Cornish Pirates' Phil Burgess expects a fight to the finish for play-off places
Cornish Pirates moved into fourth place in the Championship table this week, but flanker Phil Burgess expects a fight to finish against their rivals for the play-off spots.
The Pirates have reached the last two Championship finals by aiming to qualify in the top eight and then to show their best form when it counts.
However, only the top four sides progress to the play-offs this term. Burgess said their clash with Bristol on Tuesday was particularly hard-fought, with the stakes for mid-season games higher this year.
"In the past two seasons, it has been the top eight that have gone through," said Burgess. "That meant you would plan your season to finish in the top eight and then think about third or four depending what pool you want to be in.
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"This season is more of a fight and if you lose a couple of games – like we did earlier in the season – it puts more pressure on you. It shows when you are playing the other teams trying to get into the top four.
"Everyone is really competing for that top-four place, rather than realising they are in the top eight and not needing to push on."
The Pirates' 32-17 win over Bristol secured them five league points. That fourth-try bonus point could be crucial.
"It really is about getting every point you can out of it, home and away," said Burgess. "We are going to have to really fight for that top-four place, Newcastle, Nottingham and Bedford are performing really well and getting the wins."
Such progress defies early-season predictions of a difficult year ahead for the Pirates. "There were always going to be people who were unsure about us this season," said Burgess. "[Coaches] Ian Davies and Harvey Biljon have brought in players and it can take time for teams to come together.
"When [former high performance manager] Chris Stirling was here, we had a three-year plan in terms of building the squad and how we play. Ian and Harvey will have the same sort of thing and it is case of building again. Everyone can now see the type of rugby we want to play.
"We are playing to win and, if that means playing a certain way, that is what we will do."
Burgess says the organisational skills of half-backs Gavin Cattle and Kieran Hallett have played a large part in the Pirates' progress.
He said: "You have to give credit to Gavin and Kieran, who are playing in the right areas and telling us forwards what we are supposed to be doing. It comes from Ian and Harvey telling them the game-plan. We all stick to it and reap the rewards."
Cornish Pirates have suspended prop forward Alan Paver for four weeks. The suspension, starting from January 1, follows an incident of foul play in Tuesday's game against Bristol.