Doncaster Knights returned to form with a bang with an outstanding performance against Nottingham to regain the “Robin Hood bragging rights”. With their pack dominant throughout, what took everyone’s eye was the exciting display by their backs as, for once, they elected to use their undoubted skills and pace that left their supporters why they had not seen more of the same prior to this game. Considering that Nottingham had well beaten promotion co-favourites Exeter the previous week this result was a big feather in the cap of a resurgent Knights side.
For this key match in their play off pool, Knights Director of Rugby Lynn Howells made a number of changes, some of them forced on him by injury, from the side that had disappointed the previous week at London Welsh. At full back, the experienced Anthony Carter got the nod over Steve McColl, Oli Goss and Andy Wright came in for the injured Dougie Flockhart and Matt Williams on the wing and James Brooks was preferred at fly half to Ali Warnock. In the pack, Steve Boden swopped places with Steve Lawrie at hooker, skipper Glen Kenworthy was recalled at lock in place of Bryn Griffiths Simon Grainger came in for the injured Adam Kettle at flanker.
The match started at a frenetic pace with both sides scoring a converted try in the opening 5 minutes. It was Nottingham’s turn first when winger Andy Savage caught a hanging ball from the kick just inside the Knights 22 and made a couple of yards before passing to centre Ben Johnson who evaded Andy Wright’s covering tackle to score 5 metres in from touch which full back David Jackson converted with a good kick. The Knights hit back straight away when a loose ball was picked up by Wright who linked up with centre Chris Briers who fed the ball back inside to fellow centre Bevon Armitage who weaved his way towards the post for a try that Brooks converted. Shortly afterwards Brooks kicked a penalty for the Knights which was cancelled out by a similar effort by Jackson. The Nottingham tactics were to play a kicking games whilst the Knights was to run the ball at every opportunity through their powerful pack and hard running backs. Apart from some problems at the lineout, the Knights started to get on top and they went back into the lead after 18 minutes. After several powerful drives towards the line by their pack, the Knights then recycled the ball 5 metres out and scrum half Chris Hallam drew the cover on the blind side before passing the ball to Goss who scored his first ever try for the Knights in a league match. The Knights pressed on but, about 10 minutes before half-time, Nottingham gained a line out 5 metres from the Doncaster line and, after being penalised several times, prop Ngalu Ta’u was sin binned. This setback made the Knights even more determined and they cleared the line before taking play back into the Nottingham half and came close to scoring as the referee played over 10 minutes of injury time. With the last play of the half Nottingham were penalised close in and Brooks extended the Knights lead with his second penalty.
Nottingham came close to scoring early in the second half when their big lock Nick Rouse intercepted a Knights pass just inside his own 10 metre line and he made some ground before passing winger Jack Cobden 40 metres out on what looked like a clear run in close to the touch line. However Knights centre Briers had other ideas and he hunted Cobden down and stopped him with a brilliant tackle only feet out. It was nip and tuck for a period as both sides strove for the next score and it was Nottingham who were ultimately successful through lock Ed Slater. Although only 3 points ahead it was all Knights from now on as their pack totally took control of the game supported by an inspired back division playing their best rugby of the season with only desperate defence by Nottingham keeping them out on several occasions. With about 5 minutes left and with the rampaging Knights pack awarded a scrum 5 metres out, a second Nottingham prop had to leave the field injured and the referee was forced to order uncontested scrums. This did not deter the Knights however and, after taking another scrum when Nottingham were penalised in front of their posts, the executed a superb pick up and drive from No 8 before the rest of the pack drove Grainger over for the try that Brooks converted for the final score of the game.
After the match, jubilant Knights fans were singing the praises of their side for what was a crucial win in their pool setting up for another humdinger of a match next Saturday at home to Exeter. Amongst all the excitement however the Knights fans left wondering why their back division had been hiding their undoubted talents all season and hoping that that this was a taste of what they could expect for the remaining games. Well done the Knights!
Doncaster Knights: Carter, Wright, Armitage, Briers, Goss, Brooks, Hallam (D’Arcy 76), Corsar (Toke 45), Boden, Ta’u (Cusack 42), Kenworthy (Griffiths 76), Townson, Boyde, Cochrane, Grainger Replacements not used: Lawrie, Smith, McColl
Nottingham: Jackson, Savage, Casson (Streather 51), Johnson, Cobden, Tonks, White (Harrison HT), Parr (Fowkes 46), Youngs (Sammons 57), Buxton, Slater (Eggleshaw 82), Rouse (Green 45), Hammond, Hemmingway, Sheriff Replacement not used: Raven