Pirates lose that Friday feeling as Leeds ensure party goes flat
Cornish Pirates 20 Leeds Carnegie 27
Floodlit Friday night Championship action came to the Mennaye Field for the first time, but there was no happy ending for the Cornish Pirates.
Despite trailing 10-0 in the early stages of the game, the Yorkshiremen showed why they are one of the favourites to reach the end-of-season Championship play-offs with an impressive display by hitting back to secure their first in west Cornwall since 2008.
A reasonable-sized crowd turned out in near perfect conditions, and watching Pirates’ acting chief executive Josh Lewsey will no doubt have been pretty pleased with the first try at the club’s experiment of switching away from the their more traditional Sunday afternoon kick-off time.
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Pirates made three changes to the side that managed a superb win over title favourites Bristol on the opening day of the season last weekend.
Gary Johnson came into the second row to partner James Sandford, Alex Cheesman replaced Joel Conlon in the back row, and Kieran Goss made his Championship debut on the wing in place of injured Canadian international Matt Evans.
Leeds head coach James Lowes made a quartet of changes after their disappointing loss at Nottingham, and also included two former Pirates, with David Doherty at full-back and Mike Myerscough at lock, with ex-Cornish All Blacks second row Nathan Hannay on the replacements’ bench.
Before the match kicked off, an immaculately observed minute’s silence was held in memory of Sid Thomas, a Pirates director, and Penzance and Newlyn RFC chairman since 2008, who sadly passed away on Thursday.
A Leeds offside gave Pirates fly-half Kieran Hallett an early shot at goal, and he slotted the penalty from 35 metres.
Pirates’ early dominance was then rewarded with the game’s opening try, when flanker Alex Cheesman took the ball on from a ruck, and skipper and scrum-half Gavin Cattle squeezed over in the scoreboard corner, with Hallett banging over a superb touchline conversion for a 10-0 lead after only eight minutes.
It appeared to sting Leeds into action. No.8 Ryan Burrows’ surging run down the middle took him within five metres of the home line, and when the visitors were kept out in the corner, the ball came back to fly-half Glyn Hughes, whose crossfield kick picked out former Newcastle Falcons Academy centre Fred Burdon wide on the left, and he dotted down to provide an instant riposte.
Hughes missed the conversion, but Leeds were right back in the match.
They showed their intentions soon after, when they were awarded a very kickable penalty, but opted to go for the corner, only for their line-out drive to be held up.
Another fantastic break, this time down the right flank by the impressive Burdon, got the visitors into another great position, but the Pirates got back in sufficient numbers just in time to snuff out the attack.
Moments later, Pirates winger James Tincknell scared his former club with a sizzling burst up the centre, but when the ball was switched to the left, the move broke down.
Six minutes before the break, Leeds winger Jonah Holmes, on loan from Aviva Premiership side London Wasps, stunned the home crowd with a fine individual try, brilliantly dancing his way through three or four missed tackles to reach the whitewash, and with Hughes slotting the conversion, Leeds were in front for the first time in the match.
Leeds, though, were penalised for not rolling away from the tackle soon after, and Hallett punished them from 40 metres to edge Pirates 13-12 ahead.
The ding-dong nature of the contest continued, with this time Leeds awarded a penalty for a scrum offence, and Hughes duly obliged to give the Yorkshiremen a 15-13 interval advantage.
The Pirates replaced Cattle - who needed prolonged treatment for a hefty bang to his head in the first half - with Tom Kessell at half-time.
Hughes missed a golden penalty chance to extend his side’s advantage early in the second period.
Pirates suffered a blow in the 49th minute when lock Gary Johnson was sin-binned after an incident at a ruck spotted by a touch judge.
Leeds swiftly capitalised on their one-man advantage, with scrum-half Craig Hampson finishing off a period of pressure on the Pirates line to cross beneath the posts, and Hughes added the simple conversion to give the visitors some welcome breathing space at 22-13.
Pirates head coach Ian Davies ran his bench around the hour mark, bringing on forwards Jack Andrew, Aaron Carpenter (for the injured Rob Elloway), Max Maidment, Will Graulich and Jake Parker - for his Championship debut - to try and bring about a change in fortune.
Another missed penalty from Hughes helped the home side’s cause, but the Pirates were playing their second game in six days and could not find that extra fizz needed to break their visitors down.
In fact, they spent most of the second half in their own half, trying to prevent Leeds adding to their lead, and Doherty secured his side’s bonus-point try.
However, replacement Alex Lozowski missed the dififcult conversion, and a late try by full-back Craig Holland, converted by Angus Sinclair, earned Pirates a well-deserved losing bonus point and set up a thrilling climax.
Cornish Pirates: C Holland, J Tincknell, T Riley, R James, K Goss, K Hallett (A Sinclair 70), G Cattle (capt) (T Kessell ht), A Paver (J Andrew 61), R Elloway (A Carpenter 53), B Prescott (M Maidment 61, A Paver 78), J Sandford (W Graulich 61), G Johnson, C Morgan, A Cheesman (J Parker 58), L McGlone.
Leeds Carnegie: D Doherty, J Holmes, J Griffin (P Lucock 64), F Burdon, O Goss, G Hughes (A Lozowski 72), C Hampson, B Harris (S Lockwood 72), P Nilsen, D Tussac, M Myerscough, C Green, J Rowan (capt), J Doyle, R Burrows (S jones 74). Replacements not used: J Graham, J Armstrong, N Hannay.
Referee: Ross Campbell (RFU).
Pirates: Tries - Cattle, Holland; Conversions - Hallett, Sinclair; Penalties - Hallett (2).
Leeds: Tries - Burdon, Holmes, Hampson, Doherty; Conversions - Hughes (2); Penalty - Hughes.
Yellow cards: Pirates: Johnson 49.