Cornish Pirates' play-off push dented as Exiles ring changes in comeback
A spirited second-half comeback by London Scottish saw them snatch a late victory at Mennaye Field and leave a big dent in the ambitions of Cornish Pirates to reach the Championship play-offs this season.
The Pirates had led 17-0 with 46 minutes on the clock after Canada international Matt Evans raced in for his second try of the game and his tenth of the campaign, but the Exiles changed their entire front row and let former Redruth No.8 Mark Bright off the leash.
Suddenly the momentum of a largely stop-start contest changed and the visitors were able to take control of the rest of the game, dominating field position and territory.
They dictated the tempo and flow and picked their moments to score, with Bright and ex-Plymouth Albion man James Love claiming tries.
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Love sealed the win five minutes from time as he slotted a routine penalty from the Pirates 22 after the hosts infringed at the breakdown.
It was the second time this season that London Scottish had overturned a hefty deficit to beat the Pirates, after winning at the Athletic Ground in September. This defeat leaves the Pirates fifth in the table but fighting a bitter battle with Leeds and Bristol for the final play-off spot and this reverse, only their second at home in the competition, could well be one they rue.
The Penzance side took a 14th-minute lead with a Kieran Hallett penalty.
The visitors then lost scrum-half Jamie Stevenson to the sin-bin after an illegal tackle on Laurie McGlone, and with the penalty count rising against them they conceded more points as the Pirates scored their first try.
Tom Kessell sniped from the base of a ruck deep in the Scottish 22 and attacked the blindside, feeding Evans to score in the corner as the defence failed to cover. Hallett landed a fine touchline conversion and the Pirates were comfortable at 10-0.
Former Redruth centre PJ Gidlow was next to receive a yellow card from pedantic London referee Simon Harding after a huge collision with Tom Riley in midfield was adjudged to have been illegal.
Hallett missed an early second-half penalty but the Pirates quickly added a second try as Phil Burgess hit the line at pace and punched a big hole in the Scottish defence. The ball was shipped left from the breakdown, with Ben Mercer's sleight of hand releasing Evans to score. Hallett converted.
London Scottish immediately changed four of their pack including the entire front row, and quickly got on the scoreboard with Love's first penalty. Soon it was the Pirates struggling for good ball and there were few surprises when Bright capitalised on a series of penalties, driving over for a converted try on the hour.
The Pirates kept kicking away half-decent possession all too readily and the Scots kept applying pressure. Ben Maidment saw yellow as the Pirates kept infringing, and from an attacking five-metre scrum the Exiles struck.
This time it was Love squeezing in at the corner after a blindside raid by Stevenson. The wing slotted a conversion to level the scores and then, with the Pirates still unable to respond, applied the killer touch with his second penalty near the end.
With injuries sustained by McGlone (head) and Paul Andrew (ankle), the Pirates will be worrying about their fitness along with that of prop Alan Paver and skipper Gavin Cattle ahead of next Saturday's difficult game at leaders Newcastle Falcons.