Doncaster Knights tasted defeat on the road for the first time since returning to the Championship in last night’s clash against Bristol at rain-lashed Ashton Gate.
But they made the unbeaten leaders work hard for their 24-12 win and can take heart from the fact that they led at the break and were still in contention for at least a losing bonus point until Bristol notched a 77th minute converted try.
With Andy Bulumakau joining fellow centre Mat Clark on the sidelines after suffering an ankle injury in the club’s last game, Knights’ boss Clive Griffiths gave a debut to Romanian international Stephen Hihetah.
Dougie Flockhart, who returned to the side after missing the Bedford game with a thigh strain, kicked the visitors into an early lead.
But Bristol, who welcomed back Wales and Lions’ back-row forward Ryan Jones after a six-month injury lay-off, hit back with a converted try by hooker Max Crumpton.
The two sides exchanged penalties either side of a disallowed try by wing Darren Hudson.
Flockhart kicked two further penalties to edge Knights, who defended well, into a 12-10 lead.
Bristol piled on the pressure in the last ten minutes of the half, during which time Knights had flanker Latu Makaafi sin-binned, with skipper Dwayne Peel being held up prior to another chance going begging at the death.
Knights were reduced to 14 men for a second time on 56 minutes when Flockhart was penalised after halting a dangerous break by speedy full-back Augey Slowik.
Bristol quickly cashed in on their extra man with Peel darting past two defenders close to the line on the hour.
Adrian Jarvis added the extras to make it 17-12 but was wide with a 70th minute penalty.
Bristol: Slowik, Wallace, Maule, Mosses,Hudson, Jarvis,Peel, Traynor, Crumpton, Cortes,Evans, Sorenson, Koster,O Robinson, Jones. Replacements: Lawrence, Hall, Townson,Eadie,Baldwin, N Robinson, Eves.
Knights: Jarvis,Flockhart, Hihetah, Armitage, Lewis,Roberts, Bravo, Davies, Hunter, Quigley, Challinor, Phelan, Makaafi, Hills,Eggleshaw. Replacements:List, Bergmanas, Kenworthy, Foden,Lennard, O’Donnell, Maplesden.