Bristol close in on Premiership return with convincing play-off win at Doncaster
Bristol have one foot back in the Aviva Premiership after a convincing 28-13 win over Doncaster at Castle Park in the first leg of the Championship play-off final.
Bristol were trailing 13-11 at the interval and overcame the loss of Tom Varndell to a yellow card to produce a strong second-half performance and take a comfortable lead back to Ashton Gate for next Wednesday's second leg.
David Lemi, Ross McMillan and Ben Glynn scored tries for Bristol with Callum Sheedy kicking two conversions and adding three penalties.
Will Hurrell scored Doncaster's try with Dec Cusack kicking two penalties and a conversion.
Doncaster made a lively start and had the first chance for points when the visitors were penalised at the first scrum. Cusack stepped up and made no mistake with his kick to give the hosts a third-minute lead.
However the home side fumbled the restart, enabling Bristol to gain a platform in the opposition half where they remained for the next 12 minutes.
They placed the Knights under considerable pressure but some ferocious tackling kept Bristol at bay and a misdirected line-out throw from McMillan allowed Doncaster to temporarily relieve the pressure before a Sheedy penalty drew the visitors level.
After 22 minutes, and against the run of play, Doncaster scored the opening try of the game. A driving line-out put the Bristol defence on the back foot and allowed Michael Heaney to send Hurrell in under the posts.
Sheedy replied with a second penalty after Doncaster were penalised for illegally halting an impressive 30-metre drive but the visitors soon suffered a blow when Varndell was yellow carded for foolishly taking Heaney out in the air.
It mattered little as Bristol continued to dominate the half and deservedly took the lead when strong runs from Marco Mama and Jack Lam created the opportunity for Lemi to squeeze in at the corner. Sheedy missed the conversion before a Cusack penalty put 13-11 up at the break.
Lemi was injured after being tackled in the air by Andy Bulumakau five minutes after half-time and the Bristol skipper was replaced by Matthew Morgan moments before McMillan burst away from a line-out to score the away side's second try.
Minutes later, Bristol had their third when Will Cliff tore through a huge gap in the home line-out to put in Glynn.
Sheehy kicked a third penalty in the final quarter as Bristol emphasized their superiority on the night to make them firm favourites to return to the Premiership for the first time since 2009.