Cornish Pirates frustrated by Bristol defeat
Winning their opening two games against Jersey and Plymouth Albion in this season's RFU Championship, the Cornish Pirates travelled to Bristol on Sunday keen to make it three wins on the trot.
Many remembered the Pirates 18-11 points defeat of Bristol at the 'Mem' in February, 2005, where victory had eluded them since, and sadly it frustratingly did once more, despite the Cornish side at one stage in the second half looking the likely winners.
The Pirates made a number of changes from the team that won narrowly against Plymouth Albion, including a start at scrum-half for Tom Kessell ahead of club captain Gavin Cattle. Darren Barry came back into the team to partner Gary Johnson in the second-row and at full-back Wes Davies made a welcome return to fitness after a long lay-off through injury.
Pre-match there was a minute's silence respectfully given in memory of young Ulster centre Nevin Spence, who was tragically killed in a farming tragedy on Saturday, as were his father and brother.
Shortly after the kick-off it was good to see Davies quickly into his familiar stride, but it was Bristol who would open the scoring with a penalty kicked by fly-half Matthew Jones, which followed good initial work by their skipper and flanker James Merriman.
Jones was busy in the early action and a well weighted cross-field kick looked a threat. Full-back Jon Goodridge was unable to take the ball cleanly, but a second penalty was soon awarded the home side for Jones to make it 6-0.
Former Saracens and Fijian international wing Michael Tagicakibau looked a dangerous performer, as equally did Pirate Matt Evans opposite him, who was unlucky not to score but for a forward pass.
The first points for the Pirates would soon materialise, however, thanks to a fine penalty strike by fly-half Kieran Hallett.
Kessell was looking to put his stamp on the game, and along with flanker Phil Burgess the pair concentrated Bristol's defensive effort.
With the clock showing 19 minutes Hallett levelled the scores with another magnificent effort, his kick from 49 metres out making it through the posts at the 'Brunel' Stand end of the ground.
The home crowd lifted their side with chants of 'Bristol, Bristol', and after launching a number of attacks in the right corner referee Sean Davey, who was quick to blow his whistle for perceived misdemeanours, wasted no time to show a yellow card to Barry.
Bristol wasted no time to try and take advantage of their former player's indiscretion at the breakdown and after driving the Pirates back over their line it was necessary to call upon the TMO as to whether a try had been scored. For the moment there was relief provided the visitors, but the try sought would be delivered, as following a series of scrums the ball was moved left for centre Luke Eves to time his run and touch the ball down at the posts for a converted score.
Jones, who had missed one previous penalty attempt, was off target with another as the home side looked to add to their points tally, and Tagicakibau also went close to scoring a try in the right corner. The mini storm, thankfully, was eventually repelled by the Pirates and after working their way back into Bristol's half another excellent penalty kick from Hallett reduced the arrears to make it 13-9 at the break.
Nobody at the half-time stage could predict a winner with any confidence, and as the teams emerged for the second period there were no changes in personnel.
The Pirates looked sharp and inventive when the second forty got underway and Hallett's fourth successful penalty brought them within a single points of their hosts.
Bristol winger Matt Williams lifted the home crowd with a break out run, but it was the Pirates who would impress most with a finely crafted try created for Evans who had space to impressively dot down his sixth five-pointer of the season. Hallett's conversion missed but the Pirates now led 17-13.
A penalty from Jones brought Bristol back within a point but the overall feeling was that the Pirates clearly had it in them to win this contest. We would see.
There had been a flurry of replacements, with back-rower Chris Morgan making a welcome return against his former club and there a first appearance in Pirates' colours for hooker Jack Yeandle who had been signed in the week on dual registration with Exeter Chiefs.
Bristol's replacement fly-half Tristan Roberts missed with a drop goal attempt but would soon redeem himself with a penalty that restored his side's lead.
Fresh legs for 'Bris' certainly had an impact, although replacement flanker Ian Grieve took the wrong option by carrying the ball too far rather than release it to Williams outside of him.
A second penalty from Roberts made it 22-17 but the Pirates were still in with a chance and were unlucky after Davies almost pierced a gap in Bristol's defence. Then, all of a sudden, the home side snaffled possession, enabling replacement scrum-half Ruki Tipuna to run all of 50 metres before giving Williams the try due him. Roberts converted to make the final score 29-17.
There was concern right at the end of the game when Evans was injured and it taking several minutes after the final whistle before he was stretched off, and there was inevitable frustration too that a victory for the Pirates at the 'Mem' had again eluded them. It was in their grasp and there added disappointment that not even a bonus point came their way, which all about felt was the least they deserved.
Bristol : J. Goodridge, M. Tagicakibau, L. Eves, J. Gadd (B. Mosses 74), M. Williams, M. Jones (T. Roberts 62), J. Grindal (T. Roberts 62), M. Eadie, J. Merriman (c), R. Pennycook (I. Grieve 62), R. Winters, B. Glynn (G. Townson 68), B. Douglas, R. Lawrence, K. Traynor.
Replacements (not used): T. Channon, W. Thompson.
Cornish Pirates: W. Davies, T. Bedford, T. Riley, J. Fatialofa (A. Penberthy 76), M. Evans, K. Hallett, T. Kessell (G. Cattle 65), B. Maidment (C. Morgan 47), P. Burgess, K. Marriott (capt), R. Storer 69), G. Johnson, D. Barry (D. Lyons 7-13 blood, 55), B. Prescott (M. Maidment 62), R. Elloway (J. Yeandle 62), P. Andrew.
Scorers :- Bristol - tries: Eves, Williams; cons: Jones, Roberts, pens: Jones (3), Roberts (2).
Cornish Pirates - try: Evans; pens: Hallett (4).
Referee : Sean Davey (RFU).