Cornish Pirates 19-26 Doncaster Knights
The Knights arrived at The Mennaye knowing that a win would significantly strengthen their position within the play off places. Other results across the league had seen fellow play-off chasers Bedford and Jersey both suffer defeats whilst Carnegie had the daunting task of hosting Bristol at Headingley in a fixture that ran concurrently to the Knights own.
The reverse fixture took place in October with the Knights running out 28-11 winners at Castle Park however the hosts had enjoyed a much improved run of form and entered the clash undefeated at home in 2016.
Penzance in February often means wet, muddy conditions however this was not the case as the sun greeted the Knights even if the Cornish wind made its presence felt. Playing into the breeze the Pirates made a sprightly start and got themselves into a strong position after Doncaster gave up a penalty in midfield. Fly-half Kieran Hallett put the kick to touch but following a couple of line outs the hosts could not find a way through and carried in field. The Knights conceded another penalty which was taken quickly by Alex Day, alert defence prevented the scrum half from crossing but resulted in a Pirates scrum. Having secured possession it was sent wide by the Pirates backs who worked well to draw in defenders and create space for winger Jack Arnott to cross out wide. Hallett’s conversion dropped wide, 5-0.
The score awoke the Knights and they showed much more attacking intent following, however, some questionable decision making and handling errors cost them point-scoring opportunities with the wind at their backs. The set piece performed well throughout the game and it was from a lineout opportunity that Doncaster managed their first score. Three back to back penalties meant the home pack were given a final warning from referee Greg McDonald and having gone to the corner again the Knights established their driving maul which ended with the familiar sight of Latu Makaafi crashing over the line.
The Knights continued in the ascendancy for the remainder of the first half and started winning more and more penalties but a combination of determined home defence and indiscipline in attack saw a number of late try-scoring chances go begging. On the stroke of half time Dec Cusack stepped up and slotted a long range three-pointer after Alan Paver was pinged for a ruck offense meaning the Knights went into the break leading 8-5.
A three point lead is fragile at the best of times but playing into the wind in the second half meant that the Knights faced a huge second forty if they were to make the long journey home with a W. Buoyed by a noisy Cornish support the hosts reemerged for the second half with a real sense of purpose and subjected Doncaster to a five minute barrage of attacks. Stubborn defense stopped the Pirates from taking advantage of the purple patch and what followed probably won the game for the Knights.
A sequence of carries and offloads initiated by a post lineout break from Ben Hunter carried the Knights deep into the Pirates half. Scrambling backwards, the home defence struggled to slow down the Donny charge and after Latu Makaafi barged to within a metre of the try line Michael Heaney darted over from the base of the ruck to score. Cusack added the extras to put his side up by 10.
Doncaster continued in the ascendancy following the score and, as the game began to open up, were able to punch holes with good carries and smart offloading. Extended periods in defense lead to a number of transgressions by the Pirates and Cusack was only too happy to keep the scoreboard ticking over with a couple of on target penalty kicks; on the hour mark the Knights held a 5-21 advantage.
Sensing the game was about to run away from them entirely the Pirates upped their intensity and after a scrum penalty Hallett used the wind to his advantage to put a long, rangy penalty to touch. Another penalty was conceeded as the pack looked to drop the home drive, the Pirates went straight back to the corner and this time would not be stopped. Having raced in field they got to within a metre of the Knights try line were replacement hooker Jack Innard barged home. Hallett added the extras, 12-21.
To avoid a very nervy ending to the clash the Knights needed to ensure they were the next team to score and they delivered an impressive ten minutes of rugby, asserting themselves on the fixture ensure there was no Pirates revival. Another well-worked lineout play almost saw Ben Hunter crash through only to be brought down by Adam Jamieson with the try-line beckoning. Possession was quickly recycled in field before Heaney cleverly switched play blind and fed Michael Hills, the skipper did well to draw his defender and release Jon Phelan who was able to dive over out wide.
Credit must go to the Pirates who refused to give up and got their just rewards with a try in the final play of the game. Having recovered the ball, they forced a penalty that was taken quickly by Jack Oulton who got very close before being hauled down, in the next phase lock Tyler Gendall bundled over and Hallett’s conversion ensured a Pirates losing bonus points.
Clive Griffiths and the coaching staff will take plenty of positives from the second half performance and the victory means that there is now a nine point cushion between the Knights in second and third placed Bedford and 18 points separating the team and Nottingham in fifth.
Cornish Pirates XV; 15) Toby May, 14) Jack Arnott, 13) Tom Hendrickson, 12) Alex Dancer (Rheon James 70’), 11) Matt Evans, 10) Kieran Hallett, 9) Alex Day (Jack Oulton 70’), 1) Marlen Walker (Adam Jamieson 63’), 2) Tom Channon (Jack Innard 55’), 3) Alan Paver (Tyler Gendall 63’), 4) Will Graulich, 5) Brett Beukeboom (Marcus Garratt 55’), 6) Alex Cheesman, 7) Sam Simmons, 8) Aaron Carpenter (Matt Bolwell 55’).
Replacements; 16) Jack Innard, 17) Tyler Gendall, 18) Adam Jamieson, 19) Marcus Garratt, 20) Matt Bolwell, 21) Jack Oulton, 22) Rheon James.
Tries ; Arnett 8’, Innard 63’, Gendall 80’
Conv; Hallett 63’, 80’
Knights XV; 15) Declan Cusack, 14) Andy Bulumakau, 13) George Catchpole, 12 Will Hurrell (Bevon Armitage 75’), 11) Tyson Lewis 10) Simon Humberstone, 9) Michael Heaney (Brad Field 75’), 1) Richard List (WillGriff John 60’), 2) Ben Hunter (Ted Stagg 75’), 3) Colin Quigley (Joe Sproston 75’), 4) Matt Challinor, 5) Jon Phelan (Glen Young 75’), 6) Latu Makaafi (Will Owen 70’), 7) Michael Hills ©, 8) Alex Shaw.
Replacements; 16) Ted Stagg, 17) Joe Sproston, 18) WillGriff John, 19) Glen Young, 20) Will Owen, 21) Bevon Armitage, 22) Brad Field.
Tries; Makaafi 29’, Heaney 46’, Phelan 74’
Conv; Cusack 47’
Pens; Cusack 40’, 52’, 60’