Doncaster Knights’ hopes of a fourth win in five starts on their return to the Championship were sunk by Cornish Pirates.
Trailing 10-3 at the break, the lowly visitors scored an unanswered 21 points to build up a big enough lead to survive a late Knights’ rally.
Knights dominated the early exchanges and took the lead on seven minutes. Flanker Latu Makaafi broke the line around 20 metres out before putting centre Mat Clark in from close range for a try converted by Dougie Flockhart.
Fly-half Kieron Hallett pegged three points back with a routine 13th minute penalty in Pirates’ first raid of note.
Full-back Paul Jarvis, who made several good breaks, took man and ball to halt his opposite number, Matt Evans, who had support to his right, after he had broken the line with a powerful run.
Knights’ scrum-half Thomas Palu shot through a gap around 30 metres out but lacked support.
Knights opted to kick for goal from a 26th minute penalty which Flockhart duly converted to make it 10-3.
Knights continued to make the running but lacked the necessary cutting edge to pierce Pirates’ defence for a second time.
Pirates suffered a double blow in stoppage time, wing Kyle Moyle going off injured and prop Jack Andrew being sin-binned.
Pirates belied the fact that they were a man down in the opening stages of the second half and, aided by a series of penalties, laid siege to the Doncaster line until a big clearance kick by Jamie Lennard, sin-binned shortly after for a professional foul, brought brief respite on 49 minutes.
Pirates quickly regained the initiative and, after Evans and Hallett had been denied, scrum-half Tom Kessell crossed from close range on 55 minutes.
When Pirates added two more converted tries to lead 24-10 with 15 minutes of normal time remaining, Knights looked to be fighting a losing battle.
With his charges having hardly spent any time in the Pirates’ half since the break, Clive Griffiths decided to ring the changes and it had the desired effect.
Makaafi, who must have pushed Jarvis close in the man-of-the-match voting, threw his side a lifeline with a close-range try on 74 minutes. But Flockhart’s failed conversion meant Knights had to score twice to win the game.
They finished the stronger and captain Michael Hills scored an 80th minute close range converted try, but Pirates held out to claim their first away win.