Doncaster Knights 32-37 Bristol Rugby.
The Knights progression to the British and Irish Cup knock out stages will be determined on the final weekend of group action following a narrow defeat to Championship league leaders Bristol Rugby.
In a nine try feast at Castle Park the Knights collected two competition points but could not force a second victory over Pat Lam’s charges, despite taking a second half lead.
Donny had chances to win the game in the dying stages, pressurizing the visitors who were reduced to thirteen men following sin binnings for Will Hurrell and Nick Haining. However, the breakthrough was not found leaving the Knights ruing costly early errors including two intercepted tries.
The Knights started brightly enough and were lively in attack with new boy Lesley Klim looking particularly dangerous when permitted room to run. Early pressure and a midfield penalty moved Donny deep into the Bristol 22m but from there they were dealt a cruel blow.
Lock Joe Batley gambled to chase after a flat Tom James pass and was able to collect possession before racing downfield. Speedsters Paul Jarvis & Tyson Lewis gave chase but the second row would not be caught and got over from over eighty metres.
Fly half Callum Sheedy kicked the extras before adding a penalty just after the quarter hour mark to give the visitors a double figure lead.
The deficit was not an accurate reflection of the opening exchanges and soon Donny were on the board following a Bristol failure to collect the post penalty restart.
A free kick went the Knights way at the resulting scrum and Jason Hill tapped quickly. The number eight made good ground before being brought down and from the breakdown play was switched blind. Declan Cusack launched a long wide pass toward Paul Jarvis who collected before finishing well in the corner. Cusack converted; 7-10.
The try should have created a platform for the Knights to build on but instead it prompted an immediate Bristol response who scored a second through Nick Haining. The back-row collected a sharp pass from Andy Uren after the scrum half had broke through at the back of a line out and charged over.
The you go, I go nature of the scoring continued as the first half entered it’s closing stages with the Knights scoring twice more either side of winger Tom Varndell’s first of a brace of tries on the afternoon.
Firstly, Joe Sproston crashed over from short range after the pack had driven a post penalty line out to within inches of the Bristol line. Then Declan Cusack finished a lovely sequence of offloads initiated by a Jarvis kick return and featuring Tom James and Lesley Klim.
Cusack converted his own effort leaving the game delicately poised at 19-22 going into the change of ends.
Much like the beginning of the first half, the second forty began rather unluckily for the Knights. Curtis Wilson appeared to have fielded a looming up and under and was well on his way but play was brought back for a Bristol line out much to the bemusement of the home fans.
From there centre Jack Tovey fielded possession and cruised through some rather sloppy defensive play to extends his side’s lead.
Cusack struck a penalty just two minute’s later to make it 22-27 following an indiscretion at the ruck from the Bristol pack.
The Knights took the lead on the fifty-minute mark as Lesley Klim marked his debut for the club with a well-taken score.
From a deep lineout the Knights attacked in field, creating room out wide and Cusack delayed a smart pass to the outside centre who put his foot down to finished coolly.
Cusack’s conversion moved the Knights ahead 29-27 but a penalty from Sheedy moments later reestablished the Bristol advantage.
With just a single point in it neither side could afford to make a mistake but unfortunately the Knights gifted Bristol a fifth try which created an unassailable eight-point lead. With the Knights pressing, Mat Clark forced a pass which was read by Varndell who quickly got into his stride to race away for a seven-point score.
Opportunities came for the Knights to win the game in the late stages, most notably through Charlie Foley and a wide attack which was dropped at the crucial moment but the visitors held on - even following two sin binnings in quick succession.
Michael Heaney struck a penalty to make it 32-37 with just over ten minutes to play which secured a second bonus point which the Knights had to settle for as Bristol took the win.
Qualification for the knock out stages remains very much a possibility for the Knights who head to Donnybrook next weekend.
Knights XV; 15) Paul Jarvis, 14) Curtis Wilson, 13) Lesley Klim, 12) Mat Clark, 11) Tyson Lewis, 10) Declan Cusack (Charlie Foley 60’), 9) Tom James (Michael Heaney 60’), 1) Jack Bergmanas (richard List 47’), 2) Ben Hunter (David Nelson 53’), 3) Joe Sproston (Ian Williams 62’), 4) Morgan Eames, 5) Tom Hicks (Adam Batt 62’), 6) Jack Ram, 7) Michael Hills ©, 8) Jason Hill (Alex Shaw 64’)
Replacements; 16) David Nelson, 17) Richard List, 18) Ian Williams, 19) Adam Batt, 20) Alex Shaw, 21) Michael Heaney, 22) Charlie Foley.
Tries; Jarvis 19’, Sproston 29’, Cusack 40’, Klim 51’
Conv; Cusack 20’, 40’, 51’
Pens; Cusack 49’, Heaney 66’
Bristol Rugby; 15) Mat Protheroe (Ryand Edward 15’), 14) David Lemi, 13) Jack Tovey, 12) Will Hurrell, 11) Tom Varndell, 10) Callum Sheedy (Billy Searle 60’), 9) Andy Uren (Ryan Glynn 68’), 1) Jack Cosgrove (Jack O’Connell 29’), 2) Nick Fenton-Wells (Ben Gompels 29’), 3) Sione Faletau (Ollie Dawes 75’), 4) Joe Batley (Giorgi Nemsadze 75’), 5) Joe Latta, 6) Nick Haining, 7) Sam Graham, 8) Jordan Crane ©.
Replacements; 16) Ben Gompels, 17) Jack O’Connell, 18) Ollie Dawes, 19) Giorgi Nemsadze, 20) Ryan Glynn, 21) Billy Searle, 22) Ryan Edwards.
Tries; Batley 10’, Haining 20’, Varndell 38’, 59’, Tovey 47’
Conv; Sheedy 10’, 38’, 59’
Pens; Sheedy 15’, 56’
Referee; Karl Dixon