A strong second half fightback was not enough for Coventry Rugby at Castle Park, Doncaster Knights hanging on the ropes in the final few minutes to secure the points.
Although Doncaster looked to set their stall out early doors, Kyle Evans running the opening kick off back strongly, the opening few minutes belonged to Cov.
With Louis Brown tackled in the air while catching the clearance kick Cov had a penalty, then another, and another. All were kicked to the corner, with the third drive looking strong enough to have earned a penalty try when it was pulled to ground.
Doncaster were nevertheless penalised for a fourth time in quick succession, and with this, too, sent to the corner there was not going to be a mistake again, Nic Dolly coming up with the ball for his second in as many weeks.
Doncaster were definitely on the wrong side of referee Hamish Smales, conceding two more penalties in quick succession, but with Cov playing into the breeze Brown was finding it challenging to gain much territory.
And when a rare slip at a lineout saw the throw sail over Sam Lewis and into the grateful hands of Ben Elliott, it put the hosts into an ideal position. The ball came back to Sam Olver, whose chip bounced horribly for Brown and eventually fell to Evans to score in the corner.
Five minutes later Doncaster were ahead. Cov had attacked with tempo and width, but the home defence was solid and physical, effort rewarded at the end of the opening quarter. A penalty was kicked to touch, Olver sold a dummy to fool the rush defence, and when the fly half was eventually felled his number eight John Kelly was on the shoulder to dot down by the posts.
Doncaster’s defence put them into another great position as the half-hour approached, a Cov attack ending with the ball hitting the deck and being hacked ahead. Pete White won the foot race but conceded a five-metre scrum, and with Mr Smales this time favouring the home team with a series of penalties and Doncaster opting for scrums each time the visiting eight were under a serious amount of pressure.
Luc Jeannot saw yellow, with Cov opting to bring off Rob Knox to maintain parity up front. They did manage to hold up the next scrum, but the extra man told in the backs, Billy O’Brien going over for his team’s third try.
Olver’s inaccuracy off the tee with the conversions was keeping Cov in the game, but a 35th-minute penalty sailed between the sticks, increasing the margin to 13 in the process.
Cov did have another promising position before the end of the half, a powerful maul making 15 metres and Rob Stevenson hitting the line at pace coming off his wing. But the speedster opted for the tricky offload, Doncaster got the ball back with a scrum, and with a penalty awarded and the wind behind him O’Brien sent play to the 10-metre line for one final attack.
The ball went forwards to end the half, but Doncaster were back on the front foot early in the second period, kicking for the corner in search of the bonus point.
But this time Cov upped their intensity to hold firm, and when a Doncaster player joined a maul from an offside position Brown was able to relieve his lines.
The remainder of the third quarter was largely played out between the 22s, with Cov looking to move Doncaster around but the hosts edging the physical battle.
Still it was Cov who needed the next try, and on the hour all of a sudden things clicked for the men in fuschia.
Fenner looped on the right to create an overlap, and with Doncaster scrambling space soon appeared on the other wing. Louis James stepped inside to pull the last man infield, Dolly broke down the big blindside and Ben Nutley was on hand to finish things off.
The bit now firmly between their teeth, Cov had a third try with 15 to play. On for Fenner at fly half, Kieran Wilkinson looked just as lively, opening up space with a dummy and step off his right foot. Ryan Burrows powered to the posts, and with Cov having an advantage Joe Snow made the most of the free play to find Stevenson unmarked on the wing with a 20-metre pass.
Wilkinson’s touchline conversion was a beauty, and from having been well out of it five minutes earlier all of a sudden Cov were just one point down.
Having played a key role in creating the second try James then stood out a couple more times in the next few minutes, too, having a break pulled back for a forward pass before showing some outrageous confidence of youth to defuse a dangerous James Mitchell chip on his own line to sidestep and accelerate up to the 22.
With a penalty then marched up a further 10 metres for Doncaster kicking the ball away Cov also had a promising position from which to go on and win the contest.
But unlike last week there was to be no nailbiting clincher, Doncaster seeing out time with a series of scrums then kicking the ball dead.
15 Billy McBride; 14 Kyle Evans, 13 Charles Foley, 12 Connor Edwards, 11 Jack Spittle; 10 Sam Olver, 9 James Mitchell; 1 Bomber Hislop (capt), 2 Ben Hunter, 3 Joe Jones, 4 Matt Challinor, 5 Jerry Sexton, 6 William Britton, 7 Samuel Graham, 8 John Kelly
16 William Holding, 17 Conrad Cade, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Conor Joyce, 20 Jack Davies, 21 Reiss Cullen, 22 Mark Best, 23 Howard Packman
Tries – Kyle Evans, John Kelly, Billy O’Brien. Con – Sam Olver. Pen – Sam Olver
15 Louis Brown; 14 Rob Stevenson, 13 Andy Forsyth, 12 Will Owen, 11 Rob Knox; 10 Tony Fenner, 9 Pete White; 1 Luc Jeannot, 2 Nic Dolly, 3 James Harper, 4 Nile Dacres, 5 Cameron Jordan, 6 Sam Lewis, 7 Ben Nutley, 8 Ryan Burrows (capt)
16 Suva Ma’asi, 17 Toby Trinder, 18 Phil Boulton, 19 Kailus Hutchinson, 20 Senitiki Nayalo, 21 Joe Snow, 22 Kieran Wilkinson, 23 Louis James
Tries – Nic Dolly, Ben Nutley, Rob Stevenson. Cons – Tony Fenner, Kieran Wilkinson
REFEREE Hamish Smales