There was a gut-wrenching finish for Hartpury at the Gillman’s Ground, as a much-needed and well-deserved result was snatched away with the final play, when Pirates’ Robin Wedlake crossed for the winning try.
It was less than justice for the home team after a performance, particularly in the second half, in which they re-discovered the fire and tenacity that they will need in order to survive in the Championship, once league fixtures resume after Christmas.
Two bonus points – and four tries – was some consolation for the Red & Blacks, who had recovered from a 17-26 half-time deficit, to level the scores at 29-29 going into the final minutes.
On a gloomy but, mercifully, dry afternoon, Pirates – who will harbour genuine ambitions in the Championship Cup competition – made a number of changes from last weekend’s fixture in Penzance.
Hartpury were able to welcome back experience in the form of Luke Eves and Mike Wilcox in the backs, with hooker Will Tanner also returning on the bench. Rupert Harden was back in, after missing last week’s trip, while club skipper Simon Linsell also started.
There were some good individual performances from Hartpury. Number 8, Tom Pashley, backed up his big shift last week with another strong performance here while Luke Stratford carried well, also for the second week running.
Charlie Chapman and Luke Scully – the latter on loan from Worcester Warriors – formed a lively half-back combination, while outside them Eves and Conner Edwards were forthright in midfield.
With Pirates having never lost to Hartpury in six outings, it looked as though normal service would be resumed when, after just three minutes, Pirates’ number eight, James McRae, was able to shrug off an ineffective tackle in the midfield and canter home for the games’ opening try.
But there was already a sense that Hartpury were in no mood to roll over and they were quickly back on terms.
The drive was launched after an attacking line-out deep in the visitors 22 and, when the ball was moved in-field, Eves was on hand to batter his way between two would-be tacklers, to show Hartpury what they had been missing during his absence.
Hartpury were enjoying the better of things at this stage and Pirates were frequently on the receiving end of referee Matt Turvey’s whistle. From one such instance, Scully had a relatively simple effort to nudge his side in front.
Pirates were briefly back ahead after 25 minutes, when Argentinian centre Javier Rojas Alvarez picked up a well-taken try, but it was short-lived.
In a virtual replay of the Eves’ try, combative hooker Stratford, who had gone close minutes earlier, smashed his way across the line with, skipper Linsell adding his weight to the effort (pictured).
Leading 17-14, Hartpury were approaching the break in good shape. However, it was somewhat typical of the season so far that four minutes of mayhem would undermine that position.
First, the otherwise excellent Scully over-cooked his kick to touch after Hartpury’s dominant front row had won another scrum penalty, the ball flying dead in the in-goal area. From the resulting scrum, Pirates attacked well for Dan Koster to pick up the first of two quick-fire tries.
He repeated the act on the stroke of half-time but, again, Hartpury were masters of their own destruction, coughing up the ball in midfield in a frantic attempt to force something before the break.
The second half belonged to the home team, as they rolled up their sleeves in search of a morale-boosting win. They created a good position early in the half, again courtesy of some Pirates indiscipline, but, frustratingly, the line-out was over-thrown.
They were back again, minutes later, and this time they came away with the points. A series of powerful forward drives had the Pirates stretched, before the ball was moved smartly to the right wing where Elias Caven – on his first appearance of the season – squeezed in at the corner.
Sadly, he appeared to injure a shoulder in the process, but Scully’s outstanding touchline conversion had Hartpury within two points.
A rare period of Pirates pressure allowed Rojas Alvarez to land a penalty kick, meaning that Hartpury needed a converted try for the win.
Tempers started to frey on either side as the home team turned up the heat on a resolute and well-organised Cornish defence and both sides saw yellow cards during the second period – Matavesi of Pirates and Harden earning 10 minutes apiece.
Hartpury finally got the break they were looking for with five minutes remaining and it cam e from a familiar source. A lineout drive eventually appeared to feature most of the team and it was returning hooker, Will Tanner who emerged with the ball.
Scully’s difficult conversion this time drifted wide, leaving the scores level. Credit goes to the Pirates for their final score, which came after they had maintained composure through series of attacks as the clock ticked towards the 80-minute mark. The Rojas Alvarez conversion was the final act of a pulsating game.
Hartpury now have two further Cup fixtures, before Championship actions returns, versus leaders London Irish, on Friday, 28th December. They will be hoping that current absentees such as Steve Leonard, Dan Murphy and Rob Langley, will be ready for action by that date.
Hartpury RFC: Wilcox, Caven (Try, 51), Edwards, Eves (Try 10), Cochrane, Scully (Cons 11, 31, 52. Pen 15), Chapman; Merrey, Stratford (Try 30), Harden, Quinn, Linsell, Stephenson, Gilbert, Pashley. Bench: Tanner (Try 75), Flook, Thompson, Everard, Tomasi, Leeming, Forrester.
Cornish Pirates: Moyle, O’Meara, Koster (Tries 37, 40), Rojas Alvarez (Try 25, Cons 4, 25, 38, 40, 80. Pen 64), Wedlake (Try 80), Cargill, Schwarz; Andrew, Matavesi, Gendall, Cheishvilli, Cutmore, Lee, Stevens, McRae (Try 4). Bench: Gibbings, Concu, Freeman, Bolwell, Ashby, Skinner, Patterson
Referee: Matt Turvey