IF THE Cornish Pirates are to extend their unbeaten run to five games they will have to hold off a stiff test from Rotherham Titans when the two teams meet at the Mennaye Field on Sunday (2pm), writes Dick Straughan.
Rotherham may not have won in Cornwall for four years and have endured some heavy defeats at the hands of the Pirates in that time, but they shrugged off the sudden departure of head coach Andre Bester a week ago to ease past Doncaster Knights 38-20 last time out.
Their home form this season has been a key strength, but on the road they have slipped up so far at Newcastle, London Scottish and Plymouth Albion.
But with the likes of Mike Whitehead, Latu Makaafi, Neale Patrick and Barney Maddison all currently sidelined, acting head coach Lee Blackett has plenty of selection issues to ponder.
Tries and point-scoring in general is a problem for the Pirates which showed little sign of being fixed in Saturday's dismal 9-9 draw at Moseley (report, page 110).
They currently have the second worst offensive stats in the Championship but can take some solace from possessing a defensive unit bettered only by the Falcons.
Head coach Ian Davies thinks the Titans could be a "dangerous animal" and knows they will pose his team a formidable threat.
"They are a big team with a pack that will wear you down if you let them play in your half," he said. "Garry Law is back at ten after being out of favour and he is a proven goal-kicker. The question is whether their backs will now get a freer rein.
"Rugby is a simple game and if you score more points than your opponent you win. We had plenty of opportunities at Moseley but didn't take them, but out of ten games so far we have only lost three. Okay we drew two but should have won both of them."
Davies will have his own selection issues this weekend and admits that the squad are "down to the bare bones again" with none of the current dual-registered squad members available. Matt Evans is now away on international duty with Canada for a month and Tom Bedford is also out with an injury. Ben Mercer and Junior Fatialofa should, however, be fit for selection.
This week's positive news concerning the proposed design and current funding status of the Stadium for Cornwall (see page 4) has been noted by the Pirates camp but they will not let it affect their build-up to Sunday's game.
"We tried to feed off it last season but it came back to bite us," said Davies. "We will wait now until we get concrete information on the project."
Cornish Pirates (from): Riley, Fatialofa, Hallett, Andrew, Elloway, Prescott, Lyons, Johnson, Burgess, B Maidment, Storer, Semmens, Barry, Kessell, Penberthy, Cheesman, Paver, Joyce, McGlone, Mercer, Davies, Cattle, Pointer.