Pirates survive a last minute fright to stun title favourites
Cornish Pirates 23, Bristol 21
THE Cornish Pirates got their Championship season under way in fine style as they denied promotion favourites Bristol with a huge team performance in the Sandy Park drizzle.
Tries in each half from debutants James Sandford and James Tincknell kept Bristol at bay despite them dominating territory and possession for much of the match.
The Pirates led 23-16 with the stadium clock entering the red zone, but a missed touchline conversion from Adrian Jarvis in the ninth minute of second half stoppage time condemned the west country side to defeat, just when Luke Eves' last gasp try seemed to have set up a dramatic draw.
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Cornish Pirates head coach Ian Davies refused to get carried away with the success, but believes that his young team has thrown down a marker to the rest of the league already.
"I think we have thrown off our underdog tag after that," he said. "Everyone had written us off and nobody took any notice of us in pre-season, so perhaps we have sent a ripple through the Championship in week one."
Davies also admitted that he never had any doubts that his team could beat Bristol in the long build up to the season opener. He said: "I had a feeling we would win."
"There was a lot of pressure and expectation on Bristol but we had a new group of players with a lot of energy. Many of them hadn't experienced Championship rugby before let alone Bristol, so there wasn't any baggage."
He added: "They had belief, they had energy and I think the result was just."
Despite going behind to an early Adrian Jarvis penalty and later losing hooker Rob Elloway to the sin-bin, the Pirates led 16-9 at half-time with Kieran Hallett putting in a dominant performance with the boot.
Bristol roared back to life in the second half levelling the game through James Merriman's converted try before Hallett's pass and Tincknell's fine angle of attack brought about a second Pirates try on 68 minutes.
Bristol dominated the closing stages and the Pirates had to withstand an onslaught. When they did finally crack Eves could only score in the corner leaving his fly-half a hugely difficult conversion attempt to level the game. He missed and the Pirates celebrated as the final whistle blew immediately.
Davies added: "The pressure was on for us to make a good start but we lost the ball from the kick-off and went three-nil down. But the boys responded superbly, scored and it settled us down.
"But today possession and territory was all Bristol."
And he admitted that he was concerned about the strength of the Bristol replacements' bench, especially when the game was deadlocked at 16-all in the second half.
"They have got guys like Ruki Tipuna and (Fautua) Otto who are game breakers and the boys really had to stick at their task," he said. "But suddenly the fifty-fifties started to go our way and we just kept coming at them and forcing errors."
Davies felt that his team scrummaged well under the new laws for this season and praised the efforts of Ben Prescott, Alan Paver and Rob Elloway in the front row.
He also expressed admiration for the work done by James Sandford at lock, adding: "I've known him since he was at Rotherham and recommended him to London Irish so that they kept their hands off Laurie McGlone.
"He's a very abrasive Northern Irishman and when he became available in the summer I was straight on the phone. He gave us a lot of grunt in the second row with Darren Barry."