Toby Freeman admitted the Cornish Pirates players are “very frustrated” after their poor start to the Greene King IPA Championship season.
They have lost five of their opening six games, but those defeats have incredibly been by a combined total of only 14 points.
That must be some kind of record, and it amazingly means they still have a positive points difference of plus one.
Due to the fact they have picked up a bonus point in each of their six games, the Cornishmen are ninth in the 12-team table – 11 points off bottom side Rotherham Titans – at the end of the opening block of league games, and you have to go up as high as fifth-spot Bedford Blues for the next team to have a plus sign in the points difference column.
I am sure even the most ardent of Pirates’ fans will accept that they were well beaten by a very impressive Nottingham side at the Mennaye Field last Sunday, even though the final scoreline was 34-31 to the Midlanders, after the Pirates scored two converted tries in the dying moments.
But, once again, it was a very nar- row defeat, following on from Ealing (29-28), Bristol (29-31), Jersey Reds (19-13) and Yorkshire Carnegie (28-26).
Freeman, who is back in Cornwall this season after joining the Pirates from Nottingham on a two-year con- tract, having started his rugby career at Penryn, told me after the Nottingham game: “As a group we are very frustrated at the moment, because it seems that our performance kicks in once our backs are really against the wall.
“It is a hard one to put your finger on why really.
“We are capable of playing some very good rugby, and we are capable of defending incredibly well, but at the moment it is for patches and not for 80 minutes, and you can’t afford to drift in and out of games at this level, because we are seeing that it doesn’t do us any favours.”
Freeman is spot on in those comments because, at times last weekend, Pirates looked rock solid in defence against Nottingham, for whom scrum-half Darryl Veenendaal was pulling the strings beautifully.
“We have a great set and then we make one lapse and we leak an easy try,” agreed the experienced Freeman, who also names Exeter Chiefs, Spanish side Ampo Ordizia and Rotherham Titans among his former clubs and can play in both the second row and back row.
“Then we will have a red zone opportunity and we won’t capitalise on it, and next time we will, and it is a cliche, but those little one per centers make a difference, don’t they?”
Pirates are producing some great attacking play and scoring tries, and Freeman added: “We have got great confidence in the systems we use. We just need to believe in ourselves right from the get-go, that we are capable of playing that brand of rugby, which we are more than capable of doing. We just need to click into gear earlier in games.”
The fact the Pirates are picking up bonus points to make their position in the table less worrying is little consolation to Freeman.
“It is fine margins, and it is those we are losing these games by at the minute,” he commented.
“You should never be happy as a group with the fact we are losing narrowly and still picking up bonus points.
“That is part of it, but if you ask anyone, we would rather be winning games.”
The Pirates have a two-week break from the league, with British and Irish Cup games away to Hartpury yesterday and at home to Ulster next Sunday (2.30 pm), but Freeman said they were not viewing it as a “break” for them.
“Not at all. We are viewing this as a chance to get better as a team, because we need to, and we need this two-week period to kick on as a group, because we can’t keep losing games by narrow margins, because otherwise we will be sitting at the wrong end of the table for far too long.”
Results aside, Freeman admitted it was “great being back home” in Cornwall.
“It is an honour playing down here in front of my friends and family, but I would rather be getting them the ‘W’ to be perfectly honest,” said Freeman, (pictured by Brian Tempest below), who was a student at both Truro College and Exeter University, completing a degree in Sports Science and then later a Masters in Sports Psychology and Sociology.