It’s advantage Bristol going into the second leg of the Championship play-off final at Ashton Gate on Wednesday after they beat Doncaster Knights 28-13 at Castle Park tonight.
They beat Knights for the second time this season at Castle Park and whereas they needed a last-minute try to take the spoils in the league last month, they did so last night something to spare.
But although the odds look stacked against the South Yorkshire side, who finished second to Bristol in the league, no one should write them off.
Admittedly, they will need to play better than they did on this occasion, but they are more than capable of doing that and they have also shown that they can beat Bristol –the side to do only at Ashton Gate.
“Obviously I am gutted,” said prop Colin Quigley who had hoped to celebrate his 35th birthday with a win.
“That was probably one of our worst performances of the season – particularly with ball in hand.
“But all credit to Bristol because they defended well, were very clinical and they showed what a good side they are.
“We’ve got a big task down there, but it’s not over yet.”
If fly-half Declan Cusack had any big-match nerves he didn’t let is show as he kicked Knights into a 3-0 lead
But it was the visitors who dominated the first quarter territorially with half-backs Cliff William and Callum Sheedy keeping Knights penned in their own half.
But apart from when Sheedy, standing in for the injured Gavin Henson at fly-half, got wing David Lemi away down the left, and Championship player of the year Jack Lam was held just short after going past two defenders, Bristol rarely looked like turning pressure into points until Sheedy levelled.
Knights, who had dug deep in defence, weathered the storm and, during their first real look at the Bristol line, regained the lead when scrum-half Michael Heaney sent strong-running centre Will Hurrell over for his third try in the play-offs.
Cusack added the extras to make it 10-3.
Sheedy, who looks to have a bright future, reduced the deficit with a penalty.
Bristol got their noses in front (11-10) on 35 minutes when prop Anthony Perenise did well to get the ball out to Lemi who kept low when racing in at the corner for an unconverted try.
Knights regained the lead with the last kick of the half with a close-range penalty by Cusack.
Knights never looked like building on their 13-11 interval lead during a second half dominated by Bristol.
With Knights unable to get any fluency in attack, they always looked to be fighting a losing battle after Bristol had crossed for two early tries to lead 25-13 prior to Sheedy kicking a third penalty.
Knights saved their best until late but Bristol held out to take a commanding lead back to Ashton Gate.
Doncaster Knights: Jarvis; Bulumakau, Clark, Hurrell,Lewis; Cusack, Heaney: List, Hunter, Quigley, Challinor, Phelan, Makaafi, Shaw, Hills. Rep: Veikoso, Brugnara, John, Stedman, Young, Flockhart, Field.
Bristol: Arscott; Varndell, Tovey, Mosses, Lemi; Sheedy, Cliff; O’Connell, McMillan, Perenise, Evans, Glynn, Mama, Lam, Phillips. Rep: Brooker,Traynor, Cortes, Sorenson, Robinson, Roberts,Morgan.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)