Ripon RUFC’s survival bid took a devastating blow on Saturday despite heroics from captain Adam Scott-Paul and fly-half Ashley Rio.
Rio crossed over for a hat-trick of tries but Ripon failed to capitalise as they fell down 22-19 at West Park Leeds.
Scott-Paul dislocated his shoulder during the first-half of the crunch clash, but battled on after treatment to complete the tie.
The defeat, Ripon’s 14th this season, left them 12 points adrift of safety, with time running out to save their Yorkshire Two status.
But head coach Richard Dixon believes the character shown by his squad, especially his captain, shows his men can beat the drop.
Dixon said: “It was a hard contested game that could have gone either way.
“The team, and in particular the captain, going back on after a dislocated shoulder, showed the fire and passion that players are capable of.
“This will be needed as we head into the back end of the season and pull ourselves up out of the relegation zone.”
Jason Bell’s late withdrawal meant Rob Nicholson was rushed back for the trip after a six week lay-off.
Ripon started the game in rapid form and scored after five minutes. Quick passing through the backs put Ashley Rio under the posts, Scott McAra converting.
The game settled down with chances going to both sides, but the wet weather conditions caused numerous mistakes.
Leeds responded with a converted try on 17 minutes before Scott-Paul went down with his shoulder injury.
Spurred on by the skipper’s return, Rio doubled his tally from the next scrum. David Ellis picked up from the back, popped a quick offload to McAra who drew his man and released the Australian to score.
Ripon then spent the next 15 minutes defending until West Park Leeds managed to get the ball over the line on the stroke of half time.
The home side started the second-half stronger, with a try under the post on 43 minutes. The game then became a matter of trying to minimise mistakes as both sides started to tire.
Rio grabbed his third try after another slick interchange by the visiting backs, converted by McAra.
But the Leeds side pulled ahead for the final time on 65 minutes when they slotted a penalty over from the 10 metre line. Chasing the game, Ripon spent the final 10 minutes camped defending their line before they failed to capitalise on one final possession.
This Saturday, the Blues host Leodiensians at Mallorie Park, a side they lost 15-8 against in August.