Bristol 37, Cornish Pirates 33
TWENTY unanswered points in 19 frantic minutes at the end of a thrilling west country derby saw Bristol come from behind to snatch victory against the Cornish Pirates and return to the top of the Championship table.
The Pirates led 33-17 as the game moved into the final quarter and looked set for their first victory at the Memorial Ground since 2005, but they eased off too early and the home side came roaring back in a manner which left Pirates boss Chris Stirling furious.
"I'm very disappointed and slightly shocked to be honest," he said. "We had a 16- point lead with 20 minutes to go and we lost. We created opportunities to win the game and we didn't take them so we will have to learn from it.
"I put it down to a lack of concentration. When you score and a team scores against you quickly that is normally what it comes down to.
"This was a game the Pirates should have won at what is a pretty tough place to come. If we think that we are going to be contenders to go up into the promised land above then the boys got taught a very harsh lesson. It takes 80 minutes of concentration at the top end."
The Pirates started brightly and went ahead after only a minute as Andrew Suniula scored his first try for the club. But Bristol fought back and former Pirate, Junior Fatialofa made the most of some uncertain defending to put the home side ahead shortly before the half-hour mark.
But the Pirates re-asserted their dominance on the scoreboard with Bristol prop Jason Hobson in the sin-bin as first Dave Ward burgled the ball at a lineout to score and then wing David Doherty claimed his ninth try of the season as from 50 metres out he fashioned a breath-taking score out of absolutely nothing.
Having already lost prop Ryan Storer and then fly-half Ceiron Thomas, skipper Gavin Cattle was forced from the field before the hour with an ankle problem. But following Ward's second try and a touchdown from home skipper Iain Grieve the Pirates led 28-17 and were still in control.
Tom Kessell added a fifth try for the afternoon soon after and the Pirates looked set for a famous win, until Bristol turned up the heat and came storming back.
Flanker James Merriman began the fight back with a converted try and Roberts added a penalty before the Pirates defence was again left floundering as this time John Goodridge scored.
Roberts converted and added a further late penalty as the shell-shocked Pirates slipped to their second defeat of the season.
Stirling said: "We played some good rugby here and there are certainly positives to take from it.
"But I'm feeling disappointed and frustrated and you can be assured that the players are feeling it twice as much. It was a very solemn changing room after the game. They know."
He agreed that the absence of Jonny Bentley and subsequent injury to Ceiron Thomas which prompted Rob Cook to move to fly-half, did disrupt the team.
But Stirling refused to offer that as an excuse for the defeat.
"We have played the last two games without a recognised ten and I'm not taking anything away from Cookie because he is our number one full-back.
"Cookie does a good job at ten but in the last few minutes of the game we needed to win possession and control it, apply pressure on the opposition and force them to do something out of the ordinary.
"But when we did get the ball late on we put a little chip kick through, gave it away and they scored. We have just got to learn."