Mossy Lawler made his bow as Connacht Eagles head coach and he was admittedly ‘very proud’ of his charges’ performance in a 23-10 loss to former British & Irish Cup winners Cornish Pirates.
With a number of new players and combinations on show, Connacht Eagles did well to go in at half-time on level terms (10-10), aided by well-taken try from Buccaneers flyer Jordan Conroy.
But yellow cards for front rowers Saba Meunargia and Jack Dinneen left the Eagles up against it, and Cornish Pirates gradually took control with a run of 13 unanswered second half points.
Speaking afterwards, Mossy Lawler, who had notable debutants in out-half Mitch Lam and former Wasps lock James Cannon, said: “I'm very proud of our boys. Our effort was 100%, but we just couldn't break them in the end.”
With Stacey Ili involved in Connacht's tremendous European triumph over Toulouse, Eagles captain Eoin Griffin and Rory Parata paired up in the centre on their returns from injury, while Luke Carty, younger brother of senior out-half Jack, got his first start at full-back.
The family link continued with Mitch Lam, son of Connacht head coach Pat, donning the number 10 jersey after a series of early season starts for Galwegians in Ulster Bank League Division 1B.
There was a minute's silence beforehand to mark the sudden passing of Anthony Foley, who was actually coach of runners-up Munster 'A' when Cornish Pirates won the inaugural British & Irish Cup competition back in 2010.
The Pirates tore into a fifth minute lead in Galway, their dual-registered Exeter Chiefs flanker Sam Simmonds sidestepping through to score by the posts with out-half Laurence May missing the conversion in windy conditions.
Lam opened the Connacht side's account with a penalty on the quarter hour, and winger Conroy had the pace to finish off a break by Lam for a seven-pointer with 23 minutes on the clock.
But the Pirates made it 10-all five minutes later when forward pressure led to an unconverted try from number 8 Dan Lee. Late in the first half, the English Championship outfit showed their set piece strength again and young Eagles tighthead Meunargia was sin-binned for collapsing a five-metre scrum.
The hosts were fortunate to avoid conceding a try just before the interval – the Pirates knocked on at the base of an advancing scrum – but there were promising signs on the resumption. Lam was narrowly wide with a penalty attempt as the weather deteriorated.
Having just been restored to their full complement, the Eagles then lost hooker Dinneen to a 53rd minute yellow card and out-half May kicked the Pirates back in front in wet conditions.
The margin was out to six points after Lam had a second miss off the tee and his opposite number split the posts at the other end, rewarding a dominant scrum from the Cornishmen.
Replacement Jake Parker's 73rd-minute try which came from a fortunate bounce put the result beyond doubt, taking the losing bonus point away from Lawler's men who were denied a late score by full-back Matt Evans' try-saving tackle.
The Eagles are on the road in round 2 next Saturday afternoon, visiting in-form London Irish who registered their seventh win on the trot when defeating the Ospreys Premiership Select 25-14 in their B&I Cup opener.
Referee: Ben Blain (England)