Cornish Pirates 9, Newcastle Falcons 18

Giving their all against a Newcastle Falcons side who are favourites to bounce back into the Premiership, come the end of this match the Pirates were undoubtedly left a little frustrated with the final result. It was in their grasp to create a perceived upset, however they ultimately conceded too many penalties in the match, writes Phil Westren.

For what was an early first versus second clash in the Greene King IPA Championship, ahead of the game excitement levels were high, as the Pirates welcomed the Falcons to Penzance for the first time since September 2012, when on that occasion the visitors departed 25-3 winners.

There were several changes in the Cornish Pirates starting XV from the one that ran out at Doncaster the previous weekend, including Javier Rojas Alvarez switching from fly-half to inside centre in place of the injured Nicolas De Battista. Will Cargill was the choice to wear the ‘10’ shirt. As for the forwards, following injuries also suffered by Tom Cowan-Dickie and Will Wilson, Tom Channon was named at hooker and Tom Duncan at No 8. Selected at tight-head prop was the experienced Craig Mitchell, replacing Jay Tyack who was chosen on the bench. Also listed among the replacements were fit gain Dan Frost and Rory Parata, each keen to return to competitive action.

In front of a big crowd, and on a day that was just perfect for playing rugby, the Pirates took an early lead. Rojas Alvarez, luckless with a penalty kick attempt in the first minute, struck his second effort clean and true to put the Pirates 3-0 up with just three minutes on the clock.

Making a first foray into Pirates territory, the visitors were foiled thanks to a fine tackle made by flanker John Stevens. However, when a penalty was awarded in front of the Penzance posts, the Newcastle team’s skipper and former England international fly-half, Toby Flood, duly levelled matters.

The Pirates soon led again thanks to a second penalty slotted by Rojas Alvarez, although it was not long before a well worked and an unconverted try scored at the clubhouse corner by wing Ben Stevenson put the visitors back in front.

For a game that one felt would be closely contested throughout, thus far it was proving to be the case. Rampaging play from prop Marlen Walker, Stevens and Channon lifted the home crowd, and after centre Josh Matavesi – brother of ‘Pirate’ Sam - was yellow-carded, Rojas Alvarez was on target with his third successful penalty.

Building to half-time play was evenly contested before, in the 36th minute, full-back Tom Arscott followed up grub kick to score a converted try that gave the Falcons a 15-9 half-time lead.

Getting the second forty off to fully charged start, Cornish Pirates’ centre Callum Patterson, along with Walker and captain Brett Beukeboom, made a turbo-fuelled midfield charge, whilst in the visiting ranks prop Rodney Ah You proved a handful to bring down, supported also by former Pirates lock Darren Barry.

The home side lost flanker Fa’atiga Lemalu to the Biffa-sponsored sin bin, and Flood would miss two penalty attempts at goal.

The Pirates never lacked for effort or endeavour, however they were simply pressured into giving too many penalties away. Also, shortly after Lemalu’s return to action, it was Rojas Alvarez who became the third player in the match to be shown yellow.

Back on radar, Flood’s next penalty attempt opened up a telling nine points gap.

There was credit due the Pirates for their defensive effort in the second half, but attack-wise they were unable to create space for their speed men. Wing Alex O’Meara and full-back AJ Cant looked to make an impact and at the end a penalty offer to the left of the Penzance posts at least gave hope of acquiring a losing bonus point. To go for the sticks was the right choice but the effort by Rojas Alvarez narrowly missed.

Newcastle Falcons have a gifted squad of players and their backroom staff also form an experienced group under Director of Rugby Dean Richards. For a final appraisal, the win was hard earned and there appeared not much between the teams, when in all honesty the gap in their favour should be wider.

Cornish Pirates: 15 AJ Cant, 14 Alex O’Meara, 13 Callum Patterson, 12 Javier Rojas Alvarez, 11 Maliq Holden (Robin Wedlake 64), 10 Will Cargill, 9 Alex Schwarz (Rhodri Davies 55); 1 Marlen Walker (Jay Tyack 44), 2 Tom Channon (Dan Frost 47), 3 Craig Mitchell (Jack Andrew 47), 4 Danny Cutmore (Matt Bolwell 55), 5 Brett Beukeboom (c), 6 Fa’atiga Lemalu, 7 John Stevens, 8 Tom Duncan.

Replacements (not used): Jake Clemson, Rory Parata.

Yellow cards: Lemalu, Rojas Alvarez

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Arscott,14 Ben Stevenson, 13 George Wacokecoke, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood (c), 9 Sam Stuart (Michael Young 54); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Trevor Davison 63), 2 Jamie Blamire (Kyle Cooper 63), 3 Rodney Ah You (Mark Tampin 58), 4 Darren Barry (Sebastian de Chaves 57), 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Will Welch, 7 John Hardie (Gary Graham 22), 8 Nemani Nagusa.

Replacements (not used): Joel Hodgson, Alex Tait.

Yellow card: Matavesi