I know it’s out of fashion
And a trifle uncool
But I can’t help it
I’m a romantic fool
It’s a habit of mine
To watch the sun go down
On Echo Beach
I watch the sun go down
Martha and the Muffins – Echo Beach
If it’s the result that is the deciding factor in determining the success or otherwise of an away trip , then I guess the weekend down in Cornwall could be regarded by some as disappointing.
But if it’s about the ‘craic’, about having a good time and just enjoying the company and the occasion, then it was most definitely a great success.
Jersey will always be the away game of choice for me in this league, but Cornwall, even on a cold and miserable Sunday in February, isn’t far behind.
Penzance might be a long coach journey away, but what it lacks in ease of access, it more than makes up for in character. Lovely people, beautiful coastlines and a rugby club that might be old school but one that remains faithful to three of the games’ core values – respect, enjoyment and sportsmanship.
Arriving in Penzance mid-afternoon on Saturday, I stayed in a lovely hotel overlooking the promenade, within 3 minutes of the ground and run by a couple who have a genuine love of rugby and who offer a decent discount for those attending the Pirates’ games whilst staying there.
The breakfast spread on Sunday morning was something to behold, so much so that by 9.00 am I was out for a pre-match perambulation in an effort to walk off some of the excesses that I’d so heartily enjoyed.
Guilty pleasures for me these days, sad to say.
Fortunately a strong breeze and a constant drizzle was enough to blow away some of the cobwebs…although not quite all.
To put it mildly, the weather was miserable in the extreme; not overly cold but damp and misty, so much so that St Michael’s Mount, just 4 miles from Penzance, was barely visible in the distance.
First impressions regarding the condition of the pitch as we walked into the ground were less than favourable. The corner by the entrance was very wet and muddy and there was clear evidence of some pooling – so much so that immediate comparisons with the BPA pitch pre-3/4/5/6/etc G were made on more than one occasions by a fair few smug(gish) Cov supporters.
The rest of the pitch looked a little less saturated, but large areas of it were clearly lacking in grass and with the rain still persistent, it was hard to see how the game could end up anything but a mudbath.
In fairness though, appearances were deceptive and whilst the pitch wasn’t in great condition, it was a lot firmer than it looked, the result of several tonnes of sand and a lot of hard work on the part of the groundsman.
Indeed, the club had also spent a lot of money on it over the summer so it hadn’t been neglected in any way. Even a cursory glance at it was enough to make you realise just what a good investment the synthetic pitch at the BPA is proving to be.
I spoke briefly to Rowland Winter as the players warmed up and he had no complaints as to the pitch, in fact he seemed very sympathetic to the plight of the Pirates squad – unable to train on it for weeks, they’d had to use the facilities/pitches at a local school which necessitated a 6.30 am start.
As it was, the pitch was remarkably firm under foot and didn’t cut up anywhere near as much as it looked as if it might when we first arrived. The sand ensured that the drainage was good and fortunately conditions eased somewhat as the rain stopped and wind dropped a little immediately before kick off.
When I say dropped, it was still blowing strongly even then…
As soon as the game had finished, the groundsman was hard at work preparing the pitch for next week’s home game and after a few passes of the tractor over the worn surface, it began to look as if it hadn’t been played on at all which speaks volumes for the efforts of the Pirates’ groundstaff.
The rapid turn around necessitated by a Sunday fixture last weekend and a Friday game against Ealing next weekend was something that had clearly caused the Cov selectors a few headaches and RW hinted that the side that is selected in just four days time will have a very different look to that which took to the pitch yesterday.
Most of the bench for the Pirates game will start, as will a couple of players who have been held back and, whilst he didn’t say as much, I got the impression that a home fixture against Ealing in the Championship was probably of greater importance to the coaches than an away trip to Penzance in the Cup, although that might just be a case of me misreading what he said.
How long players like Phil Boulton should be left on the pitch against Pirates when they’re sure to be needed on Friday was evidently a concern, made worse by the unfortunate injury to Gerard Ellis in the warm up before the game.
In the photo below you can see Ellis being treated by the Cov medics in the background and for a couple of minutes it looked fairly serious, although much of the concern was ultimately precautionary, and rightly so. He was able to walk off unaided but the knock was sufficient for Joe Buckle to be drafted onto the bench, presumably meaning that Scott Tolmie would be the reserve prop.
With Luc Jeannot able to play on both sides of the scrum it probably wasn’t quite as problematic as it sounds.
Although the facilities at the Pirates aren’t among the best in the Championship, the ground has a charm that is all its own and whilst very ‘old school’, it helps generate a unique atmosphere. I’d much rather visit grounds like Mennaye Field than, say, Headingley – it is far more welcoming than the modern stadia.
The choice of music, the greeting of the team as it takes to the pitch, the mascot, the post match west country folk songs and the ubiquitous Cornish pasties are all part and parcel of what makes watching rugby at Mennaye Field such a unique experience.
Just how much of that will be lost when they move to Truro remains to be seen – not much I hope.
(As an side, the move will also hit the owners of the smaller hotels similar to the one I stayed in – it’s not just the supporters who will suffer.).
Oh…and the Pirates also win the best Championship mascot by a distance.
As for the game – well, if someone had told me before the game that we’d score three tries and amass 31 points in the process, I think I’d have been pretty pleased. Mennaye is not the easiest of places to go to and I’m guessing this is our highest points total there for a long, long time. It was a very creditably performance but in truth even when we got close it never quite felt as if we were going to win.
For much of the game, Cov were competitive and pushed Pirates hard. When we pulled back to within 4 points of the home side a potential shock was on the cards, but despite all the effort and commitment, we lacked a real cutting edge in attack. Although we got ourselves into several really good attacking situations, we seldom looked as if we were going to break through the Pirates defence with quite the ease they managed to cut through ours.
However without wanting to appear to make excuses, injuries, transfers and players ‘cup-tied’ meant that once again options in the three quarters were limited.
Often we took the more direct route and when we did get the ball out wide, Knox and Bulumakau found the Pirates’ defence rock solid, whereas when the Pirates gave the ball some width, their wingers found more space and had the pace and ability to exploit the Coventry cover, especially as the game opened up in the final 15 minutes or so.
The swashbuckling Pirates were cutthroat when they needed to be. Cov weren’t.
Loops and dummy runs are all very well, but when we consistently go across the pitch and seldom make the incisive/decisive break, then clearly something needs changing. Our kicking game was ok, although too often we gave the receivers too much time and space, rather than closing them down in the chase.
However, this was a much better performance away from home than some that we’ve witnessed this season and the fact that Cov were able to draw to within 4 points after falling behind to two tries either side of the break was definitely a positive.
The scrum was fairly solid all afternoon, as was the lineout ( a couple lost on our throw, that’s all – but the wind was a problem) and the introduction of the bench again raised the tempo. It was one of those games where perhaps Kessell would have been better starting, but with that Ealing game on the horizon I guess the coaches wanted to keep him fresh.
The general consensus amongst the Cov following was that Luc Jeannot had a great little cameo, especially with ball in hand. His strength and agility was noticeable as soon as he came on and he was one of the few players to put the Pirates on the back foot. Lewis again was very safe at 15 and Maisey had a very good day with the boot in what were very difficult kicking conditions.
Pirates were good value for their win but it was a shame that Cov gifted them a try in the final play of the game as they tried to play their way out of their own 22 in an effort to score. A 16 point gap between the two sides was probably more than was deserved but Cov are still learning at this level and when Cov return to Penzance in April, I genuinely expect the gap will be closer, with Cov a little more threatening in attack.
Pirates are currently, by consensus, the third best side in the Championship – and Cov aren’t too far behind, even on this sort of form, and that is something that the coaches can definitely take from the game.
Big thumbs up to the Pirates for the two minute applause 20 minutes into the game in acknowledgement of all that the Championship stands for and as a protest to the RFU cuts announced the week before. A small act of defiance, but it was still a message to Bill Sweeney…
A shame that it coincided with the home side’s first try, although I’m sure that wasn’t a contributory factor.
A big thank you, too, to the Supporters’ Club for organising the trip down to Penzance – the journey back was marred by what appeared to be a very serious accident on the M5 and a good hour and three quarters in the resulting tailback meant we weren’t back at the BPA until almost 1.00 am.
I’m guessing one or two families had their lives changed for good last night.
Cov might have lost but incidents like this just serve to remind us that it’s only a game.
A stay on the promenade…a few tonnes of sand on the Mennaye pitch…just 1115 supporters for a Cup quarter final.
Echo Beach it is then.
From nine to five I have to spend my time at work
My job is very boring – I’m an office clerk
The only think that helps me pass the time away
Is knowing that I’ll be back at Echo Beach some day
And back I will be…