Bristol 29, Cornish Pirates 17
THE seven year wait for success at the Memorial Ground continues for the Cornish Pirates after 13 unanswered points in the final eight minutes of this tense affair again sent them home empty handed.
It was perhaps cruel on the Pirates, who weathered a ferocious storm from Bristol in the first half before taking the lead early in the second period and then looking favourites to hang on for the win.
But an inspired double substitution by Bristol head coach Liam Middleton. replacing half-backs James Grindal and Matt Jones with Ruki Tipuna and Tristan Roberts. breathed new life into his side, while injuries in the Pirates camp destroyed their hold on the game.
Seizing their opportunity, Bristol pounced and two Roberts penalties, coupled with an injury-time converted try from Matt Williams finally ended the Pirates unbeaten start to the season.
Pirates boss Ian Davies felt that the result was not a true reflection of the game and believed that his side should have taken something from the contest.
He said: "Sport can be cruel sometimes. The intensity was there and we deserved the victory if not a losing bonus point at least, but we came up short.
"We had to work a lot harder in the first 40 (minutes) than we wanted to because of the penalty count and unforced errors. We were confident though after going in at the break only four points down after Bristol had thrown everything at us, and we upped the tempo in the second half."
He added: "Bristol struggled with that but by the end when we ended up with three props on the field and a hooker in the back row it became very difficult to control the game."
The Pirates spent much of the first half on the back foot as Bristol tore into them, but as against Plymouth the previous weekend, stood firm staying in contention on the scoreboard.
Two early Jones penalties were cancelled out by a brace from Kieran Hallett and only when Darren Barry was sin-binned did Bristol manage a try through centre Luke Eves.
Hallett struck penalties either side of half-time to cut the Bristol lead to a point and then with the home side now under the cosh, the Pirates struck taking the lead through Matt Evans' sixth try of the season.
Jones converted his third penalty to make it 17-16 in favour of the Pirates but as the game drifted Bristol were rapidly losing their way until Middleton's dramatic coaching intervention and the late flurry of points.
Davies added: "Bristol had a lot of possession but apart from when we went down to 14 in the first half because of the yellow card they didn't really look like penetrating.
"Our defence means that the opposition get a lot of ball but we back our defence and you saw again today how we can make it hard for opponents to break us down."
He did admit to concerns about the penalty count against his team and said: "We need to be smart. We are professional rugby players and should know what the laws of the game are.
"Maybe some of the players get a little bit excited and choose not to listen, and those cheap penalties kill you.
"Rugby Union is a simple game," he continued. "If you stick to the principles, and go-forward is one of them, you put pressure on the opposition."
He added: "The referee said afterwards that in the second half our intensity was the closest he has seen to Premiership level for several weeks, which is testament to us. But 20 minutes of that isn't much use in an 80 minute game."