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Pirates retain bragging rights after victory over Plymouth Albion
Plymouth Albion 20 Cornish Pirates 26
Played in front of Plymouth Albion's biggest crowd of the season, the Pirates once again retained the bragging rights after beating their cross-Tamar rivals.
The teams ran out in welcome spring sunshine at the Brickfields Recreation Ground, and playing with a stiff breeze at their backs it was the Pirates who had the first chance to open the scoring.
A penalty attempt from just inside his own half was well struck by fly-half Kieran Hallett, but the attempt sailed just to the left of the posts.
It was evident that the Cornish side was happy to play an expansive game at the start, and it all looked very encouraging until Albion's top try-scorer, wing Tom Bowen, intercepted and ran in from halfway to take his tally to 14 for the season. Fly-half Declan Cusack added the extra two points.
It was a setback for the Pirates, but they didn't let it show. Indeed, they clearly started to dominate their opponents, forcing them to make errors, and just rewards were gained. Playing against his former club Hallett was on target with penalty strikes in the ninth and sixteenth minutes, bringing the Pirates to within a point of their hosts.
The Pirates applied the squeeze - particularly at scrum time - which led to home prop Tom Harrison being shown yellow by referee Darren Gamage. It was surely just a matter of time before the Pirates would eventually make it over the try line.
Prop Jack Andrew went close on the left, but from a scrum and then a ruck the ball was swiftly relayed right to enable full-back Max Bodilly to hit space and dive over the whitewash for a well finished but unconverted score.
Joy turned to ecstasy for the Pirates soon after.
Full-back Dan Mugford had countered well for Albion just after the restart, but when the Pirates snaffled back possession the ball reached wing Craig Holland, and then centre Junior Fatialofa, who ran with real purpose.
His midfield compatriot Tom Riley provided essential support to run in a try, converted this time by Hallett, that put the Pirates 18-7 up.
All was looking good for the Cornish visitors, but to their credit Albion managed to hit back before the break by conjuring up a score to give that gave them real encouragement.
Back-rower Sam Matavesi, a surprise choice at hooker, found his man at the line-out, and when the home pack drove to the line flanker Eoghan Grace went over to score.
Cusack also slotted the conversion, and a 14-18 scoreline at half-time suddenly created a different, less certain picture for the Pirates.
Pre-match everybody expected this seventh versus sixth contest to be closely fought, and there was clearly still every chance it would be, right to the very end.
When play resumed the atmosphere was ramped up still higher when a Cusack penalty further reduced the deficit in a match where there was plenty of beef and blow to be seen from two fully committed and charged-up sides.
Hallett opened the gap to four points once more with a penalty on 57 minutes, but this was soon cancelled out with another three-pointer landed by Cusack after the Pirates lost No. 8 Aaron Carpenter to the sin bin.
Now into the last quarter, the home side started to play with real enterprise.
Albion are a different side nowadays. Under the the guidance of James Shanahan they are keener to play a more expansive game. The platform up front could be tighter but ambition elsewhere has been noted, with Mugford, not for the first time in this match, bringing the crowd to its feet.
A super run on the left was given support by flanker Sean-Michael Stephen, who looked to have scored a try that would have given Plymouth Albion back the lead - but he was penalised for making a double movement.
The home crowd was really making some noise, especially when wing Jamie Davies took off, only to be halted by a super tackle from Pirates' scrum-half Tom Kessell.
Albion continued to attack, moving the ball from one side of the field to the other. However, when the Pirates regained possession the crafted boot of Hallett found the clubhouse corner with a deep kick. Could the Pirates maintain the pressure and perhaps kill the game off? We were about to see.
A wayward, long line-out throw was happily taken by replacement hooker Rob Elloway, with support given by replacement back-rower Tom Duncan.
The former Redruth man had an eye for the line when with the Reds, and he would go close now in a Pirates shirt.
Control of acquired possession was vital for someone to pick the moment to finally make it over, and the man to deliver was Kessell.
With eight tries to his name this season, the club's top try-grabber in the Championship hadn't scored since the game at Rotherham at the beginning of January, but he made no mistake to time an arm stretch to take his figure to nine.
Hallett's conversion attempt into tricky wind from wide on the right had missed, so there was still time for Plymouth Albion to hit back and sneak this one.
But it didn't happen, as the Pirates defence held strong, and having now won 10 games on the trot against their neighbours, the bragging rights for this particular 'derby' fixture deservedly remain firmly rooted in the far west of Cornwall.
Speaking after the match Cornish Pirates' Director of Rugby Ian Davies said: “This was a real derby game, there mistakes but also plenty of points and passion. We scrummaged really well, particularly in the first half, and Kieran Hallett's tactical kicking was a likely key contributor to achieving the result.
“Winning our last two league games has been pleasing and should give us confidence as we now look forward to our British & Irish Cup quarter-final at home to Pontypridd next Sunday. It will be a really tough encounter, with no lack of passion and emotion on display - hopefully all of Cornwall will come and support us on the day.”
Plymouth Albion: 15 Dan Mugford, 14 Tom Bowen, 13 Ben Woods, 12 Toby Howley-Berridge, 11 Jamie Davies (Martin Rice 23-33, Jack Arnott 77), 10 Declan Cusack, 9 Paul Rowley; 1 Tom Harrison (Martin Rice 69), 2 Sam Matavesi, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother (David Morton 55), 4 Brett Beukeboom, 5 Ien Ascroft-Leigh (Harrison Tovey 69), 6 Sean-Michael Stephen, 7 Eoghan Grace, 8 Rhys Oakley (capt).
Replacements (not used): Davy McGregor, Ruiari Cushion, Lewis Warner.
Yellow card: Harrison.
Cornish Pirates: Cornish Pirates: 15 Max Bodilly, 14 Craig Holland, 13 Tom Riley, 12 Junior Fatialofa (Tom Hendrickson 76), 11 Kyle Moyle, 10 Kieran Hallett, 9 Tom Kessell; 1 Jack Andrew (Kieran Davies 85), 2 Tom Channon (Rob Elloway 63), 3 Ben Prescott, 4 Laurie McGlone (Will Carrick Smith 57), 5 Darren Barry (capt, Joel Conlon 76), 6 Jake Parker, 7 Alex Cheesman, 8 Aaron Carpenter (Joel Conlon 51-59, Tom Duncan 73).
Replacement (not used): Angus Sinclair.
Yellow card: Carpenter.
Plymouth Albion – tries: Bowen, Grace; cons: Cusack (2); pens: Cusack (2).
Cornish Pirates – tries: Bodilly, Riley, Kessell; con: Hallett; pens: Hallett (3).
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