Cornish Pirates 30, Cross Keys 3
THE Cornish Pirates eased in to the last eight of the British & Irish Cup with a comfortable win over Welsh Premiership side Cross Keys at the Mennaye Field on Sunday.
The result sets the Pirates up for a home tie in the quarter-final of the competition against Nottingham on the weekend of January 20 as they look to regain the trophy they won two seasons ago.
After a difficult week at the club, with news of the Stadium for Cornwall delay and the likely departure at the end of the season of high performance manager Chris Stirling on a sabbatical, the win was just the tonic the players and supporters needed. The Pirates boss was happy with what he saw.
Stirling said: "It's fantastic. We won the trophy two years ago and probably should have made the final last year but for a crazy period at Newport, so I'm really happy for the boys.
"We were totally dominant without being clinical, and we discussed that at half-time. Unfortunately the way the game unfolded with all the stops and starts and negative play by the opposition meant that we just couldn't get into the flow of things. We've got to be better than that, we know that, but we totally dominated in all areas."
The Cornish side came out of the blocks quickly on a heavy Mennaye pitch and could have had the game sewn up inside the first ten minutes.
Wing Matt Evans was denied an opening minute try only by a superb last-ditch tackle from Leon Andrews and full-back Ceiron Thomas missed a couple of early penalties.
But with the Welsh side struggling in all areas and upsetting the referee at will they soon crumbled once lock Danny Hodge had been sin-binned.
A penalty try, a second touchdown from Matt Evans and two penalties from Thomas to go with his brace of conversions left the Pirates ahead 20-0 after 29 minutes and the game was won.
The Welsh side's response was to try and slow the game down, stifle the Pirates momentum and kill the ball at every opportunity, and it took a strong display from referee Simon Harding to prevent the contest descending into anarchy.
In a stop-start second half Cross Keys did finally get on the scoreboard with a Sam Mills penalty on 56 minutes. But after Andrews had missed with a place kick from half-way they offered no more of a threat to the Pirates' line.
Thomas' third penalty made the game absolutely safe and Rob Nash then became the second Welsh player to earn a yellow card as frustrations boiled over late in the match.
His petulance as he left the field only served to distract his team-mates and moments later Matt Evans again carved through a static defence to score under the posts. Thomas converted.
Stirling added: "We should have got another score late on to get the bonus point win, but it didn't quite happen. But it's been a difficult week and the guys have worked really hard.
"I was really proud of the way they came out of the blocks and we looked dangerous throughout the whole match."
And he paid tribute to the display of the match officials, adding: "I think Simon (Harding) did a fantastic job in difficult conditions. There was one team here trying to play rugby and there was one, well I don't know what they were trying to do.
"They were just trying to stop things. The amount of penalties broke the game up but that was just the result of what the opposition were doing."