Cornish Pirates 23   Richmond 26

On their first ever visit to the Mennaye field, Richmond defied all the pundits to claim five points from a thrilling, stomach churning game, winning 23-26 and twice coming back from eleven point deficits. The hosts dominated possession, especially in the first half, but Richmond defended mightily and in the last quarter, the power of the pack and the deadly accuracy of Rob Kirby’s kicking proved decisive.

Alex Cheesman, playing his 100th game for the Cornish, led out the Pirates.  His side started the brightest and the visitors, playing in unfamiliar white shirts, were quickly forced back into defence.  An early attack down the right made good ground and, when the Pirates broke into the 22, Richmond conceded a penalty in front of the posts. Fly half Laurence May made no mistake.

The Cornish remained camped in the opposition half but frailties at the line out and some staunch defence checked the scoring. Richmond in turn were heartened by a clear superiority at the set scrum but, in the frequent kicking contests, the hosts’ local knowledge of a tricky wind kept pushing them forward. After one clear chance was lost with a knock on, the Cornish finally extended their lead after twenty-two minutes. Richmond appeared to have stolen a line out ball but referee Matthew O’Grady awarded a free kick against them for numbers. The Pirates took their chance well, quick hands setting Canada winger Matt Evans clear in the corner.

A penalty in front of the posts for coming round the side of a maul extended the home lead to 11-0 and, after half an hour, Richmond’s challenge looked daunting.  However, Richmond now started to retain more ball and mounted their first real attack into the Cornish half. A knock on stalled progress but a mighty shove at the scrum earned a clear penalty, which Kirby kicked towards the corner. Fifteen metres out, Richmond claimed possession through Matt Corker and set up an efficient maul moving forward. A number of Cornish backs supplemented the pack but they could do nothing to stop the Richmond advance and Jack Allcock got the touchdown. Kirby very nearly converted with a skilful low kick into the wind but the ball just drifted wide. Better fortune was to follow.

Heartened by their 40th minute try, Richmond started the second half with renewed belief but they suffered an early setback. A Cornish attack was finally stopped near the 22 when Cameron Mitchell ripped the ball in the tackle. Richmond tried to take quick advantage with a counter down the short side but a pass out of the back of the hand went astray and the Pirates were on to it in a flash. Hacking through, centre Tom Hendrickson was a clear first to the touch down, reclaiming his side’s two score lead at 16-5.

Undaunted, Richmond returned to the attack, setting up position with a penalty. A series of line outs ensued, Will Warden managing one wonderful pick up as the forwards battered into the 22. Remaining admirably patient, the visitors made the pressure tell when the excellent Chris Davies finally drove over, Kirby’s conversion taking the score to 16-12 after fifty-eight minutes.

Four minutes later, Richmond, now dominant, took the lead with their best try. A Pirates up and under swirled backwards in the gusting wind, putting players offside. Kirby kicked the penalty to twenty-five metres and, after Adam Peters again secured possession, his pack drove mightily forward. When the maul was stopped, some lovely handling on the wide left, gave Henry Cheeseman space to score in the corner. Once again, Kirby kicked the vital conversion.

The lead lasted five minutes before another high box kick, this time by Richmond, led to another offside penalty. The Pirates exacted full value, rumbling forward from the line out and hooker Tom Channon bullocking over. Surely this was the conclusive score but Richmond now have real self belief at this level and twelve minutes remained.

The Pirates threatened but the defence held and, with five minutes to go, fortunes again swung. Another Pirates’ box kick went adrift, costing a penalty, and Kirby kicked well to put his side within fifteen metres. Once again the forwards battered forward, slowly getting closer to the try line. Finally, with precision timing, the ball was fed wide and Kirby found Jordan Simpson-Hefft clear outside him to score a match-winning debut try in the right corner. Kirby added the best conversion of the lot and the pack played out the remaining time with accomplished authority. It was a wonderful win, magnanimously accepted by the loyal Cornish support.

Victory450    Steve Hill, Richmond Director of Rugby, commented; ‘Afternoon’s like today are why these players work so hard outside of their full time day jobs to continue to improve. The pack was tremendous and the defence from our threequarters was outstanding. Not many teams ever come to the Mennaye and return with five points but today we achieved that. Rob Kirby’s kicking, in incredibly difficult conditions, was simply superb. Whilst obviously disappointed, can I congratulate the Pirates’ coaches and supporters on their magnanimous praise after the match. It was an honour to play against another real rugby club. The boys will be hurting tomorrow morning after a six hour bus ride and then having to be at their desks before 8am, but it will most definitely feel worth it.’  

 Tries: Allcock, Davies, Cheeseman, Simpson-Heft
Conversions:   Kirby (3)
Team: R.Kirby, J.Simpson-Hefft, R.McLean-Dents, C.Mitchell, H.Cheeseman (J.Woodward), R.Damant, S.Stuart,  J.Cunnew, R.Grimstone (J.Phipps), R.Harden(J.Tarrant), W.Warden, M.Corker(H.Edwards), A.Peters, C.Davies, J. Allcock