RFU CHAMPIONSHIP SEMI-FINAL 1ST LEG
CORNISH PIRATES 45 – 24 BRISTOL RUGBY
By Bill Hooper at the Mennaye Field Penzance
Twenty-six unanswered points in the final twenty minutes left promotion favourites Bristol bewildered and bemused at the final whistle at the Mennaye Field on May Bank Holiday Monday.
With a 12-05 pm kick-off, little did the crowd suspect of the “high noon” drama that was about to unfold before them in a match, which early on Bristol looked to have a stranglehold on.
Two early converted tries during the first ten minutes for Bristol scored by flanker James Merriman and winger William Helu gave the visitors the perfect start they would have hoped for in the first-leg of this RFU Championship semi-final.
The Cornish Pirates had to dig deep to play their way back into the game after such a disappointing start.
Pirates’ full-back Rob Cook cut the deficit with a penalty on 15 minutes, but that was soon cancelled out as Bristol’s fly-half Matt Jones replied in kind to add to the two conversions he had kicked earlier.
Cook though struck twice more before half-time to leave the Pirates trailing at the break 17-9.
The Pirates had shown plenty of promise during the first half with some big carries from locks Ian Nimmo and Laurie McGlone.
The man who always stands out in the Pirates’ shirt and who will be sorely missed next season when he moves to Harlequins hooker Dave Ward had his usual immense game.
It was vital that the Pirates got the first score in the second period. It came following a period of Pirate’s pressure with a pass thrown out by centre Andrew Suniula was take at pace by Cook who weaved his way through a pretty ordinary Bristol defence to score the Pirates first try of the afternoon on 49 minutes.
Cook’s conversion left the Pirates just a point adrift of the visitors, you could sense the home side’s spirits lifted by the score.
Flanker Phil Burgees put in a tremendous run before fly-half Cieron Thomas’ kick to the clubhouse corner put Bristol under huge pressure. Pirates managed to disrupt the lineout and almost got the try only for referee JP Doyle to penalise the visitors giving Cook the opportunity to put the Pirates in the lead for the first time during the game, his fourth penalty making it 19-17.
Bristol still had some gas in the tank at this stage and played their way into the Pirates’ twenty-two, fine play saw them create a try scoring chance with scrum-half Tipuna Te Ruki providing the scoring pass to winger Helu who ran in his second try at the Newlyn End. Jones’ conversion gave Bristol a five point lead with 22 minutes to play.
Just five minutes later the Pirates’ forwards created a try for prop Carl Rimmer who powered over, Cook’s conversion swinging the game back in the Pirates’ favour 26-24.
Bristol looked to be dead on their feet as the game ticked into the final 10 minutes, the Pirates’ sensed it and took their chance in some style scoring three more tries.
A penalty kicked towards the scoreboard corner saw Nimmo soar to claim the lineout ball, the forwards then drove towards the line before the ball was moved inside for winger Dave Doherty to streak in at the corner, Cook was once again on the money with his conversion taking his points tally past the 1,000 mark in just three seasons at the club.
Then winger Grant Pointer got in on the action breaking a tackle he ran in at the clubhouse corner for the Pirates’ fourth try. Cook kept up his strike rate with another good kick for the extras.
With time almost up the Pirate’s drove another nail into Bristol’s hopes as Rimmer crashed over for his second try of the game, Cook’s final conversion clipped the upright and stayed out.
The final whistle came when replacement scrum-half Tom Kessell kicked a penalty out to the unreserved cheers of the Mennaye faithful.
Cornish Pirates: R. Cook, G. Pointer (M. Evans 76), S. Hill, A. Suniula, D. Doherty, C. Thomas, G. Cattle (capt, T. Kessell 79), B. Maidment (K. Marriott 44), P. Burgess (D. Ewers 76), C. Morgan, I. Nimmo, L. McGlone, A. Paver (R. Brits 79), D. Ward (R. Elloway 75), C. Rimmer (R. Storer 76).
Bristol Rugby: J. Goodridge, J. Tovey, O. Fautua, L. Eves, W. Helu, M. Jones (M. James 60), R. Tipuna, D. Montagu, J. Merriman, I. Grieve (H. Vanderglas), R. Winters, G. Townson (B. Glynn 5), J. Hobson (W. Thompson 27), J. Harris-Wright, M. Irish (M. Lilley 76).
Replacements (not used): T. Slater, T. Channon.
Scorers:- Cornish Pirates – tries: Rimmer (2), Cook, Doherty, Pointer; cons: Cook (4); pens: Cook (4) Bristol Rugby – tries: Helu (2), Merriman, cons: Jones (3); pen: Jones.
Referee: J. P. Doyle (RFU)
After the match a delighted Cornish Pirates skipper scrum-half Gavin Cattle gave his reaction tom his side’s tremendous win. Asked how he felt when his side found themselves 14-0 down early on. “I wasn’t too concerned as it happened early doors, I knew we could recover. I think half-time was the turning point for us. We said we needed to keep possession more rather than try to force the pass, we were perhaps trying to score too early in phase play, so we kept hold of the ball made them tackle us and then reaped the rewards as we were making positive gains, especially with the like of Laurie McGlone carrying. The forwards got us on the front foot and it went from there really, retaining the possession was the key for us.
“We realised that their forwards were blowing a bit towards the end, but I think we had the greater hunger for the game, we had that edge at the breakdown again giving us some good quality ball to attack with.
“I am really chuffed with the boys effort today, we kicked well used the space and played a really sensible game plan.
Cattle has no doubts that despite his side’s cushion it will be a tough game at the Memorial Ground next Sunday. “In the Championship game up there we had a nineteen point half-time lead and lost, we can’t afford to sit on our laurels and I know we won’t. In the group circle after the game we realised we had to calm down a bit as the job is only half done. We have to keep our feet firmly on the ground building up to Sunday.