Connacht Eagles bagged a losing bonus point in their British & Irish Cup opener against Rotherham Titans but it could have been so much more in a veritable game of two halves at Clifton Lane.
Niyi Adeolokun and Naulia Dawai both returned from injury for the province's 'A' team, the latter powering over for a first half try as Mossy Lawler's men built a 23-10 half-time lead.
However, the Eagles were outplayed during the final 40 minutes as Rotherham rattled off 18 unanswered points, including tries from winger Ben Foley and number 8 Tom Burns, to finish as five-point winners of this entertaining round 1 encounter.
Former Irish Exiles representative Caolan Ryan played a pivotal role as he knocked over two closing penalties to see out the result for Titans. He finished with 13 points off the tee, matching the impressive tally of 20-year-old Connacht Academy out-half Luke Carty.
The out-halves traded penalties in an evenly-fought opening 10 minutes, with the strong wind blowing Carty's second place-kick off course. Defences were on top for the most part, forcing knock-ons and forward passes and cutting down space.
After stealing possession at a Rotherham maul and launching a counter, a penalty on halfway gave wind-backed Connacht Eagles an attacking lineout. It provided the platform for fit-again Fijian Dawai to crash over for a 23rd-minute try, converted by Carty.
A couple of penalties invited Titans forward and their hooker and captain Charlie Maddison was on the end of a lineout maul to score a good try in response. Ryan's conversion tied the teams at 10-all before Connacht Eagles hit back five minutes before the break, lifting the tempo and punching holes before hooker Dave Heffernan touched down in the corner.
Carty's razor-sharp right boot grew in influence with a terrific conversion from the touchline and two well-struck penalties closing in on the interval. However, Lawler's side lost their grip on their hard-earned 23-10 advantage as the hosts came roaring back at them.
Carty missed a penalty from halfway before Rotherham dug their heels in, a prolonged period of forward pressure resulting in a 54th-minute unconverted try for Foley. The momentum shift continued with Burns' seven-pointer from a maul on the hour mark. Suddenly, it was just a one-point game at 23-22.
The westerners thwarted Rotherham's next attempt to get a drive going in scoring range, but from a similar position in the 71st minute, the visitors infringed at the maul and Ryan's successful kick nudged his side ahead for the first time.
The Eagles' attack was blunted by two forward passes and a rising penalty count really hurt them, their scrum infringing twice in the closing stages before a final kick from Ryan sealed Rotherham's maiden victory of the season.
Referee: Elgan Williams (Wales)