first went close to scoring a try through wing Alex O’Meara, and then did when Rojas Alvarez, who has shown good form with the boot, now scored his first 5-pointer for the club. For good measure, he also duly converted the effort.
As the clock clicked to 30 minutes, following a line-out inside the Pirates ‘22’ the Hartpury team would score again, hooker Luke Stratford again getting on the try-scoring list as he had the previous week. Scully was again on target.
It was the Pirates, however, who finished the half strongly, with a trademark burst by Matavesi first setting up a try-scoring opportunity for Koster. It was one taken by the Kiwi, his run and hand-off seeing him score an unconverted try to the left of the posts. Hartpury tried to hit back, but on the stroke of half-time Koster was at it again. The home team’s attacking effort from the restart had been thwarted by wing Robin Wedlake, with support then arriving from Schwarz, Cheishvili and Gendall before Koster showed strength to quickly make it over the line again. It was a score that also delivered a four try bonus point, with the conversion from Rojas Alvarez giving the Pirates a 26-17 half-time lead.
After an entertaining opening forty, the Hartpury team were first to score in the second period, wing Elias Caven making it over the line and his effort converted in the glow of the floodlights by Scully. One thing seemingly for sure was that the final outcome of this game would stay in the balance and was anything but a foregone conclusion.
Into the last quarter of the match, with the Pirates line-out not functioning at its best, and with replacements being made, it was important not to slip up. Also, perhaps of no surprise, when awarded a penalty opportunity after Hartpury lost the services of prop Rupert Harden to the sin bin, the decision made was to go for the posts, which proved a worthy choice, as Rojas Alvarez stepped forward to successfully open up a five points gap.
There was still no settle, however, as at the start of a tense finish the Pirates had to withstand considerable late pressure, and especially so after Matavesi’s afternoon concluded when he was shown a yellow card.
Now was surely a chance for the Hartpury team to perhaps at least draw level, or even secure a first ever win in seven attempts against the Pirates. It was not to be.
Penalties were conceded by the Pirates, including at scrum time, and although the Hartpury side also gained a bonus point through scoring their fourth try, by replacement hooker Will Tanner and following another potent drive for the line, it was the 14-man visitors who had the last say.
Replacements for the Pirates included prop Tom Concu who has been on loan to Blackheath, and in the very final seconds the match-winning try was delivered, it one scored through patience and dogged determination. Skipper Andrew and Stevens were to the fore, and the backs worked their magic, the multiple phases of play ending when space was created to enable Wedlake to break Hartpury hearts. He had scored four tries in the league match played at the same venue back in September but had seen little ball in this particular encounter. It mattered not though, for when the vital chance came, he took it. The extra two points kicked by Rojas Alvarez also took his personal tally to 58 in four Cup games played.
Co-coach Gavin Cattle was a satisfied man after the game, commenting. “We expected it to be close considering the changes made by both teams, plus their anticipated resolve to bounce back from last week.
“The character we showed, especially at the end of the match with the skills displayed in multiple phases when under pressure was excellent, and that is something we can draw from in the future.
“Hartpury had the better of us in the scrum, appearing more destructive in the second half, however there were several positives to take out of the game. Certain players gained experience, Alex Schwarz did well in the ‘9’ shirt, as did likewise Javier at ‘12’, which gave us a different dimension, plus we scored a very good team try at the end when Robin also still had a bit of work to do but took his chance.”
Hartpury RFC: 15 Mike Wilcox, 14 Elias Caven (22 Jamie Forrester, 53; 18 Wayne Thompson, 63),13 Conner Edwards, 12 Luke Eves, 11 Harry Cochrane, 10 Luke Scully, 9 Charlie Chapman; 1 Des Merry (17 Mike Flook, 55), 2 Luke Stratford (16 Will Tanner, 55), 3 Rupert Harden (22 Jamie Forrester, 74), 4 Joe Quinn (19 Tom Everard, 50), 5 Simon Linsell (c; 6 James Stephenson, 63; 5 Simon Linsell, 73), 6 James Stephenson (20 Tawake Tomasi,40), 7 Mat Gilbert, 8 Tom Pashley.
Replacement (not used): 21 Sam Leeming
Yellow card: 3 Rupert Harden (63)
Cornish Pirates: 15 Kyle Moyle, 14 Alex O’Meara, 13 Dan Koster (22 Callum Patterson, 63), 12 Javier Rojas Alvarez, 11 Robin Wedlake, 10 Will Cargill (21 Harvey Skinner, 63), 9 Alex Schwarz; 1 Jack Andrew (c), 2 Sam Matavesi, 3 Tyler Gendall (17 Tom Concu, 76), 4 Nodar Cheishvili (18 Toby Freeman, 54), 5 Danny Cutmore, 6 Dan Lee (19 Matt Bolwell, 70), 7 John Stevens, 8 James McRae.
Replacements (not used): 16 Charlie Gibbings, 20 Jake Ashby.
Yellow card: 2 Matavesi (72)
Hartpury RFC – tries: 12 Luke Eves (10), 2 Luke Stratford (30), 14 Elias Caven (52), 16 Will Tanner (75); cons: 10 Luke Scully (10, 30, 52); pen: 10 Luke Scully (15)
Cornish Pirates – tries: 8 James McRae (03), 12 Javier Rojas Alvarez (35), 13 Dan Koster (37, 40), 11 Robin Wedlake (80); cons: 12 Javier Rojas Alvarez (03, 25, 40, 80); pen: 12 Javier Rojas Alvarez (64).
Referee: Matt Turvey (RFU)