Plenty of positives for All Blacks after a gallant performance
Despite bringing them only two National League Two South points, Saturday's 24-24 draw with Hartpury College will have given the Cornish All Blacks heart after their defeat at Redruth the week before.
A draw was a fair result but the Cornish might have snatched victory ten minutes from time if the usually unerring boot of full-back Kieron Lewitt had not missed the final conversion by a whisker.
The lead changed hands three times and never more than a few points separating the sides. The students – almost a misnomer for a team boasting several members who had played at a much higher level and had not sat an academic exam for years – had a big pack and a set of backs who threw the ball about dangerously.
Initially, the home pack had to fight hard to contain their opposite numbers and to scotch running attacks out wide, but by early in the second half they had got the measure of their opponents and spent long periods in the Hartpury half and 22.
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The All Blacks' head coach Spike Rainford was heartened by his charges' performance. He said: "It was a massive improvement, in both ball retention and in not rushing in attack. We tried to play phases and played much better as a team, with the forwards and backs linking together better.
"Last week at Redruth we allowed them to run through the middle, and we gave them space and allowed them to keep it tight in the middle of the park. We could have closed it out at one point, but we performed as a team, which was what we wanted. It was something to build on."
Hartpury were making an art form of coming up offside and Lewitt soon had the chance to land a penalty after some exhilarating home three-quarter play.
The visitors responded soon after with the first of their three tries, the backs cutting through the middle and taking it wide for scrum-half Bradley Field to pass inside to wing Jack Hayes to cross.
The lead was soon extended when the All Blacks were penalised for not rolling away and Craig Jackson kicked the goal.
Lewitt and Jackson traded a further successful penalty kick apiece, before the All Blacks mounted some fine attacking runs and Lewitt landed his third goal three minutes before the interval to bring the halftime score to 11-9 to Hartpury.
Soon after the re-start the students' lock Sam Raven went off and immediately his replacement, Brandon Walker, scored after some powerful scrums and rolling mauls.The conversion failed and the All Blacks countered at once, taking play close to the visitors' line wide out on the left.
They won a scrum and when Hartpury disrupted the drive by standing up, home scrum-half Neilson Webber quickly tapped the penalty and wove through to score. Lewitt stroked over a touchline conversion to the roar of the crowd and it was 16-16.
The All Blacks nudged ahead just before the hour. Attacking relentlessly, they formed a ruck on the 22 midfield, passed the ball coolly back to Jake Murphy in the pocket, and the fly-half dropped an impeccable goal.
The visitors countered from the kick-off and with surprising ease raced through on the right with their wings combining to put Hayes over. The conversion rebounded, and then, despite solid defence by the Cornish, Hartpury won a penalty which Jackson kicked to put his side five points clear.
But the All Blacks came yet again, kicked to the right corner, and from the line-out drove relentlessly towards the line. No.8 Josh Lord almost made it before lock Tim Mathias drove over to level it again and clinch the draw.