Pirates gain a psychological edge after home win over leaders Bristol
In the grand scheme of Championship things, yesterday's 18-17 win over Bristol matters little, but the Cornish Pirates ensured they will take a psychological advantage into the end-of-season play-offs.
Bristol will not be caught at the top of the Championship table and will be the team to beat when the second phase of the season begins next month.
However, the Pirates enhanced their prospects of going into the play-offs as the second seeded side yesterday afternoon. Tries from hooker Dave Ward and lock Ian Nimmo, along with kicks from Rob Cook and Grant Pointer, gave them just enough to see off Bristol at Mennaye Field.
The Penzance club's forwards coach, Ian Davies, said: "I think it was a huge game for us psychologically. If Bristol had turned us over, they would have done the double over us. We needed a win, no matter how ugly it was."
The Pirates took the lead with a long-range Pointer penalty following a Bristol infringement in midfield. That was the start of a dominant period for the hosts, who strung together multiple phases in a push for the opening score. Fly-half Aaron Penberthy broke into the Bristol 22 with an elusive run coming just short of the line, but he retained possession and Ward supplied the close-range finish before Cook hit the left post with the conversion attempt.
Bristol put together their first fluid passage of play and thought they had scored their first try through Marco Mama in the 23rd minute, but referee Matt Carley spotted a forward pass in the build-up.
The home side lost centre Andrew Short to a shoulder injury midway through the half and Bristol continued their resurgence. They slipped into the Pirates' 22 after some missed tackles and punished the hosts. Centre Luke Eves cut through to the line at the end of a fine backs move for Bristol's opening score, but fly-half Tristan Roberts missed the conversion.
The visitors drew level with a Roberts penalty after the Pirates were penalised for not releasing. A badly taken restart from Penberthy then put them under further pressure in the lead-up to half time. Indeed, Bristol went ahead with another kick from Roberts before the break. Pointer was taken off at half-time suffering with concussion and was replaced by Tom Kessell.
The hosts were cut open again early in the second half when flanker Henry Vanderglas trundled his way into their half. He was stopped at the cost of a penalty and a yellow card for replacement Matt Evans, and Roberts took the chance to push the visitors' lead to six points with another kick.
The Pirates responded with a Cook penalty that went through off the left post, but the turning point came moments later. A yellow card for lock Mariano Sambucetti, for punching home back-row Phil Burgess, gave the hosts a one-man advantage and they made it pay with a powerful drive for the line, finished by Nimmo.
Cook converted to give them a four-point lead but Bristol fought back with another Roberts penalty to reduce the deficit to a single point.
A tense finale followed but while the Pirates tightened up defensively, further indiscipline from Bristol prevented them from applying late pressure. The visitors replaced both their props for the final ten minutes but front row Darren Crompton's afternoon lasted less than a minute before he was sent to the sin-bin after another scuffle.
The Pirates never looked in danger against Bristol's 14 men, but injuries to Short and Pointer were compounded by the disturbing sight of prop Paul Andrew leaving the pitch on a stretcher at the final whistle with a neck problem.
Cornish Pirates: Cook; Pointer (Kessell 40), Short (Evans 22, 47-57), Cooper, D Doherty; Penberthy (Thomas 70), Cattle (capt); Storer (Andrew 56), Ward, Paver (Rimmer 71); Smith (Maidment 61), Nimmo; Morgan, Burgess, Marriott. Replacement (not used): Cowan-Dickie.
Scorers: Tries – Ward, Nimmo; Conversion – Cook; Penalties – Pointer, Cook.
Yellow card: Evans.
Bristol: Goodridge; Tovey, Eves, Helu, Williams; Roberts (Jones 69), Tipuna (capt) (Slater 75); Irish (Thompson 72), Johnson (Lawrence 47), Hobson (Crompton 72); Sambucetti (Glynn 69), Townson; Vanderglas, Mama, Montagu (Grieve 69).
Scorers: Try – Eves; Penalties – Roberts (4).
Yellow cards: Sambucetti, Crompton.
Referee: M Carley (RFU).