Cornish Pirates' unbeaten run ends in Bristol loss
at the Memorial Stadium
With just eight minutes remaining in this tense Westcountry derby at the Memorial Stadium, it looked as if the Cornish Pirates would win in Bristol for the first time in seven years.
But an inspired double substitution at half-back by Bristol head coach Liam Middleton and 13 unanswered points ended the Pirates' unbeaten start to the season.
It was harsh on the Cornish side who had battled back from an indifferent first half of errors and penalties conceded to take the lead on 50 minutes and then dominated the middle period of the second half.
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However, injuries again proved their undoing with skipper Kyle Marriott forced off with a hamstring problem, prop Ben Prescott picking up a knock and then flying wing Matt Evans being stretchered off in the closing seconds after a heavy collision left him briefly unconscious.
Pirates head coach Ian Davies said: "The intensity was there and we deserved the victory if not a losing bonus point at least.
"We had to work a lot harder in the first 40 than we wanted to because of the penalty count and unforced errors. We were confident though after going in at the break only four points down after Bristol had thrown everything at us, and we upped the tempo in the second half."
He added: "Bristol struggled with that but by the end when we ended up with three props on the field and a hooker in the back row it became very difficult to control the game."
The home side made a strong start and, with the Pirates conceding a string of penalties at the set-piece and breakdown, took an early lead through two Matt Jones' penalties.
Yet just as against Plymouth seven days earlier, the Pirates managed to hang in the game and believed they had scored a try from Matt Evans only for referee Sean Davey to call the move back for a forward pass by Junior Fatialofa.
Kieran Hallett restored parity on the scoreboard slotting two penalties of his own but the game edged away from the Pirates again when lock Darren Barry received a yellow card as he killed the ball close to his own line.
Bristol took their time trying to make the man advantage count but finally found a chink in the Pirates' defence with centre Luke Eves scooting through to score under the posts. Jones converted.
Bristol pushed on again at the end of the first half but wasted good scoring chances for Mike Tagicakibau and Matt Williams, leaving Hallett to punish them again with a third penalty to make it 13-9 at half-time.
The Pirates were a different proposition after the interval playing with tempo and precision. Hallett struck again to cut the home lead to a single point and then they took the lead with Evans' sixth try of the season.
Gary Johnson won a line-out on the right flank and quick ball out to the left via Kessell and Riley put the Canadian speedster in to score. Hallett missed with the shot for the extras and Jones quickly reduced the Pirates' advantage to one with his third penalty.
With the crowd growing increasingly restless and the home backs flat and lacking penetration, Middleton introduced Ruki Tipuna and Tristan Roberts for Jones and James Grindal. Roberts fluffed a 70th-minute drop-goal in his first attacking foray but the Pirates were heavily disrupted by the loss of Marriott.
Pressure close to the Cornish line yielded a penalty as Ryan Storer barged into a ruck from an illegal position and Roberts made it 19-17.
Flanker Iain Grieve then wasted a chance to set Williams up for a try before Roberts struck again from 30 metres after the Pirates were pinged at the breakdown.
Then after Wes Davies had limped off leaving the Pirates down to 14 Bristol stole a turnover on their own 22 and Tipuna attacked, eventually releasing Williams to score.
Roberts landed the conversion before a final assault deep in stoppage time led to Evans being rendered unconscious following a sickening collision with Tagicakibau. He will be a severe doubt for next weekend's home clash with Newcastle Falcons.