Ulster Ravens 27 Cornish Pirates 23
Playing Ulster Ravens at Deramore Park, which is actually the home of Belfast Harlequins, hopes for the Cornish Pirates of completing the pool stage unbeaten in this season's British & Irish Cup competition were frustratingly dashed, right at the very end of the match.
The Pirates had travelled for their final Pool Six game knowing that they had not only already qualified for the quarter-finals, but that another win would automatically secure a home tie to be played on the first weekend in April.
The side to face the Ravens showed several changes to the team that won 28-21 against Ayr at the Mennaye Field last Sunday.
Matt Evans came back into the side at full-back, and with Kieran Goss returning on the wing there was a move to scrum-half for Mike Pope. Changes in the forwards saw Tom Duncan selected at No. 8 and Shane Cahill at tight-head prop, whilst two young members of the squad, forward Matt Bolwell and back Max Bodilly, who have recently had game time at Redruth after recovering from injury, were named on the bench.
Ulster got off to an encouraging start when fly-half James McKinney slotted a penalty in just the second minute after the Pirates had infringed at scrum time.
The home side held territorial advantage in the opening period and might well have extended their lead, but for McKinney's second penalty strike this time drifting wide of the posts.
It was always likely that the visitors would respond, and when they did it would be a score pleasing to witness. Scrum-half Pope did the initial work, passing then to centre Alex Dancer who broke would be tacklers before offloading to full-back Matt Evans. The Canadian international crossed for a try near the sticks, enabling fly-half Angus Sinclair to land the simple conversion.
With all but no wind, on a cloudy and mild Friday evening conditions at Deramore Park were good. More importantly, the Pirates were showing signs of starting to dominate up front. The scrum was going well, leading to a penalty award that Sinclair kicked, and he soon added another to give the Pirates a deserved lead approaching half time.
Would it stay 3-13 come the break? The answer would be no, unfortunately, as right at the very end the Pirates conceded a soft try, scored out wide by Ulster prop Adam Macklin and duly converted by the impressive McKinney. 10-13.
Back to the action, there would no further scores for a spell until a sudden probe inside Ulster's '22' ended with flanker Joe Atkinson touching down a try, that was this time converted by wing Kyle Moyle.
The extended lead would not last long, as on about the hour mark Ulster Ravens narrowed the deficit when centre Stuart McCloskey ran in strongly from 25 metres to score a try just to the left of the posts. McKinney added the conversion.
With the scoreboard now reading 17-20, suffice to say tension was now building, which for supporters of the Cornish Pirates would rise still further when a penalty for Ulster, kicked again by McKinney, drew the scores level at 20-all.
This was another game going right down to the wire, with only slight relief provided when a Moyle penalty gave the Pirates back the lead.
There was still time for the Ravens to hit back, and cruelly for the Cornish side they did just that when their third try of the evening, scored this time by replacement scrum-half Dave Shanahan, and converted by McKinney, meant that the Pirates would have to wait for results from a number of other of the weekend's final pool matches to be played on Saturday to know whether they had done enough to secure a home tie in the quarter-finals.
Commenting after the game, Cornish Pirates Head Coach Ian Davies said:
"It was naturally disappointing to lose right at the very end in what was generally a cracking performance. We played with a great deal of ambition in attack but a few errors cost us in the end."
The win for the Ravens had provided just a little consolatory revenge following their 34-17 loss at the Mennaye Field in October, whilst for the Pirates, they could be forgiven if their night was just a little sleepless. Their hopes were still high, but for the moment they were on hold. Thankfully, however, they needn't have worried, as come late Saturday afternoon the Pirates were at last able to announce that a home quarter-final was theirs.
Ulster Ravens: 15 Peter Nelson, 14 Rory Scholes, 13 Ricky Andrew (Ross
Adair 65), 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 David Busby, 10 James McKinney, 9 Michael Heaney (David Shanahan 72); 1 Kyle McCall (Andrew Warwick 60), 2 Niall Annett (Paul Jackson 69), 3 Adam Macklin (Michael Cromie 77), 4 Lewis Stevenson (capt), 5 Neil McComb, 6 Conor Joyce, 7 Lorcan Dow (Josh Atkinson 60), 8 Michael McComish.
Cornish Pirates: 15 Matt Evans (Max Bodilly 65), 14 Kieran Goss, 13
Tom Riley, 12 Alex Dancer (Tom Hendrickson 62), 11 Kyle Moyle, 10 Angus Sinclair (Tom Kessell 51), 9 Mike Pope; 1 Kieran Davies, 2 Aaron Carpenter (capt, Matt Bolwell 69), 3 Shane Cahill (Jack Andrew 43), 4 Neale Patrick (Darren Barry 62), 5 Will Graulich, 6 Jake Parker, 7 Joe Atkinson, 8 Tom Duncan (Tom Channon 44).
Ulster Ravens - tries: Macklin, McCloskey, Shanahan; cons: McKinney (3);
pens: McKinney (2).
Cornish Pirates -tries: Evans, Atkinson; cons: Sinclair, Moyle; pens:
Sinclair (2), Moyle.
Referee: Mr. Lloyd Linton (Scotland)