Cornish Pirates 25 Rotherham Titans 17
at Mennaye Field
The Cornish Pirates grabbed their first win at the third attempt in the RFU Championship play-offs but were pushed all the way yesterday by a stubborn Rotherham Titans team.
The Yorkshire side travelled to Cornwall boosted by a win at Leeds in their previous outing and took the game to the Pirates from the off, scoring the opening try after just two minutes as centre Dave McCall scythed through a challenge from Sam Hill. But the Pirates dug in for the battle ahead, finally quelling the Titans challenge with their third try just before the hour on their way to a 25-17 success.
High performance manager Chris Stirling declared himself satisfied that his team have the edge going into Saturday's return at Clifton Lane.
Stirling said: "I'm very pleased. It was hard work and in certain areas of the game we made it hard for ourselves, but Rotherham are a good team and they proved that last week with their performance away at Leeds. I though they played pretty well here, too."
Stirling dismissed the idea estion that conceding early points after McCall broke a Hill tackle to score a second-minute try made his team even more nervous. He said: "It was just one missed tackle. Nothing more from a guy who normally doesn't miss that many. We weren't overly worried and came back ourselves to score fairly quickly.
"It was a solid effort, the breakdown was competitive and with a great result for us at Headingley today, where Leeds and Bedford drew, we will go up to Rotherham next week knowing exactly what we have got to do."
After the Titans' opening try, the Pirates were quickly level as Gavin Cattle retrieved the ball at the base of a scrum and found wing Grant Pointer lurking in a narrow side channel to score.
Rob Cook missed the conversion but his 13th-minute penalty, after Titans prop Shane Cahill had pulled down a scrum, edged the Pirates ahead briefly. But an infringement by Dave Ward at a breakdown two minutes later allowed Gary Law to level.
Law's second penalty at the end of the first quarter ratcheted up the tension a notch or two as Rotherham went 11-8 up and, had wing Shane Monahan not knocked on instead of slipping a simple pass to Tom Foden, things could have been worse for the Pirates.
Then right on half-time the Pirates struck decisively as first Matt Evans and then Cook stretched the Titans' defence before setting up a ruck just short of the line. Cattle spotted a gap in the cover five metres out and darted through. Cook landed a touchline conversion to make it 15-11.
The Pirates lost Evans at half-time with a dead leg, and Rotherham again claimed the first points of the half with Law's third penalty.
Cook then restored the four-point lead with a penalty in front of the posts.
A penalty conceded as the Pirates stole a Rotherham scrummage 40 metres out gave Law the perfect chance to cut the lead again to a single point, but the see-saw scoring quickly continued as the Pirates landed the decisive blow.
Replacement wing Tom Kessell led a break-out from inside his own half but, realising that he could not outpace the Titans' cover, set up a platform for quick ball infield.
Hill could have scored but instead shipped a wide pass to Pointer on the wing, and he raced in from short distance. Cook's superb conversion from an acute angle gave the home side a two-score lead.
In a scrappy finale, Rotherham's former Plymouth Albion flanker Robin Copeland set alarm bells ringing as he raced 50 metres before offloading a sloppy pass to Pirates' hands short of the line.
In the dying seconds, Cook was denied a bonus point-clinching fourth try as he was bundled into touch by Cliffie Hodgson in stretching to touch down in the corner.
Cornish Pirates: Cook; Pointer, Suniula, Hill, Evans (Kessell h/t); Thomas, Cattle (capt); Rimmer (Storer 69), Ward, Paver; Smith (Myerscough 61), Nimmo; Morgan (Marriott 65), Burgess (Elloway 72), Maidment. Replacements (not used): Penberthy, Cooper.
Scorers: Tries – Pointer (2), Cattle; Conversions – Cook (2); Penalties – Cook (2).
Rotherham Titans: Foden; Hamilton, McCall, Nonu (Hodgson 63), Monahan; Law, Williams; Cahill (Harris 67), Baines (Stagg h/t), Hooper (O'Donnell 61); Maddison (Patrick 51), Griffiths; Kirwan (Taulava 51), Dougall (capt), Copeland. Replacement (not used) – Rhodes.
Scorers: Try – McColl; Penalties – Law (4).
Referee: D Gamage (RFU).