Doncaster Knights lifted themselves off the foot of the Championship table with a much improved performance over Jersey, running in three tries on a frosty evening at Castle Park.
The fixture didn’t need much heating up with the loser rooted to the bottom of the league table, but just 40 seconds in pressure was stating to boil over. Opposition centre Dai Bishop sent to the sin-bin for a cynical blow to the face from a swinging arm to Knights scrum-half Chris Hallam, which also saw him replaced for a short while receiving treatment.
The Knights made all of the early running, with new signing Connor Braid lighting up the back line on debut and causing chaos in the Jersey defence. And the home crowd didn’t have to wait to long for the breakthrough; the returning Hallam stole the ball from the back of the Islanders’ scrum before the ball was recycled out wide quickly and a final miss pass found Tyson Lewis in space allowing the speedy winger to race over in the corner.
Jersey weren’t about to lie down though, and unusually the away side seemed to be dominated the Donny scrum which has so often been the cornerstone of the Knights’ play; but on occasion it shook as the strong visiting back piled on the pressure. One such surging forward scrum won them a penalty from distance, which outside-half Michael Le Bourgeois slotted with ease for a 5-3 deficit just quarter of an hour in.
After the frantic opening spell, the rhythm of the game settled as the Yorkshiremen asserted their dominance in broken field play and at the line-out which they targeted heavily. Doncaster nearly broke the shackles again shortly after as a pin-point cross field kick from Jamie Lennard found hooker Rhys Buckley who went close before the cover defence halted the Welshman just short of the line.
The final score of the first half went the Knights way as Lennard converted a simple penalty for an 8-3 advantage at the interval.
The opening ten minutes of the second period was where Doncaster arguably won the game in a frantic phase of scintillating rugby. Following a superb touch find by Lennard, the Knights pack set up a solid rolling maul from another accurate lineout giving Buckley the chance to ground the ball over the whitewash for his side’s second try. Lennard added the extras from the touchline.
This spurred the Doncaster men and almost immediately from the restart the impressive Braid again broke through the Jersey defence with a show and go before darting through the cover shackles with a change of pace and mammoth strength. The Canadian galloped well into visiting territory before offloading to the supporting Dante Mama who hung on to finish well. Lennard was once more on target from out wide to put the Knights firmly in the driving seat.
With Jersey looking out of the tie their solid forward pack again showed their prowess, a good rolling maul after a series of scrums putting them in the danger area. Opposition number eight, Guy Thompson broke off the back of the set-piece just yards out for a near certain try, but a superb tackle from Hallam, who learnt his trade as an openside flanker, denied him.
Hallam was trapped at the bottom of the ruck practically over his own line, but the inconsistent referee deemed him to be not rolling away as Darren Gamage reached for his pocket and gave the Knights vice-captain a yellow card for failing top perform a Houdini stunt and not escape from the most miraculous of positions.
From the resulting scrum Jersey scrum-half and former Knight Nicky Griffiths sneaked over from the base to put his side back in the hunt. Le Bourgeois was on target with the conversion as they trailed 22-10.
The Knights carried on attacking, but also looked to maintain their lead playing with a greater concentration than they have showed all season. As the clock ran down Jersey threw everything they had at their hosts, and with minutes left Doncaster conceded a very soft try to give the Islanders a bonus point.
Miscommunication deep in home territory saw Jersey win a lineout just short of the try line from a ball that should have been cleared out of the stadium. Quick thinking by the two advancing opposition players allowed winger Ed Tellwright to run unopposed under the sticks from a quick lineout before converting his own try with an equally speedy drop goal.
Fear crept into the home crowd as they worried a result similar to Bedford could grasp victory away from them. But the Knights were galvanised by recent events and the defence just got stronger; Chris Planchant picking his opposition man up and driving him over the touchline with the support of his team-mates.
But after what seemed like an age the referee blew for full time and Clive Griffiths got him tenure at Castle Park back up and running with a deserved 22-17 win over Jersey which leapfrogs them up to 10th in the Championship.
Doncaster Knights 15) Connor Braid, 14) Dougie Flockhart, 13) Dante Mama 12) James Tincknell, 11) Tyson Lewis, 10) Jamie Lennard, 9) Chris Hallam (Louis Silver 76’) 1) Tom Davies, 2) Rhys Buckley, 3) Tomas Francis (Brian McGovern 70’) 4)Matt Challinor, 5) Dominic Parsons, 6) Adam Kettle (Phil Hoy 74’) 7) Jethro Rawling, 8) Chris Planchant.
Replacements not used; 16) Ben Sowery, 19) Jack Bergmanas, 20) Tom Barrett, 22) David Bradford.
Tries; Lewis 10’, Buckley 43’, Mama 50’
Conversion; Lennard 44’ 50’
Penalties; Lennard 25’
Jersey 15) Glenn Bryce, 14) Ed Tellwright, 13) Donovan Sanders, 12) Dai Bishop, 11) Ed Dawson, 10) Mike Le Bourgeois, 9) Nicky Griffiths, 1) Richard Barrington (Sean McCarthy 75), 2) Steve Boden (Dave Felton 71), 3) Jon Brennan (James Gethings 71), 4) Dave Markham 5) Nathan Hannay, 6) Paul Rodgers (James Voss 55), 7) Kingsley Lang (Fred Silcock 55), 8) Guy Thompson.
Tries; Griffiths 53’ Tellwright 79’
Conversion; Le Bourgeois 53’ Tellwright 79’
Penalties; Le Bourgeois 13’
Referee: Darren Gamage
Pegler Yorkshire Man of the Match: Connor Braid
Image courtesy of Brian Gilmore