Cornish Pirates 21, London Welsh 37
The Cornish Pirates face a massive battle to win the RFU Championship trophy after going down at the Mennaye Field to four tries from a clinical London Welsh outfit, writes Dick Straughan.
The Exiles will start the second leg at the Kassam Stadium next Wednesday 16 points ahead on aggregate and the Pirates will need to massively step up their game to turn around the tie after a poor first half which cost them the match.
It all began so well for the Pirates with a Grant Pointer try after just four minutes converted from in front of the posts by Rob Cook. But two Alex Davies penalties and a yellow card for home fly-half Ceiron Thomas, following a deliberate knock-on, shifted the momentum of the game.
Tries from wings Joe Ajuwa and Nick Scott followed by a Gordon Ross drop goal turned the game on its head at 23-7 and it took a late rally in the half followed by a penalty try from the Pirates, after the Welsh had consistently infringed at a series of 5-metre scrums, to add some respectability to the scoreline.
In the second half the Pirates fixed their creaking lineout but were constantly under pressure at the breakdown and struggled to play with their normal tempo and accuracy.
Cook missed with an early penalty as the game became a midfield scrap but the Welsh were the first to throw off the shackles and ambushed the Pirates with two tries in two minutes on the hour mark.
Centre Hudson Tonga'uiha ran in from 40 metres after an overthrown lineout by Dave Ward and from the restart James Lewis rounded off a move started by Lee Beach.
Tonga'uiha then received a yellow card for tackling Matt Evans in mid-air and with ten minutes remaining flanker Phil Burgess scored a third Pirates try after a period of sustained attacking pressure. Cook converted.
In the closing stages Ajuwa for the Welsh and Burgess both went close to adding further tries but the Welsh ultimately closed the game out to secure a deserved and potentially trophy winning victory.
Cornish Pirates: Cook, Pointer, Hill, Suniula (Evans 64), D.Doherty, Thomas (sin-bin 13-23, Kessell 64), Cattle (capt); Rimmer (Storer 60), Ward, Paver (Brits 66), McGlone (Smith 62), Nimmo (Myerscough 68), Ewers (Elloway 68), Burgess, Marriott.
Scorers. Try – Pointer; Penalty – Burgess; Cons – Cook (3).
Yellow card: Thomas.
London Welsh: Davies, Scott, J.Lewis (Russell 76), Tonga'uiha (sin-bin 67-77), Ajuwa, Ross, R.Lewis; Lahiff (Moss 78), George (Ma`asi 60), Tideswell (Bateman 75), Mills (capt), Corker (Purdy 75), Beach (Jewell 72), Denbee, Jackson. Replacement (not used): Moates.
Scorers. Tries – Ajuwa, Scott, Tonga'uiha, Lewis; Cons – Davies (4); Pens – Davies (2); Drop goal: Davies.
Yellow card: Tonga'uiha.
Referee: G Garner (RFU).