Doncaster Knights 18 Bristol 38: Knights continue to slide as the leaders pull further away

If matches were won by a battling team spirit and wholehearted commitment alone from start to finish, Doncaster would not be experiencing the run of results which has seen them fail to win a league match since the end of September.

Doncaster Knights' Matt Challinor. Picture: Marie Caley
Doncaster Knights' Matt Challinor. Picture: Marie Caley

For the entire 80 minutes of a highly-competitive and entertaining encounter, Doncaster fought tooth and nail against the Championship leaders, who will surely return to the Premiership at the end of the season.

Bristol, with a rugby budget of £5m, have won all of their 11 Championship games and at times in the second half at Castle Park produced some sparkling moves which delivered three tries to add to the one they scored before the interval.

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Doncaster, who lost by four tries to two and were handicapped by a serious injury crisis, can be happy with the pressure they put Bristol under and satisfied with the build-up to the tries on 14 and 68 minutes by second row forward Matt Challinor and winger Curtis Wilson.

SLUMP: Doncaster Knights' boss Clive Griffiths. Picture: Marie Caley

But they were far too generous as two of Bristol’s tries by hooker Jason Harris-Wright resulted from Doncaster being penalised. Indeed, their indiscipline also set up goal kicking opportunities for Irish fly-half Ian Madigan who put over four successful kicks on 5,40,41 and 57 minutes.

And with Madigan, who’s been capped 30 times by Ireland and appeared in the 2015 World Cup, also adding three conversions, Bristol – leading by only 13-10 at half-time – gradually increased their advantage and were 31-13 in front just after the hour.

Doncaster’s forwards maintained the pressure with impressive displays from the back row of Alex Shaw, Michael Hills and Jason Hill, and this aggression created a fine try for Wilson with 12 minutes remaining.

From a scrum, the ball was moved right, where replacement prop Colin Quigley and Hills made inroads and then centre Will Owen passed cleverly to Wilson, who touched down.

SLUMP: Doncaster Knights' boss Clive Griffiths. Picture: Marie Caley

A few minutes later, Wilson was then involved in an incident that was less productive. A high tackle upset the referee and the subsequent yellow card, cutting Doncaster to 14 men, enabled Bristol to exploit the space.

Another quick move and sharp handling by their backs opened up Doncaster’s defence and, in a flash, Samoan winger Alapati Leiua grabbed his team’s fourth try and a bonus point.

Doncaster were now lagging 38-18 but while they lost their sixth league game, they stay in mid-table and can take much encouragement from this fighting effort.

They will also be relieved that centre Mat Clark, who hadn’t played for several months because of injury, made a successful return in his first Championship appearance this season.

Doncaster Knights: Cowell, Wilson, Clark, Owen, Lewis, Humberstone (Cusack 76), Heaney (James 76), List, (Evans 43), Hunter (Langdon 60), Sproston (Quigley 58), Challinor (Bergmanas 69), Eames, Shaw (Batt 67), Hills, Hill.

Bristol: Protheroe, J. Williams, Hurrell (Searle 48), Pisi (Gompels 78), Leiua, Madigan (Piutau 69), R.Williams (Uren 79), Tonga’Uiha (Bevington 50), Harris-Wright, Cortes (I.Thomas 50), Joyce, Vui, Jeffries, D.Thomas, Crane (Lamb 48).

Referee: Matt O’Grady.