Doncaster Knights put up a spirited fight in an attritional contest at a very wet and sodden Mennaye as Cornish Pirates closed out a bonus point victory to root the Yorkshiremen to the foot of the table.
The Knights impressed heavily in the first half with spells of powerful forward dominance and two Rhys Buckley tries putting them in the ascendancy, but the Pirates class shone through in the second period to elevate the Cornishmen to fourth in the Championship ladder.
The Pirates took an early lead through hooker Darren Semmens who fell over the whitewash from a driving maul as the pitch carved up and continual scrums collapsed with both sets of front-rows unable to stay on their feet. In the mist of the try a fight broke out that saw Tom Davies and opposition back-rower Laurie McGlone sent to the sin-bin for a series of blows.
After a brief pause for the disciplinary, kicker Keiran Hallett slotted the conversion with ultimate ease to open up a 7-0 lead. But Doncaster replied with their own spell of pressure as the pack outlined their intention as both sides looked threatening from the driving line-out.
Hooker Rhys Buckley looked to have levelled proceedings as both number two’s were benefitting from tailing the maul, but referee Matthew Carley disallowed the score adjudging the ball to be held up.
It didn’t take long for Buckley to make amends as the Welshman barrelled over from close range from another successful set-piece as the Doncaster forwards looked supremely dominant in attack. Dougie Flockhart was unlucky not to convert from wide as the wind took the kick just left of the upright.
As has been too often the case this season a lapse in Doncaster concentration cost them shortly after as Hallett added three points to his tally from a long range penalty as the Knights crept offside.
The Knights went straight back into opposition territory, charging at the Cornish defence and desperately trying to break the shackles with a series of menacing line breaks. They eventually managed to cross the line, but not from free flowing rugby, instead a mirror image to the last as Buckley bulldozed over from another rolling maul for his second try of the afternoon.
Another infringement cost the Knights as Hallett again made no mistake from the tee to sneak into the lead at 13-10. But the seesaw encounter continued as Doncaster again attacked and looked intent on coming away with a third try, only for Pirates to cynically kill the play and lucky to not receive a yellow card. Flockhart nudged over the easy goal kick to once again level the scoreline.
Pirates continued to giveaway penalties and this time referee Carley had little choice but to go to his pocket as second row Darren Barry saw yellow for bringing down the line-out. The Knights produced a wave of attacks on the Cornish try line, but the defence held stout as the half time whistle blew at 13 points apiece and Knights looking the stronger.
The players ran out for the second half in bright sunshine, but the pitch appeared even heavier under foot with several areas near unplayable, the Pirates sported a change of strip in their adventurous yellow alternative jersey, whilst the Knights continued in their fetching mud ridden jersey; determined to take the spoils.
The Knights persisted to pepper the hosts defensive line, but the referee’s short leniency gave the Pirates three successive penalties take the Cornishmen from their own try line onto Doncaster’s. And another rolling maul from a successful line-out gave local lad Semmens his second try, peeling from the base to send Pirates into the lead after just four minutes of the second forty.
Knights looked in further trouble when Tom Luke, who marshalled his backs well, had his kick charged down, thankfully Michael Keating rescued the visitors with a superb pick up and clearance as the Castle Park outfit lost the momentum in the tie.
A subsequent offside allowed Hallett to further increase his tally with another well struck penalty after nearly an hour played.
The nail in the coffin was provided by the impressive Pirates number 8 McGlone who snipped from the base of a driving scrum to dive over the whitewash for a 26-13 lead as Hallett failed with the conversion effort.
And to rub salt into the wounds Matt Evans secured a bonus point for the Mennaye faithful as Pirates back division evaded the Doncaster tacklers to increase their lead and leave the Knights with a mountain to climb.
The fighting spirit remained with Griffiths’ men as they had the last say as replacement back row forward Sam Pailor grabbed his first try of the season to close the margin of victory in what was a very close and tough fought encounter. The Yorkshiremen headed back north just missing out on a losing bonus point at 31-18.
Cornish Pirates: Davies, Mercer, Riley, Fatialofa, Evans (Smith 75), Hallett, Cattle © (Kessell 75), Andrew (Storer 72), Semmens, Paver (Prescott 5), Barry, Johnson (Lyons 62), Marriott, Burgess (Maidment 45), McGlone.
Tries: Semmens 3, 44, McGlone 63, Evans 75.
Conv: Hallett 5.
Pens: Hallett 13, 28, 56.
Yellow: McGlone, Barry.
Doncaster Knights: Keating, Flockhart, Braid, Simpson (Lennard 62), Lewis, Luke, Bedford (Hallam 72), Davies (McGovern 73), Buckley (Bergmanas 75), Francis (Cronin 53), Challinor ©, Parsons (Smith 62), Kettle, Hafu (Pailor 73), Planchant.
Tries: Buckley 9, 22, Pailor 77.
Pens: Flockhart 33.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Image Courtesy of Simon Bryant