FRUSTRATED Doncaster Knights were left ruing missed opportunities as they came so close to completing a British & Irish Cup double over unbeaten Championship leaders Bristol.
Trailing 37-32 from the 66th minute, Clive Griffiths’ side had ample chances to claim victory against their big-spending visitors, just as they did at Ashton Gate earlier in the season.
Ex-Doncaster centre Will Hurrell and Nick Haining were both yellow-carded in the final quarter meaning Bristol were down to 13 men at one point.
Crucially, though, the hosts missed their man on three line-outs in good attacking position and were unable to apply the necessary pressure against opponents who did well to hang on given they had lost three players to first-half injuries.
That said, Doncaster - who still stand a chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals going into next Saturday’s last pool game at Leinster A - earlier also gifted Bristol two intercept tries for Joe Batley and ex-England winger Tom Varndell.
There was a promising debut from Namibia centre Lesley Klim, who, with his 52nd minute try, put Doncaster ahead for the only time at 29-27, the excellent Declan Cusack converting.
They were just 22-19 down at the break but still cursing themselves having conceded three soft tries against Bristol whose full-back Mat Protheroe needed lengthy treatment for a nasty leg injury before being carried off in the 16th minute.
The first came from Batley who somehow scored an 80m intercept try that, no doubt, will live long in the memory for the giant forward.
Soon after, he nearly grasped another wayward Doncaster pass as the hosts showed the sort of casual approach that would be evident for large spells of this game.
Instead, though, after a lengthy hold-up for Protheroe’s injury, Callum Sheedy extended Bristol’s lead by adding a penalty to his earlier conversion.
Nevertheless, when they messed up the restart, Knights managed to show their attacking flair for the first time.
Declan Cusack - who had earlier missed touch with a penalty kick - found his range with a lovely pass to send returning full-back Paul Jarvis scampering in at the corner.
Cusack improved the score only to see his side concede poorly almost immediately as - from their restart clearance - Bristol scrum-half Andy Uren sold an outrageous dummy at the line-out to zip into space and furnish flanker Nick Haining.
Still, some fine line-out work saw Doncaster get close before Joe Sproston inched over and things looked to turn in their favour when, within seconds of each other, Bristol lost front-rows Jack Cosgrove and Nick Fenton-Wells to further injury problems.
However, they conceded meekly again to encourage the visitors, Jack Ram being turned over and ex-England winger Tom Varndell easily swatting off three players as he was set free down the left flank in the 39th minute.
It was all the more frustrating as, again, Griffiths’ side rallied with another fine try, the excellent Cusack sending Klim through a yawning gap and Tom James doing well before returning to Cusack who muscled over and converted.
Crucially, though, Bristol centre Jack Tovey cut through off first phase ball at a line-out in the 46th minute for another badly-defended try.
Cusack responded with a penalty and then set up Klim with another clever pass but that lead did not last long.
After another Batley intercept, Sproston was in the way of a Bristol pass as he retreated into the defensive line, harshly earning a yellow card and Sheedy slotting the points.
Then, Mat Clark threw an intercept pass that Varndell collected with ease for his second try so, even when Hurrell was sin-binned for failing to use his arms in a tackle, they were still behind following Michael Heaney’s penalty.
Charlie Foley, Cusack’s replacement at No10, looked to have stepped over only for Tovey to crucially knee the ball from his grasp as he stretched for the line.
Haining was yellow-carded for a professional foul, swiping at the ball as Alex Shaw looked to feed Heaney at the back of a five metre scrum but they could not capitalise as that set-piece faltered again and again.
Doncaster Knights: Jarvis; Wilson, Klim, Clark, Lewis; Cusack (Foley 60), James (Foley 60); Bergmanas (List 47), Hunter (Nelson 53), Sprotson, Eames, Hicks (Williams 65), Ram, Hills, Hill (Batt 65).
Bristol: Protheroe (Edwards 16); Lemi, Tovey, Hurrell, Varndell; Sheedy (Searle 60), Uren (Glynn 69); Gosgrove (O’Connell 30), Fenton-Wells (Gompels 29), Faletau (Dawe 77), Batley (Nemsadze 77), Latta , Haining, Graham, Crane.
Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU)