Connacht Eagles lost 22-5 away to Doncaster Knights in round 2 of the British & Irish Cup, scoring just one unconverted try for the second week running.
Nigel Carolan's Eagles team, which included three of the Connacht senior side that played in Siberia last weekend, produced a battle-hardened display against last season's B&I Cup runners-up.
Doncaster included two Irish half-backs in their starting line-up – former Munster out-half Declan Cusack and Ulsterman Michael Heaney in the number 9 jersey – for a game that was played in chilly conditions at Castle Park.
The hosts went 7-0 up after six minutes when a Eagles handling error saw an attack break down on the Donny 22-metre line. Good reactions and hands from Dougie Flockhart sent full-back Paul Jarvis haring away for a tremendous long range score which Flockhart converted himself.
The Connacht youngsters were still in the game, competing strongly at the breakdown through the likes of James Connolly, Pat O'Toole and captain Sean O'Brien in what turned out to be a closely-fought second quarter.
Unfortunately, they lost hard-working flanker Rory Moloney to the sin-bin after the Eagles collapsed a lineout maul close to their line in the 31st minute. Doncaster had turned down a series of kickable penalties and the tactic eventually paid off six minutes before half-time.
The Eagles dug deep to hold up another Donny maul over the whitewash, but a solid scrum allowed the home side to launch their backs and after centre Will Hurrell was hauled down short, the ball was moved quickly for winger Tyson Lewis to score an unconverted try.
12-0 down at the turnaround, Carolan's charges leaked another early touchdown when play resumed. Knights built pressure in and around the 22 with Heaney's short pass getting hooker Ben Hunter over the gain-line, and lock Glen Young was up in support to finish off his first competitive try for the English Championship club.
Doncaster struck for their bonus point on the hour mark, working another clever blindside move as Jarvis was freed up for his second try of the afternoon. The difficult conversion, into the wind, was missed by winger Flockhart.
The Eagles tightened up in defence, maintaining a high intensity set by skipper O'Brien, centre Dave McSharry and lock Cillian Gallagher, and also showed improvements in attack as they made headway during a final quarter which was played under floodlights.
A deserved try came with five minutes left. Full-back Ciaran Gaffney made a powerful surge and was stopped just a couple of metres short of the line, before replacement back rower Stephen McVeigh succeeded in forcing his way over in the very next phase.
The conversion was missed by replacement out-half Aidan Moynihan and it took some determined defending from Doncaster replacement Sam Edgerley to prevent Moloney from running in the Eagles' second try right at the death – Edgerley's brilliantly-timed cover tackle brought down the Buccaneers clubman just short of the whitewash.
It was a case of too little, too late for the westerners, however, and their strong finish will serve as little consolation to Carolan's side. They will aim to recapture the form they showed in the recent interpro games when meeting Jersey in the home-and-away matches before Christmas.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)