Pirates 29 Chiefs 21
Cornish Pirates 29
Exeter Chiefs 21
Mark Stevens at the Mennaye Field
Exeter Chiefs were given a timely reminder that the ‘hard work starts here’ as they were undone by the Cornish Pirates at the Mennaye Field.
After weeks of behind-the-scenes planning and gruelling training in this year’s summer sunshine, it was back to the on-field action for Rob Baxter’s side against their Championship hosts.
In the first of three warm-up fixtures ahead of their seasonal opener against Leicester Tigers on September 1, the Chiefs arrived in the Duchy with a powerful mix of youth and experience.Former Pirate Gareth Steenson was a late withdrawal at fly-half due to family reasons, so Joe Simmonds stepped in to fill the vacant playmaker role.
Simmonds was joined in an Exeter back division which included international stars Michele Campagnaro and Santiago Cordero, while up front fellow there was plenty of experience with Moray Low and Elvis Taione packing down in the front-row with Wilhelm Van Der Sluys a hefty lump in the visiting engineers.
The Pirates, meanwhile, were at near full-strength for the contest and included in their ranks Exeter youngsters Harry Strong and Josh Caulfield, the latter of whom played a key role in helping the hosts take a fourth-minute lead.
The powerful back-row forward was in close attendance to support Alex Day as he worked his way through the heart of the Chiefs defence and although they were thwarted, the Pirates recycled at pace to the right to set-up an overlap for Patterson, who dotted down in the right corner unopposed.
Pirates fans had barely had time to sit down before they were on their feet again when, a minute later, hooker Matavesi - the younger brother of former Chiefs player Josh Matavesi - stole over for their second of the game.
Cargill converted on this occasion before landing a lengthy penalty to make it 15-0 as the Chiefs struggled to find any kind of rhythm in a sluggish opening quarter from them.
Slowly they began to find some form and with their first meaningful foray into the home 22, they were rewarded with their first points of the night.Simmonds put them in position with a penalty to the right corner, the fruits of which saw Van Der Sluys take the line-out, before the forwards gathered around, setting up Lawday for his first converted score of the night.
The Championship outfit, however, were giving a good account of themselves and when they threatened again on 28 minutes, they once more turned pressure into points, hooker Matavesi powering over from six metres out for his second, again converted by the trusty boot of Cargill.
Clearly ring-rusty in terms of game time, the Chiefs needed to regroup quickly as the first half minutes ticked by.However, just past the half-hour mark they hauled themselves back into the game when a magical run from Argentine speedster Cordero saw him scythe through the middle of the home rearguard to get him to within sight of the try-line.
Although he was felled within a whisker of the whitewash, No.8 Lawday - who spent last season on dual-registered terms with the Pirates - was quickly on the scene to pick up and dot down with relative ease.
Simmonds added the extras to that score and Exeter’s third which arrived on the stroke of half time. With Pirates full-back Kyle Moyle sent to the sidelines for ten minutes after deliberately slapping down a Campagnaro pass, the Chiefs wasted little time in making their numerical advantage pay, Lawday claiming his hat-trick as he was eased over from a five-metre line-out.
HALF TIME CORNISH PIRATES 22 EXETER CHIEFS 21
On the resumption it was the Pirates, now kitted out in their new purple away strip, who started the brighter. They edged the opening throws of the second period, before they stretched their lead with their fourth score on the game on 52 minutes.
Having gone right with a series of raids, the Cornishmen cleverly shunted the ball back in field and along the line to the waiting Judge, who had little option but to drive for the line, taking two Exeter defenders with him in the process. Cargill again converted with no issues.
It was no more than the Pirates deserved for their efforts, but the Chiefs were too often guilty of trying to over complicate things, forcing passes and coughing up possession that simply allowed their rivals to clear the danger.
Cordero remained Exeter’s liveliest attacker and it was his chip-and-chase in behind the Pirates defence that almost saw him steal over just past the hour mark.As he closed in on the line, club-mate Harvey Skinner - another on dual-registered terms with the Pirates this season - raced across to cut off the threat.
Undeterred, the Chiefs continued to press forward in attack as first Hendrickson raced down field with a whole-hearted 50-metre burst, but as fellow centre Campagnaro raced up on his shoulder, the Italian could not latch onto his offload and the chance came and went in a flash.
With both sides opting to introduce fresh stock from the sidelines late on, the final quarter became somewhat stop-start with little action on offer. Instead, the most pressing matter was that of Exeter replacement Sam Morley, who was stretchered from the field with just ten minutes remaining following a hefty collision on halfway.
Morley’s exit put a dampener on the night for the Chiefs, whose remaining stars will now ready themselves for a home encounter against Cardiff Blues tomorrow.
Baxter admitted post-match that lessons will be learnt in the aftermath of this defeat, but with that game and next week’s trip across the Irish Sea to face Munster, there is still enough time for the Chiefs to fine-tune their engines ahead of the new title race.
Cornish Pirates: 15 Kyle Moyle (Maliq Holden 70); 14 Robin Wedlake (Matt Evans 57), 13 Rory Parata, 12 Callum Patterson (Harvey Skinner 51), 11 Harry Strong (AJ Cant 17-31, 57); 10 Will Cargill, 9 Alex Day (Jake Ashby 70); 1 Jack Andrew (Billy Keast 61), 2 Sam Matavesi (Dan Frost 51), 3 Christian Judge (Tyler Gendall 61); 4 Toby Freeman (Danny Cutmore 68), 5 Brett Beukeboom (capt); 6 Josh Caulfield, 7 Matt Bolwell (John Stevens 57), 8 Tom Duncan (James McRae 47).
Replacements (not used): Tom Concu, Nodar Cheishvili, Alex Schwarz.
Tries - Patterson, Matavesi (2), Judge; Conversion - Cargill (2); Penalty - Cargill
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Sal M’Boge; 14 Santiago Cordero (Sam Morley 71, Joe Elderkin 74), 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Tom Hendrickson, 11 James Short;10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Stuart Townsend; 1 Moray Low (James Kenny 64), 2 Elvis Taione (Jack Innard 48), 3 Jack Owlett (Alfie Petch 72); 4 Toby Salmon; 5 Wilhelm Van Der Sluys; 6 Richard Capstick (Rus Tuima 64), 7 James Freeman (capt, Rus Tuima 53-63), 8 Tom Lawday.
Replacements (not used): Flynn Elworthy, Rus Tuima, Cory Teague, Sean Lonsdale, Joe Snow, Sam Maunder, Barry Karea, Carl Morgan.
Tries - Lawday (3); Conversions - J Simmonds (3)
Referee: JP Doyle