From a county in which rugby is almost embedded into its very landscape, the Cornish Pirates fly the flag for the Duchy not only in the British & Irish Cup, but also in the English Championship…

Rebranded during the summer of 2005 from that of the former Penzance & Newlyn RFC, the decision to move away from their spiritual home at the Mennaye Field in Penzance and to rename themselves as the Cornish Pirates has – to all extent and purposes – been a major success both on and off the field.

There were, not surprisingly, some factions who disputed the decisions made at that time. However, led by club president and major benefactor Richard ‘Dicky’ Evans, the new vision which had been laid out during a meeting at the town’s St John’s Hall soon delivered on many of its initial promises.

Now established as a proven force within the Championship, English rugby’s second tier – where they currently sit fifth in the standings at the halfway mark – the Pirates now harbour even greater aspirations, one of which is to dine at the Guinness Premiership table in the not too distant future, another is to one day locate to a new purpose-built home.

Having initially moved from the Mennaye to a temporary base at Kenwyn, a site on the outskirts of Cornwall’s only city, Truro, the Pirates now reside at the Recreation Ground in Camborne. However, the Mennaye field is still used as their main training base, as well as housing the club’s administrative offices.

On the field, the Cornish Pirates have also helped to nurture and uncover some highly-rated talent. Among those to don the club jersey in recent seasons are proven players such as Joe Bearman (Newport-Gwent Dragons), Will James and Darren Dawiduik (both Gloucester), Alberto di Bernardo and Tim Cowley (both Bourgoin), Vili Ma’asi (Leeds Carnegie) and Irishman Gareth Steenson, now with Championship rivals Exeter Chiefs.

And whilst league action has seen them always remain competitive under coaches such as Jim McKay, who was recently appointed assistant coach at Queensland Reds, Mark Hewitt and present incumbent Chris Stirling, it was the glory of a Twickenham Cup final win in April 2007 that remains their greatest achievement in modern times.

Led that day by current skipper Gavin Cattle, who returned to the West country in the summer following a two-season stay at Llanelli Scarlets, the Pirates overcame local neighbours Exeter in an absorbing contest. Now, two years on, the thought of reproducing a similar feat is what will act as a catalyst for the club in this season’s new look British & Irish Cup.

Having kicked-off their campaign with a routine 29-8 victory over newly-assembled Scottish outfit Gael Force last Sunday, head coach Stirling has already stated he expects a much stiffer examination from Leinster this Friday.

It was, however, just the lift the Pirates needed ahead of their trek across the Irish Sea. Having been undone the previous week away at Exeter, the Pirates have endured a somewhat up-and-down campaign to date. September proved a profitable month for the club in the Championship as they saw off the challenge of Nottingham, Moseley, Doncaster and Coventry.

But if September was superb for the Pirates, October was somewhat grim as the club recorded just one victory – that against bottom club Birmingham-Solihull. This month has also been mixed with a win over Bedford Blues followed by the Exeter defeat, then the success over Gael Force. Just what this afternoon’s encounter will bring, who knows?

For Stirling, a New Zealander brought in by the club this summer, the next stage of the journey is only just beginning. Having spent a brief advisory spell with the Cornish club last term, he was installed into the role of High Performance Manager earlier this year and joined by fellow coaches Harvey Biljon and Ian Davies, the trio have laid out a detailed two-year plan which they believe will position the Pirates into a healthy state of affairs.

Already the impact made by the club’s new coaching team has been noticeable both on and off the field. That said, true results will come at the end of this season and, as they say, the end of their two year plan. For now, though, the signs are certainly encouraging and today’s encounter will offer all of us a clear indication into how the voyage is progressing.