Doncaster Knights again finished empty-handed at home despite becoming the first side this season to deny Championship favourites London Irish a score in 40 minutes of rugby.
Although Irish never looked in any danger of defeat and were good value for their seventh successive win, they were made to work harder for their 26-17 win than looked likely to be the case at half time.
Irish had run in four first half tries against one to open up a 26-10 interval lead and you would have got long odds on Knights winning the second-half 7-0 particularly when you take into account the fact that they had conceded 83 points in their previous two home games.
But Knights got better defensively the longer the game went on which reflected both their efforts on the day and the work put in on the training field during the week with new interim defensive coach Phil Larder.
Although there is still room for improvement, particularly in their opponents’ 22 where Irish were more clinical, this was an encouraging 80-minute display by the Knights and in the final analysis they could consider themselves a bit unlucky to have nothing to show for their efforts.
The forwards, where veteran prop Colin Quigley was making his 100th appearance for the club, worked hard in both the loose and set-piece against well-drilled opponents, with No 8 Josh Tyrell again catching the eye in attack.
The back division looked a lot more cohesive than in the last home game against Jersey, and carried on from where they had left off in the second half at Bedford.
The coaching staff probably made more changes to the back division than expected given the closeness of the result, but all those who came in made a contribution.
Fit-again full-back Cameron Cowell and the new-look centre pairing of Elliot Creed – a worthy man-of-the-match – and Lloyd Hayes were always a handful with ball in hand. Wing Tyson Lewis worked hard in both attack and defence and half-backs Tom James and Kurt Morath provided a good link.
For a side on a run of four successive defeats having being hit by illness and injury, Knights made a confident start only to fall behind to the first of two first-half tries from a catch-and-drive.
Murtagh opened Doncaster’s account with a penalty
Knights hit back when Tyrell burst through the middle and James up in support and the scrum-half had enough speed to finish the move off. Murtagh tagged on the extras to cut the deficit to 12-10.
Two quickly-taken tries saw the Exiles open up a 16-point lead.
The second half failed to match the first in terms of entertainment value and it became scrappy at times.
Just when it was beginning to look as though neither side would score the ball was moved along the line in the Irish 22 with Hayes touching down for a late try near enough for Steve McColl to convert.
That raised hopes among the club’s biggest crowd of the season that Knights could at least snatch a losing bonus point but the opportunity of a shot at goal eluded them.
Knights: Cowell, Wilson, Hayes, Creed, Lewis, Morath, James Hislop, Malcolm, Quigley, Challinor, Eames, Ryan, Hills, Tyrell. Rep: Mullen, Sproston, List, Booth, Foley, Seniloli, McColl.