Cornish Pirates extended their unbeaten start to the season at Mennaye Field on Sunday, and in doing so condemned London Welsh to a third defeat.
A Will Cargill penalty was all that separated the sides at the end of a scrappy first half, in which the Exiles were frustratingly unable to take advantage of Kyle Moyle’s yellow card.
The Pirates fly half extended the lead early in the second half before Miles Mantella touched down for Welsh, but a third Cargill penalty kept the home side’s noses in front, and left the visitors playing catch-up.
Tom Duncan’s 71st minute try ultimately proved decisive and although Josh McNally went over from the game’s final play to secure a losing bonus point, it was little consolation after an error strewn performance.
Few could have imagined that when Cargill knocked over a scrum penalty in the fifth minute that it would be the only time the scorers were troubled in the first half. This would be a scrappy opening 40; Pirates enjoying the greater possession and territory, but while Welsh’s defence was able to cope with all the home side could throw at it with a reasonable degree of comfort, the Exiles were offering little attack threat of their own.
Welsh’s defensive lineout work would frustrate the home side, but the Exiles were themselves unable to execute when Joe Carlisle pushed a penalty into the corner.
When the home side got up a head of steam, Welsh stole a third lineout and although Alex Cheeseman charged down Carlisle’s attempted clearance, good work on the deck by Darryl Marfo won a penalty and Welsh could clear their lines.
Welsh had weathered the mini Pirates storm and the game then looked to swing in the visitors favour when Moyle stuck out a hand to prevent Carlisle’s pass finding its intended target in Martyn Thomas. It earnt the Pirates winger ten minutes in the sin bin.
Carlisle put the penalty in the corner, but crossing saw the opportunity slip away and the Exiles were never again able to threaten as the home side saw out Moyle’s yellow card without alarm.
Cargill’s drop goal attempt drifted wide and the home side took their 3-0 lead into the break.
The Pirates fly half needed just three second half minutes, however, to double that lead, but then from nothing Welsh nearly grabbed the game’s opening try. A loose Pirates pass was hacked on by Seb Jewell and sat up for the chasing Kristian Phillips to gather, only for Matt Evans to produce an excellent try saving tackle on the Welsh winger.
The game was opening up and Welsh were beginning to cause the home side more problems. The away side needed to find the next score, and they duly got it. Carlisle pushed a scrum penalty up to the Pirates 22 and McNally, Ryan Hodson and Adam Kwasnicki combined from the lineout to take Welsh to within striking distance.
Welsh weren’t to be denied and Jewell’s pass found Mantella on a great line and the winger burst through to touch down. But Carlisle couldn’t convert and in a matter of moments Welsh went from the possibility of leading by one-point to trailing by four, as a knock on straight from the restart was compounded by conceding a scrum penalty which Cargill despatched. It was a hammer blow to concede so quickly.
Pirates went in search of a decisive blow. McNally produced a crucial tackle to halt Duncan in full flow, while Hodson did brilliantly in a foot race with Moyle to get back and tidy up after Pirates had hacked on.
But when Martyn Thomas was forced to find a hurried touch in his own 22, Welsh resistance was eventually worn down after Pirates laid siege to the Exiles’ tryline. Duncan eventually forcing his way over with Laurence May’s conversion leaving the Exiles two scores adrift.
When Pirates threatened again, Welsh turned it over through Barney Maddison and Carlisle’s long hoof down field gave the visitors the field position they needed to at least salvage a losing bonus point. Heath Stevens’ carry got Welsh on the front foot and Maddison took it on, before McNally picked one up off his boot laces at pace and beat two to touch down and bring Welsh to within six. Carlisle couldn’t convert but it mattered not with time up.
Cornish Pirates scorers:
Tries: Duncan; Cons: Laurence May; Pens: Cargill (3).
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Mantella, McNally.
Referee: Mike Hudson
Assistant referees: Roger Baileff & Andrew Pearce