Thank you to Emma Smith for this report and to Brian Tempest for the photo.
HARTPURY never fully hit their stride in a disappointing display at the Mennaye Field, plagued by errors and a poor set piece performance as they were outmuscled by the Pirates in this Championship round eight clash.
Although the scoreline was an improvement on their British and Irish Cup battle with the same opposition a few weeks ago, when they went down 35-19 at home, Hartpury will be disappointed that they failed to really trouble the Cornishmen’s defence for much of the game; with their trademark pace-packed line breaks distinctly lacking and a naivete at the breakdown nullifying their threat.
Pirates were quickest into their stride and went ahead after only three minutes with a penalty struck by fly-half Will Cargill.
After a short stoppage for treatment to first-time skipper, number eight Tom Lawday, Hartpury started to get a foothold. Some lively runs from full-back Mike Wilcox and centres George Boulton and Luke Eves gave them a solid attacking platform, but with the pass from fly-half Jacob Perry to on-charging prop Dan Murphy judged forward, the offensive ran aground.
Hartpury exerted good pressure at the breakdown to win an important turnover soon after, wrapping up prop Bill Keast after Lawday had burst off the back of a scrum, but they coughed up possession themselves as Boulton took the ball into the ruck to end the counter-attack.
It proved costly as Pirates used their forwards to punch holes, profiting from quick ball provided by their half-backs. Lock Josh Caulfield made some big carries as the hosts patiently moved the ball through the phases but it was hooker Tom Cowan-Dickie who dived over around the side of a ruck; Hartpury’s close-quarters defence leaving something to be desired. Cargill converted for a 10-0 advantage on 13 minutes.
The Cornishmen continued to pile on the pressure but solid interventions from number eight Darrel Dyer and winger Ed Sheldon slowed the juggernaut before winger Ed Coulson, Boulton and Wilcox combined in a sprightly attack.
A scrum penalty against the Pirates gave Hartpury a good attacking position but although replacement Joe Dancer took it cleanly, the referee judged the ball carrier had gone to ground as the visitors looked to get the drive going.
Hartpury were trying to inject some width, with Boulton running hard and Coulson attempting to flummox the opposition with some nifty footwork, but they were thwarted by slow ball, telegraphed passing and a lack of support for the ball carrier.
Having failed to make significant inroads when on the front foot, the visitors should also have done better when the electric Alex O’Meara lost the ball in the tackle for Pirates, but Wilcox arguably offloaded too early to Sheldon and the cover was up quickly.
Heading into the second half without any points on the board, Hartpury had to dig deep as Pirates surged into their 22 in the opening minutes but, having survived the storm, the visitors then dominated possession for a spell.
A lack of accuracy at the set piece cost them a number of opportunities, however, before Perry finally cut the gap to 10-3 with a penalty 10 minutes into the half after flanker Mat Gilbert had taken matters into his own hands with a pick and go through the middle.
Pirates’ response was swift as the impressive Caulfield and flanker Alex Cheesman wreaked havoc in midfield, while O’Meara, centre Pete Laverick and winger Kyle Moyle were increasingly finding gaps; with play orchestrated expertly by Day at scrum-half.
With the pressure mounting, Hartpury skipper Rhys Oakley was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on and Cargill popped over the penalty on 54 minutes for 13-3.
Although the hosts were penalised at the re-start, replacement James Williams could not slot the penalty. Hartpury looked rejuvenated by a raft of replacements though; Eves making hard yards and, after Mike Pope took cleanly at a line-out, a short, strong drive set the platform for a decent attack; Williams, Wilcox, Iain Grieve and Walker combining to threaten the Pirates’ line.
A knock-on prevented a try but Williams popped over the penalty for 13-6 on 59 minutes.
Looking to wrest back the impetus, Pirates shunned a kickable penalty and it paid dividends as Hartpury – still a man down – were forced to halt the drive illegally.
Having been under the cosh at the set piece all afternoon, it was no surprise when Pirates got an excellent shove on at the scrum and were awarded a penalty try.
They looked to have the game sewn up at 20-6 but Hartpury had other ideas, finally finding some width before replacement Charlie Chapman (pictured, below) picked up well from Coulson’s kick ahead and showed good pace to score in the corner.
With the extras added by Williams, Hartpury were back within a converted try with 10 minutes to play, but, while their tails were up, their execution was still sadly lacking, making a mess of their own scrum in a good position and turned over at the next as they were shoved backwards at a rate of knots.
Pirates took advantage, Cheeseman outstanding as they breached the Hartpury 22 once more, with Moyle and O’Meara eventually combining for the former to cruise in and set the seal on a 25-13 home league win.
CORNISH PIRATES: May, O’Meara, Laverick, Coronel, Moyle (try 77), Cargill (pens 3, 54; cons 10, 64), Day; Keast, Cowan-Dickie (try 10), Andrew, Caulfield, Freeman, Cooper, Cheesman, Lawday (c). Reps: Judge, Walker, Paver, Duncan, Pope, May, Strong.
HARTPURY RFC: Wilcox, Coulson, Boulton, Eves, Sheldon, Perry (pen 49), Cochrane; Murphy, Tanner, Harden, Quinn, Oakley (c), Langley, Gilbert, Dyer. Reps: Walker, Flook, Heard, Dancer, Grieve, Chapman (try 70), Williams (pen 60, con 70).
REFEREE: Matthew O’Grady.