Cornish Pirates 29 Bristol Rugby 31
Played between two fully committed and gifted sides, this thrillingly pulsating contest provided an occasion when without doubt the game of rugby was a true winner, reports Phil Westren from the Mennaye Field.
Welcoming the might of Bristol Rugby to the Mennaye Field, a bumper crowd was inevitably present, ready to witness the favourites expected to bounce back to the Premiership. Indeed, their squad arrived littered with international talent, whilst also included in head coach Pat Lam’s side was a former ‘Pirate’, in the shape of prop Tyler Gendall.
Despite an at times wet, and throughout blustery afternoon, the atmosphere about the ‘Mennaye’ was great, with it boosted pre-match by the arrival of the popular Falmouth Marine Band.
Team news for the Pirates confirmed the same squad selected as lost narrowly at Ealing Trailfinders the previous weekend, there no changes in the starting XV or on the bench.
Making a cracking start, the Pirates opened the scoring in just the third minute when wing Alex O’Meara crossed at the Newlyn Gate corner. On a day less than easy for kickers, fly-half Laurence May was luckless with his conversion attempt.
The home team continued in positive mode, keeping it high tempo and clearly unsettling their opponents, until Bristol eventually mounted a couple of telling attacks of their own. With their ‘All Black’ flanker Steve Luatua influential, possession was twice spread wide to wing David Lemi. A forward pass initially denied the Samoa star, but given a second chance he shortly after breezed in for a try at the scoreboard corner. Irish international fly-half Ian Madigan’s conversion attempt went wide, as was the case when Bristol took the lead thanks to ‘Wallaby’ wing Luke Monahan’s try.
The responsive efforts of the Pirates were rewarded when May kicked a penalty to narrow the deficit, but just past the half hour mark Lemi scored again, with Madigan this time adding the conversion.
Basic errors were frustratingly not helping the Pirates cause, and on the stroke of half-time Madigan slotted a penalty to give the visitors a healthy looking 20-8 lead.
A collection took place at half-time for The Chestnut Appeal, which is the Cornish Pirates chosen charity for this season, and the half-time rugby exhibition was provided by young rugby players representing Roskear and Perran-ar-Worthal Primary Schools.
Bristol continued to underline apparent dominance when the second half got underway. Madigan first added a further three points from a penalty, and then executed a well weighted cross-field kick that led to livewire Lemi completing his hat-trick. In rolling back the years, he also broke Bristol rugby try-scoring record in competitive matches.
Now was a test of character for the Cornish side, it one that they soon showed willing to take on. Man-of-the-match skipper Nicolas De Battista led the way, with O’Meara also at all times willing to ‘give it a go’. Gaining territory from where serious pressure was applied, the sudden reward for the Pirates was the award of a penalty try, signalled at the Penzance posts by referee Karl Dickson.
Madigan notched another penalty for his side, but the Pirates refused to buckle and for the last quarter of the match were very much in the ascendancy.
Another O’Meara run lifted the crowd, and when forward power took over it was prop Marlen ‘Magic’ Walker who scored a try converted by replacement Will Cargill.
A 22-31 scoreline looked somewhat interesting, but it would get even better after wing Kyle Moyle followed up a Cargill kick and won a race that would apply try-scoring pressure at the scoreboard corner. Cargill followed up with an excellent conversion that made it 29-31, with all still to play for. An exciting and tense conclusion was guaranteed.
In time remaining the Pirates might well have sneaked a win that at one time looked completely out of their reach. As we know, they didn’t, but in once again showing immense character the registering of two league points was the very least they deserved. Theirs was a performance that surely bodes well for the future.
Cornish Pirates: 15, Toby May, 14 Alex O’Meara, 13 Dan Koster (Pete Laverick 47), 12 Nicolas De Battista (c), 11 Kyle Moyle, 10 Laurence May (Will Cargill 56), 9 Alex Day; 1 Marlen Walker (Billy Keast 70), 2 Tom Cowan-Dickie, 3 Jack Andrew (Christian Judge 56), 4 Josh Caulfield, 5 Toby Freeman, 6 Rupert Cooper (Matt Bowell 56), 7 Alex Cheesman, 8 Tom Lawday (Dan Lee 51).
Replacement (not used): Mike Pope
Bristol Rugby: 15 Jordan Williams (Mat Protheroe 56), 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Tusi Pisi (Billy Searle 69), 11 David Lemi, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Rhodri Williams (Ryan Glynn 65); 1 Soane Tonga’uiha (Jack Cosgrove 46), 2 Jason Harris-Wright (Max Crumpton 69), 3 Tyler Gendall (Nicky Thomas 73), 4 Sam Jeffries, 5 Joe Latta (c), 6 Steven Luatua, 7 Dan Thomas, 8 Nick Haining (Jordan Crane 41-51 HIA, 77).
Cornish Pirates – tries: O’Meara, Penalty try, Walker, Moyle; cons: Cargill (2); pen: L. May.
Bristol Rugby – Lemi
Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU) Attendance: 2,236
St. Austell Brewery’s Man-of-the-Match: Nicolas De Battista