CORNISH PIRATES director of rugby Ian Davies was full of praise for his young squad after pushing Championship leaders Bristol all the way in an 11-try thriller at the Memorial Stadium on Sunday.
Three times Bristol had opened up what seemed to be match-winning advantages before being pulled back by the Pirates, who scored four tries of their own through Craig Holland (two), Aaron Carpenter and Jack Andrew.
With six minutes to go a Kieran Hallett penalty reduced the home lead to just five at 38-33 before an Adrian Jarvis penalty and even later Auguy Slowik try finished off the Cornish resistance and gave the hosts a 46-33 win.
Davies said: “It was a cracking game of rugby. I was a bit worried just before half-time when we looked a bit like a rabbit in the headlights but we pulled ourselves together and got a good score early in the second half.
“We really took it to Bristol and I think we worried them and we deserved two losing bonus points – we got four tries but deserved to be within seven of them at the end, and not many people would have given us that chance before we came here.
“We knew that Bristol score a lot of points but we also knew that their defence is quite porous and they will have to tighten that up before they get to the play-offs. You can’t concede four tries at home and expect to go on and win the title.
“We knew that if we kept the ball and kept challenging them we would score and we scored a couple of cracking tries in the end which gave us the point we fully deserved.”
Cornish Pirates flanker Alex Cheesman produced arguably his best display to date for the club with an all-action tireless performance in attack and defence and Davies was quick to praise him.
“Alex was tremendous today,” he said. “We went with two open-sides out of necessity as Chris Morgan was still feeling the pains from last week against Jersey, but it worked for us and they were certainly all around the park.
“I said to Alex that this game needs to go into his highlights reel because he was phenomenal chasing kick-offs and his support play.
“A big strength of his game is the tackle jackal but we are trying to add an attacking element because he will need to get that to be a Premiership player.
“He is certainly a Premiership player in the making.”
The Pirates will now prepare to face another promotion contender in London Welsh, who visit the Mennaye Field next Sunday, and Davies believes his team will prepare for that test in confident mood.
He said: “There are some huge positives to take after everybody had written us off here. Nobody expected us to beat Bristol in the first two games let alone the third game. We have taken nine points off a team with a multi-million-pound budget who are signing players like they are going out of fashion.
“Not many clubs are going to do that against Bristol.”