Cornish Pirates continue resurgence against Leeds
at Mennaye Field
The Cornish Pirates are back in business after their Championship victory over Leeds yesterday.
The Pirates showed plenty of positive signs at Mennaye Field, on the way to a 21-8 win over the Yorkshire side.
Tries from Matt Evans and Gary Johnson – and 11 points from the boot of fly-half Kieran Hallett – helped the Cornish side achieve their first Championship success since September 9.
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Confidence had been partially restored by some positive results in the British and Irish Cup against Carmarthen Quins and Dundee High, but this was a more substantial test of their progress over recent weeks.
Although the Pirates' head coach Ian Davies will look for better performances as the season continues, there were moments yesterday that showed his side are capable of hitting previous heights once again this term.
Their tries showed ability and tenacity in equal measure. The first arrived after just five minutes.
A Leeds attack was thwarted in the Pirates' 22 and a quick break ensued. Flanker Ben Maidment had possession with limited support on the half-way line so opted to chip down the left wing.
Evans chased gamely and, when visiting centre Josh Griffin failed to gather properly, he seized possession and managed to reach top speed before Leeds could regroup.
The wing brushed off some desperate last-ditch tackles and touched down under the posts for an unconverted try.
Leeds came back impressively with a purposeful running game. The Pirates came under pressure and conceded a penalty, which was slotted away by fly-half Joe Ford.
But for all Leeds' good work, the first moment of outstanding quality came from the Pirates' full-back Jack Nowell.
The young Exeter Chief – who is on dual-registration with the Pirates – ran the ball from deep, going from 22 to 22 before finding centre Junior Fatialofa, who smartly offloaded to Phil Burgess.
The flanker saw his route to the line blocked but he retained possession. Support arrived and the Pirates skilfully worked the ball out to the other wing where lock Johnson applied the finish, with Hallett adding the extras.
It was a psychological blow for the visiting side, whose ball carrying efficiency dropped notably thereafter, as conditions at Mennaye Field deteriorated.
The closest they came to points over the next ten minutes came from two missed Ford kicks – one a drop goal, the other a penalty – as the Pirates asserted themselves.
The excellence of Nowell played a large part. He was secure under the high ball, positive with his running and accurate when kicking from hand, expertly turning defence into attack on numerous occasions.
One such moment brought the Pirates possession in the Leeds' 22 after stealing the visitors' line-out ball.
The subsequent pressure brought a penalty which Hallett kicked between the posts. He added one more before the half-time break to give his side a 15-point advantage as the sides left the field.
And while Leeds opted to kick a penalty into a corner at the start of the second half, they failed to win their own line-out and the chance was gone.
Meanwhile, the Pirates' captain Laurie McGlone instructed Hallett to kick for goal when his side faced a similar scenario and extended their lead once more.
Leeds persisted with their quest for tries and it paid off in the 52nd minute when captain Jacob Rowan rumbled over for an unconverted score.
Home replacement David Lyons was sent straight to the sin bin after disrupting the breakdown area. However, Ford missed the penalty from 15 metres, in an easy position.
The Yorkshire side were a man up for only six minutes before James Doherty was shown a yellow card for a professional foul, committed as he tried to tidy up his full-back Steve McColl's fumble under a high ball.
Aaron Penberthy missed his penalty attempt, but a second yellow card for Leeds, this time for Rowan, who hauled back Phil Burgess as he chased Gavin Cattle's kick towards the try line, severely impacted his side's hopes of a late comeback.