FACING opponents newly-relegated from the Premiership on the first day of the Championship season was always going to be a tough ask for Doncaster Knights.
Nevertheless, Clive Griffiths’ side were left disappointed with Saturday’s 19-0 defeat at London Irish, a side tipped as favourities to win an immediate promotion back into the top-flight.
Doncaster were the surprise package of 2015-16, finishing second in the table and reaching the Championship play-off final where they lost out narrowly to Bristol.
But they were never truly in the running against a star-studded Irish side at Madejski Stadium and returned north scoreless.
There must be a marked improvement in their performance if they are to get off the mark this Saturday when Rotherham Titans arrive at Castle Park for the South Yorkshire derby.
Tommy Bell slotted three penalties in the opening 18 minutes to give Irish a 9-0 lead.
With Doncaster struggling in their line-out and also proving slack with their handling too often, it was the the hosts who pushed on.
They set up a driving line-out that attracted Doncaster defenders and, a few phases later, centre Tom Fowlie exploited the space for a the game’s opening try just two minutes before the break.
Doncaster gave debuts to six players, including former Wallabies flanker Beau Robinson and ex-Rotherham duo Lloyd Hayes and Richard Hislop but, into the second period, they still struggled for points despite some fine carries from No8 Alex Shaw.
Dougie Flockhart missed a penalty kick and, instead, it was Irish who extended their lead with a try from Asaeli Tikoirotuma in the 57th minute.
Doncaster pressed further in the final quarter but could not unpick the Exiles’ well-organised defence.
London Irish: Tonks; Neal (Ransom 73), Fowlie, Williams, Tikoirotuma; Bell, McKibbin (Allinson 68); Hobbs-Awoyemi (Court 61), Paice (Ellis 78), Franks (Hoskins 68), Robson (Sexton 70), De Chaves, Narraway (Trayfoot 67), Cowan, Treviranus.
Doncaster Knights: Jarvis; Flockhart, Hayes, Clark, Lewis; Cusack (Humberstone 58), Heaney (Edgerley 73); List (Hislop 58), Allen (Nelson 68), John (Sproston 68), Challinor (Makaafi 58), Nolan, Young, Robinson (Owen 73), Shaw.