Cornish Pirates 11, Nottingham 10
THROUGH rain, mud and fog the Cornish Pirates battled to claim the prized scalp of high-flying Nottingham in a gripping affair at the Mennaye Field on Sunday.
It may not have been easy on the eye as a spectacle, but there could be no doubting the passion and guts displayed by the home team, as they turned in their best all-round team performance of the season coming from behind to win.
Nottingham led 10-3 after 14 minutes as skipper Brent Wilson was driven over for a converted try in the Newlyn Gate Corner and the Pirates needed a quick response.
What they did was to take control of the game against a strong Nottingham pack, keep the ball tight and take their chances when they came.
Phil Burgess claimed a crucial try for the Pirates in first half stoppage time and then after Nottingham fly-half James Arlidge had missed two wind assisted penalties early in the second period, Kieran Hallett landed the decisive blow.
Nottingham hooker Joe Duffey was caught red handed playing the ball with his hands while on the floor close to his own line, and the Pirates' number 10 slotted the penalty against his old club to complete the scoring with 25 minutes to play.
The finale was edge of the seat stuff with the Pirates spurning several chances to make the game safe as the conditions worsened, and then having to defend for their lives as the Midlanders sought a killer penalty of their own right at the death. But the points stayed in Cornwall and the crowd, and Pirates boss Ian Davies, went home happy.
"The conditions were bad but I thought we thoroughly deserved the victory," he said. "It was really important that we scored just before half-time and in the second, I thought we could have scored two or three more tries. But we were playing with a bar of soap and containing the ball was very difficult."
Davies had challenged his team to react positively after the heavy defeat at Bedford Blues and was delighted with their response.
He said: "Prior to the game we spoke about leadership, motivation and emotional energy and along with endeavour, I think you saw all of those aspects here.
"We asked for leadership from Gavin (Cattle), Paves (Alan Paver), Laurie (McGlone), Kieran Hallett and Junior Fatialofa and that all shone through, with the motivation to right the wrongs of the Bedford game."
In strength-sapping conditions, the Pirates pack fought to the end with only a late replacement in the back row as Joe Buckle came on for James Tyas and an enforced change at lock with Darren Barry replacing the injured Gary Johnson. Davies paid tribute to their efforts.
"The front five certainly slugged it out and the front row went through the whole game unchanged," he said. "Today was about big men doing the hard work."
The win lifts the Pirates up two places to sixth in the league table ahead of the Christmas fixtures, while Nottingham slip a place to third. Davies was satisfied with the way his team countered the threat of the in-form visitors.
"Their pack has been a key strength for them this season and they have scored a lot of driving line-outs including one here which we are disappointed about," he explained.
"But that was the only sniff they got because we lost concentration and we spoke at half-time about keeping concentration.
"It wasn't the weather for backs but our backs out-played their backs because we took the ball up hard and cleared rucks when we needed to whereas the Nottingham guys maybe left it all to their forwards.
"When fatigue set in and they took off some of their more experienced players their bench wasn't as Premiership-laden as their starting line-up and that played into our hands a bit."