THE Cornish Pirates return to Championship action tomorrow night and face a tough challenge as they travel to Goldington Road to take on second-place Bedford Blues (7.45).
The Blues have been in good form so far this season averaging 34 points per game in the league but lost two of their three Championship fixtures before last weekend's international break.
Their defeat at home to Newcastle Falcons in their last game at Goldington Road was to a degree expected although they denied the Falcons a winning bonus point, but the 23-13 reverse at Bristol was a surprise. Last time out they needed an injury time converted try to beat Doncaster 22-21.
The Pirates will travel to Bedford today and intend to extend their unbeaten run to six games after thrashing Rotherham two weeks ago.
Currently sixth in the league table and nine points behind the Blues they will be keen to erase the memories of two defeats at Goldington Road last season.
Controversy surrounded their one point loss in April's play-off encounter when Bedford won with a last minute converted try, hotly disputed by the Pirates.
However, head coach Ian Davies was keen to point out that it will not be about avenging that defeat on Friday.
"This is a completely different game with different personnel. It is not a revenge mission," he said.
"It will be a tough battle because Bedford are Bedford. We know how they play and we know what they do but they are very, very good at it."
Davies hopes to have all his dual-registered players from Exeter Chiefs and Bath available for selection.
He added: "They have all performed well in the LV= Cup so that might pose a few selection issues at the other end. But at least everyone is fighting fit for us."
Pirates' top try scorer Matt Evans remains on international duty with Canada, who face the Maoris at Oxford tomorrow night. He is joined in the squad by Bedford Blues full-back James Pritchard.
Centre Tom Bedford returns to the squad after missing the last two games while flanker Adam Clayton had to put on hold his return to action last weekend after a long-term knee problem. He had been due to play for Redruth on-loan but suffered a hamstring injury in training.
Cornish Pirates (from): Riley, Fatialofa, Hallett, Bedford, Andrew, Elloway, Prescott, Lyons, Johnson, Burgess, B Maidment, Storer, Semmens, Barry, Kessell, Penberthy, Cheesman, Paver, Joyce, McGlone, Mercer, Davies, Cattle, Pointer, M Maidment, Buckle, Hill, Nowell, Ewers, Yeandle.
RFU Championship XV 21, New Zealand Maoris 52
AN RFU Championship side containing three Cornish Pirates battled well against the touring NZ Maoris on Saturday at Castle Park before being out-gunned in the final quarter.
In front of a crowd of just under 5,000 at the home of Doncaster Knights, the side led by Pirates' skipper Gavin Cattle and including Alan Paver and Phil Burgess, fronted up well against a Maoris team bristling with Super 15 experience.
Two penalties from Tristan Roberts and an unconverted try by Knights' full-back Dante Mama gave the Championship side a deserved early lead, before the tourists seized the initiative before the break with three converted tries.
Roberts added a third penalty early in the second half to leave the game well poised at 21-14 to the tourists but that was the closest the home side came to causing an upset.
The Maoris cut loose in the final 25 minutes, running in five more tries before Nottingham centre Rhys Crane grabbed a deserved consolation try in the final minute for the Championship XV.
Cornish Pirates head coach Ian Davies was part of the three-man coaching team for the Championship squad and described the whole event as "a really good experience".
He said: "It was a thoroughly enjoyable four days and I'm very pleased to have been given the opportunity to be involved in this way.
"It was good to work with players, some of whom we have tried to sign in the past, and confirm that they are of the right quality. And it was also good to get the thoughts of Mike (Rayer) and Diccon (Edwards) on rugby in general."
Davies paid tribute to the Pirates contingent in the squad, and especially Cattle who he described as "a superb captain". He added: "He did everything right on the field and stepped up to doing all the extra bits off the field too for such a big game."
And he felt that the team did well to compete effectively after such a short period of time together.
"We did well for 45-50 minutes and the set piece was good which pleased me as forwards coach," he said. "But we had only had four 45 minute sessions together to prepare for the game and the Maoris were very good in the loose. It was the little bits that showed up for us in the end."
"They (Maoris) have only lost twice in their last 23 games and are a decent outfit who would probably give the likes of Wales a good cuffing on current form."
Championship XV: Mama (Atkinson 54), Crane, Streather, Hayter, Bassett, Roberts (Sharp 54), Cattle (capt) (Baldwin 54); Irish (Davies 59), Vickers (Stagg 72), Paver (Tomaszczyk 50), Hannay (Green 50), Rouse, Rowan, Burgess (Burrows 59), Pienaar.
Scorers: Tries – Mama 22, Crane 80; Con – Sharp 80; Pens – Roberts 7, 13, 43.
Maoris: Renata, Baker, Willison, Bateman (Ngatai 41), O`Donnell, Ripia, Gibson-Park (Wilson 59); Ellison (May 48), Elliott (MacDonald 55), Afeaki (Murray 59), Hoeata (Eaton 55), Graham, Crosswell (Christie 48), Latimer (capt), Dixon. Rep (not used) Taylor.
Scorers: Tries – O'Donnell 15, Baker 29, Elliott 35, Renata 55, Dixon 58, Wilson 65, Graham 74, Willison 77; Cons – Ripia 15, 29, 35, 65, 74, Renata 55.
Referee: D Rose (RFU).