at Mennaye Field
The Cornish Pirates suffered their first defeat of the Championship season after Bedford Blues triumphed 34-24 at Mennaye Field yesterday.
The Pirates led briefly in the opening minutes through a Rob Cook penalty but then found the going tough against a Blues side determined to avenge two Championship play-off defeats against the Cornishmen last season.
The result will do little to hamper the Pirates' ambitions later in the current campaign but serves as a timely reminder of the strength and depth still present in the Championship.
High performance manager Chris Stirling said: "Bedford got chances and they took them. I have to take my hat to them; I thought they played very well.
"They found some holes and got in behind us and then made us pay. I don't think there was a lack of effort or application from us, the opposition just had a little bit more than us today."
Both sides showed impressive quality in the opening exchanges and it was Cook's well-judged kick into the corner that put Bedford under early pressure.
Pirates then stole Bedford's defensive line-out and eventually took the lead through a Cook penalty shortly after Bedford were caught offside.
That advantage was short-lived, however. Blues' fly-half Jamie Lennard levelled the scores in the 16th minute after a good response from his side.
Lennard then attempted a long-range penalty from inside his own half as both sides tried to gain the upper hand. Although his kick failed to find the posts, he was able to add the conversion to Bedford's opening try in the 28th minute.
Scrum-half Stef Liebenberg's quick tap penalty caught the Pirates offguard and he powered through under the posts to set up the easy conversion.
And it was Bedford who ended the first half the stronger side after scoring a fine try just before the break.
A midfield burst by Liebenberg set the move in motion and he smartly offloaded to former Exeter Chiefs and Cornish All Blacks centre Tom Bedford. His superb grubber kick into the corner was perfectly measured for winger Josh Bassett to pick up and score a try converted by Lennard.
Cook responded with a penalty almost immediately, but Lennard struck back within seconds to maintain a 14-point half-time lead.
The Pirates started the second half in determined fashion and pulled six points back through Cook's third and fourth penalties of the afternoon.
However, that progress was undone in the 56th minute when replacement Don Barrell peeled off the back of a five-metre scrum to touch down to the left of the posts, Lennard again added the extras.
The Pirates were never going to give up their unbeaten record without a fight and No.8 Blair Cowan brought a score back, finishing a drive in the right corner for a try converted by Cook. But the Blues were not to be denied and secured their fourth try and the bonus point with a superb try, finished by centre Duncan Taylor.
Winger Wes Davies scored a late consolation try for Pirates but a losing bonus point was just beyond their grasp.
The Pirates must now regroup quickly ahead of their British & Irish Cup clash at Plymouth Albion's Brickfields on Wednesday and then a Championship game at Nottingham on Friday.
Stirling said: "We'll rally and put a team out on Wednesday that will give it everything they've got. Then, thanks to some sly scheduling from Nottingham, we'll travel up there about six hours after we get back from Plymouth and go and play again. We thank them very much for that but it's just the way it is.
"I'm not pleased with the outcome against Bedford. Some of the stuff we did in the 80 minutes was OK. We started quite well and we had opportunities but some of the inaccuracy in our decision-making cost us the chance to put the opposition under pressure.
"It's all about development and making sure that we progress to become a better team. We're a long way from our best, we know that, and it will be interesting to see how the guys react to this first loss of the season."
Cornish Pirates: Cook; Davies, Pointer, Cooper (Hill 40), D Doherty; Thomas (McAtee 6), Cattle; Rimmer (Storer 41), Ward (Ewers 61), Brits (Rimmer 61); Smith (McGlone 47), Nimmo; Morgan, Walker-Blair (Elloway 50), Cowan. Replacement (not used): Kessell.
Scorers: Tries – Cowan, Davies; Conversion – Cook; Penalties – Cook (4).
Bedford: Burke; Schmidt, Taylor, Bedford, Bassett (Kowler 63); Lennard (Sharp 73), Lienbenberg (Baldwin 63); Steenkemp (Walsh 67), Locke (Cockrane 52), Seal; Pailor (Howard 61), Tomes; Rae, Harding, Tupai (Barrell 52).
Scorers: Tries – Liebenberg, Bassett, Barrell, Taylor; Conversions – Lennard (4); Penalties – Lennard (2)