Doncaster Knights fought back impeccably against a powerful Bristol side at the Memorial Ground, but ran out empty handed after several glimpses of brilliance.
The Knights started the stronger with a series of powerful runs from influential ball carriers Matt Challinor, Adam Kettle and Tom Davies as several direct running lines caused problems for the home defence, but the West Country men held firm to see off the early onslaught.
Unfortunately another lack of discipline at the breakdown gave way to a simple penalty for Bristol fly-half Adrian Jarvis who slotted the opening points with ease for a 3-0 advantage after Jethro Rawling was pinned for not releasing the tackler.
Under the cold and wet conditions handling errors became aplenty for both sides with Doncaster fortunate to not concede on their own try line. The next wave of attack again came from Liam Middleton’s side; this time it was the set piece that faulted as Knights were adjudged to have collapsed the scrum 35 metres out as Jarvis again slotted an easy penalty goal in front of the sticks to extend the lead to six.
But the Yorkshiremen fought back and muscled their way into the contest forcing Bristol to make several infringements. An offside allowed the Knights to register their first score as Doncaster piled on the pressure. Jamie Lennard slotted the long range effort to reduce the deficit to three.
Although continual ill decisions from the Knights became costly as they were harshly adjudged to have blocked the on rushing home attack from receiving the ball. The resultant penalty was missed, but the following 22 metre restart went straight out as Lennard continued to have problems with his consistency.
Another scrum pursued allowing the dominant Bristol set-piece to enforce another infringement as the contrasting packs wheeled in the favour of the hosts. Jarvis gratefully accepted another easy goal in front of the posts to re-establish a six point lead.
The game still sat on a seesaw as the territory swung end to end giving Knights the chance to attack deep into Bristol area. This time the penalty was given to Doncaster as opposition flanker Redford Pennycook was pinned for detaching from the set-piece early. Unfortunately Lennard missed the normally comfortable penalty as Knights gave up the chance to strike back immediately.
But Bristol returned the favour quickly after as a home player killed the ball illegally, this time Lennard made no mistake from the tee slotting another long range penalty to trail by just three on the half hour mark.
The West Country outfit showed a period of class just short of the half time whistle as they set about breaking the shackles to record the first try of the match, but the Doncaster defence was just too strong as they batted down the hatches before earning an awesome turnover on their own whitewash to bring the half to a close at 9-6 to Bristol.
Unfortunately the Knights couldn’t hold out after the interval as Bristol back rower Mitch Eadie benefited from a 25 metre rolling maul to touchdown the game’s first try. Jarvis added the conversion as Bristol tried to power through their northern visitors.
In the mist of the try the impressive Kettle made way for Sam Pailor, as the Knights replied with their own spell of dominance. After several phases Knights were very unlucky not to gain a push over try and when the ball went loose Will Simpson pounced and darted for the line only to have his try disallowed for a dubious knock-on over the whitewash. Bristol cleared under heavy pressure, but the Knights were left wounded by what seemed a definite try.
Whilst Doncaster pondered what may have been, Bristol again attacked and another unconvincing penalty decision against Planchant for not rolling away gave Jarvis another three points to his tally from a comfortable goal as the scoreline quickly grew to 19-6.
The deciding try came shortly after as Bristol replacement scrum-half James Grindal took a quick tap, roughly about 10 metres in front of the mark, spreading the ball wide for the flyers to run in a simple try. George Watkins finishing the move in the corner, with former Knights playmaker Tristan Roberts adding the extras.
But a Knights fight back silenced the large Memorial crowd as Canadian full-back Connor Braid burst through a gap before running unopposed to the try line for Donny’s first try of the match with ten minutes left on the clock.
This was backed up by Clive’s Griffiths’ men turning up the heat as a roaring Challinor ruptured through the heart of the Bristol defence, casually beating full-back Jack Tovey for pace before offloading to the supporting Louis Silver. The substitute half-back took the Knights just short of the line as a series of rucks followed. Eventually Planchant burrowed over for Knights’ second try in five minutes as they hunted for the win at 26-18.
Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time as they produced a sterling last 20 minutes before a last gasp drop goal effort from Lennard drifted just wide to send the Knights home empty handed after a much improved performance.
Bristol: Tovey, Watkins, Eves, Gadd (Otto 61), McIlwaine, Jarvis (Roberts 64), Tipuna © (Grindal 64), Traynor, Johnston (Lawrence 61), Hobson (Douglas 61), Sambucetti (Glynn 54), Townson, Faosiliva, Pennycook (Mama 61), Eadie.
Tries: Eadie 44, Watkins 70
Conv: Jarvis 44, Roberts 70
Pens: Jarvis 10, 15, 24, 52
Doncaster Knights: Braid, Mama, Symons (Ticknell 72), Simpson, Lewis (Flockhart 74), Lennard, Hallam (Silver 74), Davies, Buckley, Brookes (Francis 55), Challinor ©, Hoy (Hafu 62), Kettle (Pailor 45), Rawling, Planchant.
Tries: Braid 72, Planchant 75
Conv: Lennard 75
Pens: Lennard 18, 30
Referee: John Meredith
Image courtesy of John White (Bristol Rugby)