Underdogs triumph against the odds to silence any rumblings of discontent
ON paper, this should have been Bristol's day. All the pre-match hype from the media and their own camp, coupled with the fervent belief from many of their own fans had almost become a tide of expectation rolling down the motorway to Exeter.
In the end, though, after nearly ten frantic minutes of injury time at the end of a colossal physical contest, it all came down to fly-half Adrian Jarvis. Bristol needed his touchline conversion just to snatch parity on the scoreboard and he stood in the drizzle with the weight of a city's hopes on his shoulders.
Jarvis struck the ball well from a tight angle. The height was good, the range was good, but just at the crucial moment the ball faded left like one of my golf shots and slid wide of the target. The moment was gone, the Pirates camp rejoiced, and Bristol, the great bridesmaids in recent English club rugby, had come second again.
Comparisons have already been drawn with the fantastic Pirates win at the Memorial Ground in 2005 when two well taken tries, a huge kicking display from Lee Jarvis, and a phenomenal defensive display earned the Pirates their last win on Bristol soil.
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Wind-on eight years and the tries were just as good, with Tincknell's an absolute peach as a training ground set piece move executed perfectly left the Bristol defence standing like statues while the talented wing celebrated under the posts.
Kieran Hallett produced arguably his best display yet in Pirates colours and already looks twice the player he was a year ago. His place kicking was calm and assured in tricky conditions and he combined well with Gavin Cattle to run the game well in midfield. The 9–10 axis was always going to be crucial to the outcome of this game for the Pirates, and they certainly delivered.
But after the gripes from some that pre-season consisted of a bit of a mish-mash of fixtures for the Cornish Pirates, they have perhaps gone some way to answering their critics with a huge team display at Sandy Park.
What stood out for me a month ago when they took a beating against Saracens up in London was their fitness levels and here against a huge Bristol pack the Pirates just kept going, making tackle after tackle. Their organisation and tactics were sound, especially not over-committing numbers at the breakdown, meaning that every time play was reset Bristol had to take on the whole team again.
Consequently, Bristol were never allowed to get beyond third gear and were forced to work multiple phases of possession often from a standing start and that nullified any cutting edge they may have thought they had packed in their kit bag.
One result does not make a season for both teams and Bristol may dismiss this as an early glitch. They will not panic for sure, but suddenly the Pirates are favourites to beat Leeds on Friday night whereas last Sunday lunchtime that was not so certain.
What will be interesting to see though is how many fans turn up now for a big game under the Mennaye lights. Some may still not like this concept, but after a result like the Bristol one I can see a few doubters succumbing and giving it a try.