Plymouth Albion pay the penalty as Cornish Pirates steal last-gasp win
PLYMOUTH Albion's players will have woken up this morning still wondering how on earth they did not claim their first league victory on Cornish soil in five seasons.
Albion, fresh from their 27-22 win over Doncaster on the opening day, dominated this match at Mennaye Field against a poor Pirates side.
Nat Saumi's team led 17-11 with just seven minutes of normal time to go and, even the most one-eyed Pirates fan, would have admitted they should have been further ahead.
But a Matt Evans try and an 80th-minute penalty by Rob Cook won the home side an undeserved four points.
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Albion were left to rue not scoring more than the three tries they did through Herbie Stupple, Bevon Armitage and Rupeni Nasiga and for five costly misses at goal by fly-half Paul Roberts.
Roberts had spent the week practising his goal-kicking after missing three relatively simple efforts against Doncaster the week before.
But again he was off-form with the boot, even though his general play was good.
Albion, who lost James Love in the summer to London Scottish, do need Roberts to find his form because come the second half yesterday, they were not even attempting to go for goal.
However, there were a lot of positives for Albion, who last year did not win an away match until the play-offs.
They picked up a bonus point at the Pirates and once again showed they can score tries.
Albion made three changes to their team who beat Doncaster last weekend.
Exeter Chiefs refused to allow Albion to use dual-registered youngsters Henry Slade and Lloyd Fairbrother as they want them to play in an A League match, at Saracens, tonight.
They were replaced by Louis Messer, who was making his debut at full-back, and Jack Andrew, who found himself up against his older brother, Paul, in the front-row.
The other Plymouth change saw teenager Jack Arnott preferred on the wing to Tom Bowen, who had scored Albion's second try against Doncaster last week.
Fairbrother would have been disappointed to have missed the match as he was looking forward to playing against the club where he had spent last season.
Rhodri McAtee, who spent eight years at the Pirates, did start against his former club. He was one of just three players in Albion's starting line-up who were not in their squad last season.
The Pirates had seven summer signings in their side, including former Albion favourite Kieran Hallett, while Cook was also back in a black, red and white jersey after signing on-loan during the week from Gloucester – the club he joined in the off-season.
Albion made a great start to the game. They totally dominated the opening 15 minutes but somehow failed to score any points.
How they didn't was a question everyone inside the ground was asking.
The Pirates failed to take Albion's kick-off and the visitors pressed. They got a penalty after 40 seconds and went for the corner.
Three times they went for the five-metre line-out and on three occasions the Pirates stopped their drive illegally. On the third occasion the home side had prop Paul Andrew sin-binned.
Strangely, Albion opted for a scrum instead of a line-out from the penalty and they were penalised by the referee. That was such a let off for the home side.
Roberts then missed the first of his five kicks on eight minutes before Sean-Michael Stephen and Aaron Carpenter both came close to scoring ahead of Albion painfully knocking on right on the line.
The Pirates could not believe their luck that they had not conceded during that period when they were a man down.
And when they were back up to 15 they nearly scored themselves through former Albion captain Kyle Marriott.
The Pirates did get a penalty from that move, which Hallett put over to give his side an undeserved lead.
Roberts then failed with another penalty on 24 minutes before missing right in front of the posts from 22 metres with another kick at goal seven minutes later.
It looked like Albion were not going to score in a first half that they dominated, but two minutes from time, Herbie Stupple went over in the left corner after good play from Arnott.
Unbelievably, Roberts converted from the touchline – his toughest kick of the day – to make it 7-3.
However, the Pirates, who had looked really poor in the opening 40 minutes, went in at the break just one point behind when Hallett kicked another penalty.
The Pirates came out better after the break and took the lead after less than two minutes, when Evans went over for an unconverted try in the left corner.
But Albion hit back straight away with Armitage scoring on the left after the visitors had switched play twice across the field from a line-out.
Roberts could not add the conversion but Albion were back in front – if only by a point.
On 55 minutes, Albion got a penalty on the 22, but, with the team unsure of Roberts, they went for the corner and they were penalised for a non-straight throw.
However, Albion kept the pressure on and in the 68th minute scored their third try. It came from a catch-and-drive move with Fijian replacement Nasiga getting the ball down for his first points in English rugby, but again Roberts could not add the extras.
The Pirates were not playing well but they were allowed to get up field after Albion gave away a penalty and from the line-out, scored.
The home side drove and then went wide – wider than they needed to – with Evans touching down for a second on the left.
The Pirates, though, looked like they had blown the chance of victory by not going over closer to the posts as Cook missed the conversion to leave them trailing by a point.
It was a grandstand finish and it went the Pirates' way when Albion gave away two penalties – one to allow the Pirates to get into their half – and another from the resultant line-out.
As soon as the referee blew Albion's players grabbed their heads in their hands as they knew Cook would not miss from 22 metres out.
He didn't and Albion could not get back up the other end to snatch the victory they deserved.