Full-time: Doncaster Knights 9 Bristol Rugby 18
BRISTOL Rugby claimed their first victory of the new Championship season with a scrappy win over Doncaster at Castle Park tonight.
Liam Middleton's men, beaten 37-20 by Newcastle on the opening weekend of the season, responded by taking four points from the trip to Yorkshire.
Ross Johnston and Ryan Edwards grabbed Bristol's tries in an opening half they bossed, before an uneventful second half ended with Matt Jones kicking a late penalty to take the game away from Doncaster, who had briefly rallied and threatened.
But there was a concerning sight for Bristol – who went into the match without Iain Grieve and James Grindal, both of whom failed fitness tests in the morning – when hooker Johnston had to be helped off the field on 59 minutes. Middleton is already without a host of injured first-team players.
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Doncaster took the lead in the seventh minute through a Jamie Lennard penalty, before Bristol's gamble on kicking a penalty to touch paid off when they conjured the opening try.
Johnston, a hat-trick hero on the same ground in the Championship play-offs six months ago, was driven over from close range from a line-out after a further couple of penalties had been awarded to Bristol's pack. Tristan Roberts' conversion made it 7-3.
Bristol again gambled on going to touch from a penalty – but this time there was no end-product, despite Jack Gadd going over. Referee Darren Gammage ruled the effort out for a forward pass from Luke Eves to Gadd.
But in-form winger Edwards soon scored Bristol's second try, kicking ahead from just inside the 22, then having his boldness rewarded with the kindest of bounces to dive over in the corner.
Roberts missed from a tight angle – and, with half-time approaching, Lennard doubled Doncaster's tally with a second penalty of the evening to make it 12-6 at half-time.
Redford Pennycook, who stood out during the first half, was penalised for holding on from the kick-off at the start of the second – and Lennard cut the Bristol lead to three points at 12-9.
Bristol made a couple of needless errors at the outset of the second half – but Roberts helped to restore calm with a penalty, awarded when a Doncaster player handled at a ruck, which made it 15-9.
Much of the second period was scrappy, with neither side taking control, although Bristol had to rely on a combination of their own defensive discipline and Doncaster's lack of composure to keep the Knights out during a prolonged stay in their 22 in the final ten minutes.
Bristol responded positively – and, when Doncaster were penalised for not rolling away in the final minute, Jones kicked the penalty that gave his side the breathing space of a nine-point cushion.
Doncaster: D Flockhart; D Mama, J Tincknell, W Simpson, T Lewis; J Lennard, L Silver (C Hallam 76); T Davies (J Cronin 46), R Buckley (B Sowery 76), B McGovern, R Cadman (A Boyde 53), P Hoy, M Challinor (capt), J Rawling (D Bradford 64), A Kettle (S Pailor 67). Rep not used: T Barrett.
Scorers: Pens – Lennard (3).
Bristol: J Goodridge; M Tagicakibau, L Eves, J Gadd (B Mosses 69), R Edwards; T Roberts (M Jones 64), R Tipuna (T Slater 80); K Traynor, R Johnston (R Lawrence 59), B Douglas (W Thompson 67), B Glynn, R Winters, R Pennycook (G Townson 72), J Merriman (capt), M Eadie. Rep not used: S Uren.
Scorers: Tries – Johnston, Edwards. Con – Roberts. Pens – Roberts, Jones.
Referee: D Gammage. Att: 1,013.