gfg Doncaster Knights failed to do themselves justice as promotion-chasing Bristol completed a Championship double at Castle Park with a 27-12 win.
Knights’ boss Clive Griffiths got it spot on when he claimed that his charges had contributed to their own downfall in a game they genuinely felt they could win.
There was no faulting Knights’ spirit or their defensive qualities, but their handling let them down.
They made numerous handling errors in the first half, which contributed to their defensive workload, and Bristol capitalised on more mistakes after the break to race into a match-winning 20-0 lead.
Their confidence boosted by successive wins, Knights looked the better side in the opening exchanges but were unable to capitalise on two good breaks by full-back Paul Jarvis – though his back-pass to hooker Ben Hunter was on the ambitious side.
Bristol started to dominate territorially in the second quarter as Knights continued to squander possession and only superb line defence prevented the visitors from adding to scrum-half Dwayne Peel’s try.
There was a let-off, however, when wing George Watkins threw out a wayward pass in a good attacking position.
Although fly-half Matt Morgan, more influential on the day that Ume Fosita, kicked a penalty on the stroke of half-time, Bristol’s 8-0 lead didn’t look unsurmountable.
That was certainly the feeling in the Knights’ dressing room during the break.
But another dropped ball within a couple of minutes of the restart, saw Bristol full-back Jack Wallace touch down in the corner after good work by Morgan and George Watkins in the build-up.
Worse was to follow as Knights looked to move the ball in Bristol’s half – Watkins intercepting Fosita’s pass and racing in from his own half to claim his 50th league try for the club.
Despite the game looking to be beyond them, Knights stuck to their guns and as Griffiths’ tactical changes started to produce results they again posed problems.
Centre Mat Clark, who formed a new partnership with Leicester’s Terrence Hepetema, made a typically strong run.
Replacement back-rower Latu Makaafi touched down out wide following some good handling on 69 minutes within a couple of minutes of joining the fray.
Bristol’s fourth try killed off any real prospect of Knights picking up any reward for their efforts, though a last-minute converted penalty try gave the scoreline a more respectable look.
The two sides will meet again at Castle Park in the B & I Cup semi-final next month.
Knights: Paul Jarvis; Flockhart, Clark, Hepetema, Tyson; Fosita, Palu; Tom Davies, Hunter, Quigley, Hotson, Phelan, Challinor, Hills, Shaw. Rep: Bergmanas, Veikoso, Stedman, John, Makaafi, Francis, Field.
Bristol: Wallace; Watkins, Maule, Henson, Amesbury; Morgan, Peel; O’Connell, McMillan, Hall, Glynn, Evans, Mama, Ovens. Eadie. Rep: Brooker, Genge, Joyce, Koster, Hampson, Adrian Jarvis, Tovey.