Pirates below their best as Leeds force a draw in play-offs opener
at Mennaye Field
If Cornish Pirates are to fulfil their promise and win the Championship this season, they must produce better than Saturday's 14-14 draw at home to Leeds in Penzance.
Leeds, perhaps mindful of the 52-10 hiding they received at Mennaye Field earlier this season, came to spoil and frustrate, and the Pirates were simply unable to rise above it.
A score from Grant Pointer and a penalty try, both converted by Rob Cook, was the least the home side could have expected with such an overwhelmingly superior scrum.
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However, they frequently failed to build on that solid platform as errors, both technical and in decisions made, cost them chances to punish an often cynical Leeds side.
The good news for them is that relatively little damage has been done – except on the injury front, with centre Tom Cooper's knee problem now adding to the Pirates' growing backs crisis.
Those still fully fit will travel to Goldington Road on Friday to face early group leaders Bedford Blues knowing a win can pull them back level on points at the top, or better should they win with a bonus point. But, first, high performance manager Chris Stirling will conduct a detailed review of this weekend's performance, where so much faltered.
The visitors looked sharper straight away and forced a penalty – for not rolling away – in the opening two minutes. The central position of the offence, 25 metres out, made life easy for Leeds fly-half Joe Ford and he kicked his side ahead.
The Pirates responded with some piercing moves of their own. Flanker Dave Ewers made the most progress, coming just short of the try line before referee Paul Knowles pulled play back for a Leeds scrum infringement.
Although Cook missed the resulting penalty, he played an integral part in the home side's first try a few minutes later.
Cook skilfully collected fly-half Aaron Penberthy's high kick into the Leeds half before helping the ball to Matt Evans. The winger's grubber kick down the left touchline was then finished well by Pointer, with Cook converting.
Although the Pirates' work at scrum time yielded a lot of ball, chances were not being taken. Leeds, meanwhile, were far less wasteful, with full-back Steve McColl finishing a spell of possession along the Pirates' 22 with an excellent try on the right.
Ford missed the conversion but extended his side's lead after the break with his second penalty of the afternoon following a disjointed start to the second half.
Andrew Suniula, one of only two remaining fit backs available on the Pirates' replacements' bench, was brought on to replace the injured Cooper in the 55th minute, as the home side again threatened to take control of the game.
A Penberthy kick into the right corner gained some valuable territory and the Pirates applied the pressure. Leeds were getting increasingly desperate with each drive for the line, and replacement Tom Denton found himself in the sin bin as the disruption tactics became more cynical.
Knowles' patience soon broke and he awarded the Pirates a penalty try, while Cook set up a three-point lead on the hour mark with the conversion. However, the Pirates' inability to maintain composure allowed Ford to kick the scores level straight away.
A Leeds tackler not releasing gave Pointer one final opportunity to win the game from inside his own half, but he was unable to generate enough power with his penalty kick. The end result was probably a fair one, with neither side setting a standard befitting the Championship play-offs. Bedford, who beat Rotherham Titans with a bonus point over the weekend, will demand better of the Cornish side on Friday.
Cornish Pirates: Cook; Kessell, Pointer, Cooper (Suniula 55), Evans; Penberthy (Thomas 70), Cattle; Rimmer (Andrew 62), Ward, Paver (Fairbrother 66); Smith, Nimmo; Ewers (Burgess 50), Morgan, Marriott (Maidment 50). Replacement (not used): Cowan-Dickie.
Scorers: Tries – Pointer, penalty try; Conversions – Cook (2).
Leeds: : McColl; Stephenson (Davies 20), Thornley, Barrow, Lucock; Ford, Cliff; Lockwood (Young 48) (Aulika 76), Titterrell (Nilsen 44), Aulika (Denman 55), Pendlebury (Paul 59), Hemingway (Denton 44); Williamson, Rowan, Burrows. Replacement (not used): Hampson.
Yellow card: Denton.
Scorers: Try – McColl; Penalties – Ford (3).
Referee: P Knowles (RFU).