Cornish Pirates 22 Doncaster Knights 19
This opening game in March saw flanker Tom Lawday’s last minute try topple the Knights, as in the process the Cornish Pirates secured a season’s double against their strong opponents, reports Phil Westren from the Mennaye Field.
Matches between the teams are invariably entertaining, and for home supporters the end of this one most certainly was. However, for much of the contest it was a case of conditions dictating play. The ‘Beast from the East’ weather phenomenon had by now quickly passed, but its consequence, aided by showers during the afternoon, inevitably made it difficult for both teams.
The one change in the Pirates starting line-up from the team beat Yorkshire Carnegie seven days earlier saw Josh Caulfield named to partner Brett Beukeboom in the second-row, with club captain Chris Morgan dropping to the bench. Also listed among the replacements was Dan Frost, who was ready if needed to make an appearance since returning to the club on loan from Taunton.
Ahead of kick-off for Doncaster’s first fixture following the sudden death last week of their 27-year-old tight-head prop forward Ian Williams, a minute’s silence was respectfully held.
Into the match action it was the Knights who started brightly, with scrum-half Tom James influential in taking play towards the old Western National corner. A drive to the line then followed, ending with hooker Ben Hunter scoring an unconverted try.
There were though setbacks for the visitors, as in the space of just three minutes they lost both full-back Paul Jarvis and Hunter to injury.
Fly-half Will Cargill had an opportunity to open the scoring for the Pirates, but he was luckless with a penalty attempt.
The Pirates certainly created chances to score in the first period but ,on a day when handling was always going to be difficult, almost inevitable errors thwarted times of promise. Then, to deliver what appeared a real blow, on the stroke of half-time the visitors scored again, with replacement hooker David Nelson’s try, this time converted by fly-half Simon Humberstone, giving them a 12-0 lead.
To get back into this match the Pirates needed an early second half lift, and it soon materialised. The ball fell loose some 40 metres out, which was immediately hoofed forward by flanker John Stevens, and then with momentum maintained it was man-of-the-match wing Alex O’Meara who pounced to score. Replacement fly-half Laurence May lined up the conversion, but on striking the ball he slipped.
Encouragement provided, it did not last long, as a swift response by the Knights saw their No 8 Josh Tyrell cross at the Penzance posts, his converted try opening up a 14 points gap. In the context of the game, the Pirates were left with a seemingly uphill task. We couldn’t feel confident then, but we know now that it is one they faced – and ultimately conquered.
Into the last quarter it was a try from No 8 Tom Duncan, converted this time by May, that narrowed the deficit to seven points. The score drew a musical response with the tune ‘The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’, when on the day the wording ‘The Good, The Bad & The Muddy’ would have been more appropriate!
The Pirates were suddenly appearing more energised, and a momentum shift was without taking place.
Doncaster personnel answered to calls for fresh legs to appear off the bench, and they did, but it mattered not.
A display of ball retention by the Pirates was mightily impressive, with replacements making an impact and a penalty kicked by May the reward for pressure applied.
Doncaster looked to keep matters close and hold out for victory as the clock ticked down, but two further penalties were suddenly awarded the Pirates by referee Sara Cox. It was a chance to deliver a killer blow, with backs joining forwards in drives to the line. From the second potent advance the ball was slipped to flanker Tom Lawday, who kept strong to make it over for the match-winning score. After May added the conversion it was all over, and the Mennaye duly erupted.
At the end, one could not help but feel for the Knights, whose efforts in this match were commendable. However, the Pirates have succumbed to their fair share of late disappointments this season, so it was unashamedly pleasing to witness a result go their way.
Speaking after the game. Cornish Pirates coach Gavin Cattle said:
“Doncaster came down with a pretty good game plan but we stuck in the fight and the attitude was outstanding, especially in the difficult conditions.
“Our kicking from hand was good and although our line-out didn’t go to plan in the first half we did very well to nail down two in the red zone at the end.
“Defensively our effort was also pleasing. In recent weeks we have worked to notch up our line-speed, and we are winning those collisions to enable us to then be more dominant. It comes down to physicality and mindset, so credit to the boys for that.”
Cornish Pirates: 15 Kyle Moyle, 14 Alex O’Meara, 13 Dan Koster, 12 Nicolas De Battista (capt), 11 Harry Strong, 10 Will Cargill (Laurence May 20-30, h/t), 9 Alex Day; 1 Marlen Walker (Billy Keast 54), 2 Sam Matavesi, 3 Christian Judge, 4 Josh Caulfield (Chris Morgan 50), 5 Brett Beukeboom, 6 Tom Lawday, 7 John Stevens (Dan Lee 54), 8 Tom Duncan.
Replacements (not used): Dan Frost, Alan Paver, Mike Pope.
Doncaster Knights: 15 Paul Jarvis (Charlie Foley 8), 14 Curtis Wilson, 13 Lesley Klim (Jake Pope 73), 12 Mat Clark, 11 Andy Bulumakau, 10 Simon Humberstone, 9 Tom James (Michael Heaney 73); 1 Richard List (Jack Bergmanas 62), 2 Ben Hunter (David Nelson 11), 3 (wearing 23) Joe Proston, 4 Matt Challinor (Adam Batt 73), 5 Tom Hicks, 6 Jack Ram (Alex Shaw 62), 7 Michael Hills (capt), 8 Josh Tyrell.
Scorers: Cornish Pirates – tries O’Meara, Duncan, Lawday; cons: May (2); pen: May Doncaster Knights – tries: Hunter, Nelson, Tyrell; cons: Humberstone (2).
Referee: Sara Cox (RFU)
St. Austell Brewery’s Man-of-the-Match: Alex O’Meara