Much-changed Pirates labour in comprehensive defeat away to Leeds
The Cornish Pirates produced a tired display in Yorkshire as they crashed to a heavy defeat at Leeds in their final Championship play-off pool match.
Having secured their semi-final place with a hard-earned win against Bedford Blues, the Pirates travelled with a much-changed side on Saturday but ran into a side who have under-performed and were determined to end on a high.
Leeds started quickly and went ahead with a converted Mike Stephenson try after just 45 seconds. Fellow wing Lee Blackett added a second on 11 minutes, and for the leg-weary Pirates a 17-3 half-time deficit proved too much to overhaul as three more home tries early in the second half stifled any hint of a Cornish comeback.
It was hardly the start new head coach Ian Davies wanted, but the Welshman was realistic in his appraisal.
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"To be perfectly honest, the play-offs ended for us against Bedford," he said. "We put the onus on that game and everything into it because we knew we needed to win.
"You saw in our performance that we lacked that edge but we will certainly have it back when we play Bristol in the semi-final."
If Stephenson's opening try for Leeds was a gift as the Pirates laboured from the kick-off, Blackett's, after an exchange of penalties between Tommy Bell and Grant Pointer, was a 'gimme'.
Scrum-half Craig Hampson and flanker Chris Walker led the assault before feeding the wing, who barely had to break his stride to glide through a pedestrian defence to score under the posts.
On their first meaningful attack, the Pirates came away with a try. Good pressure and power from an attacking five-metre scrum pinned down the Leeds pack and quick ball to the right flank resulted in Pointer's delightful flick-pass releasing Rhodri McAtee down the touchline to score.
Leeds replied with an effortless score for Stevie McColl only for the full-back to be called back by referee Ross Campbell for crossing in midfield. Moments later the deadly boot of Bell added a second penalty to make it 20-8.
Hooker Rob Elloway drove over the home line late in the half for a try initially disallowed after a supreme defensive effort by the home side. Touch judge Chris Sharp awarded the score, cutting the deficit to just seven at the break.
Three tries in 11 minutes early in the second half briefly hinted at a rout as the Pirates' usually steadfast defence went to sleep and an increasingly confident Leeds team began to run the ball from everywhere.
Centre Iain Thornley struck first with a grubber kick along the right flank which turned the Pirates around and exploited the absence of a full-back covering the attack. Thornley gathered his kick and touched down unopposed.
Walker topped his fine display with a fourth Leeds try as the Pirates were again outflanked in their own 22, before Hampson darted in all too easily from close range to round off another attack.
The late introduction of Phil Burgess, Chris Morgan and Dave Ward for the Pirates made a difference and they completed the scoring with two tries to grab the consolation of a losing bonus point.
Wing David Doherty set up the try of the game as he scorched 60 metres before offloading a try-scoring pass to Burgess. Then, on the final play of the match, Ward burrowed over from close range after a sustained assault on the Leeds line. Ceiron Thomas's conversion heralded the final whistle.
Leeds Carnegie: McColl; Blackett (Lucock 38), Thornley, Barrow (Davies 66), Stephenson; Bell, Hampson (Cliff 66); MacDonald (Aulika 71), Titterell (capt) (Freer 55), Aulika (Mustafa 55); Pendlebury (Williamson 55), Hohneck (Barrow 24); Beck, Walker, Rowan.
Scorers: Tries – Blackett, Thornley, Stephenson, Hampson, Walker; Conversions – Bell (4); Penalties – Bell (3).
Cornish Pirates: Pointer (Hill 71); McAtee (J Doherty 39-40), Suniula, Cooper, D Doherty; Penberthy (Thomas 55), Kessell (J Doherty 55); Storer, Elloway (Ward 74), Brits (Rimmer 74); McGlone (sin-bin 67-77), Smith; Ewers (Burgess 56), Marriott (capt) (Morgan 71), Maidment.
Scorers: Tries – McAtee, Elloway, Burgess, Ward; Conversions – Thomas; Penalties – Pointer.
Yellow card: McGlone.
Referee: R Campbell (RFU).