Doncaster Knights succumbed to a narrow defeat to fellow basement battlers’ Jersey at a sodden St. Peter to make Championship survival a humongous challenge, but still a mathematical possibility.
The Yorkshiremen showed immense fight and spirit to dominate the game for large periods, with the pack excelling at the set-piece, but missed chances and poor decision making left them short in a match they could have easily won.
In a very dogged first half, it was the hosts’ Jersey who took the lead from a successful rolling maul. Openside flanker Fred Silcock barrelled over the whitewash, benefitting from the power of his forward pack and the 16th man from the terraces to strike first blood. An out of sorts Le Bourgeois missed the conversion effort.
The Knights reply was instant though as Donny demonstrated their appetite for the battle with surging runs from Rhys Buckley and a determined Adam Kettle earning Griffiths’ men vital territory.
Doncaster opted to set up the driving maul and found further success before Jersey sacked the forward power play on their line. Referee Andrew Small awarded the penalty as Lennard elected for a shot at the posts from close range, but a late drift saw it skew wide and remain at 5-0 with nearly ten minutes on the clock.
The seesaw swung back to Jersey as the Knights were adjudged to have crept offside giving Le Bourgeois the chance to increase the advantage. But like Lennard, the outside-half was off target in a pattern that emerged for long periods of the match.
The battle hardened Knights went straight back up the field and gained another penalty as the home defence deliberately slapped a Donny pass to the floor, in a decision normally rewarded with a yellow card as the Islanders were lucky to keep their full fifteen.
Knights chose the lineout option and set out a good base to attack from. Hafu sprung from the back of the maul to pounce over the whitewash and seemingly put Donny level. But the officials’ deemed the ball held up and a scrum five metres out was given.
The Castle Park outfit got the better of the set-piece for large spells and were awarded another penalty as the scrum collapsed after a heavy period of Knights’ pressure. Lennard duly obliged with the boot for Knights’ first register to trail by just two points.
Shortly after Lennard skewed another penalty shot wide as Doncaster left too many points on the field with just over a quarter of the match played.
The Knights were severely punished for their missed opportunities and defensive mistakes just five minutes later as Jersey number 8 Guy Thompson took advantage to stroll across the line unopposed. Le Bourgeois again missed the conversion.
The Knights mission was dealt another cruel blow when fly-half Lennard saw yellow for a technical infringement. His opposite number happily stepped up to nudge the home side further ahead at 13-3 with little over five minutes remaining in the half.
But Griffiths’ chargers dug deep with only 14 men and hammered Jersey back into their own 22. The maul playing a huge part in Donny’s forward dominance and it looked to have gained the spoils with half time looming as Buckley sniped over the whitewash. But again Small’s whistle denied the Knights a try as the ball was apparently ‘held up’.
With little protest the Knights threw everything at Jersey, but the home side halted the visitors and batted down the hatches to close the half at 13-3.
The second period followed a similar pattern to the first as both kickers struggled to find their radar, this time Le Bourgeois hooking a long range effort to further limit the scoreboard operator’s workload. The same couldn’t be said for the Knights pack who continued to put the graft in at the set-piece and around the park.
Doncaster, showing immense heart as for most of this season, carried the fight to their hosts and found their just reward shortly after replacement hooker Ben Sowery rumbled over from another powerful driving maul to put the Knights firmly back in the tie. Lennard this time slotted the extras with consummate ease from a difficult angle to trail by only three with plenty of time on the clock.
Amongst the try, Jersey flanker Silcock received a yellow card for collapsing the maul, leaving the Islanders with 14 men and Knights in the dominant position.
But as has been the pattern, not only in the game, but the entire season, Knights allowed Jersey back into the game with ill-discipline. The St. Peter’s side elected for the posts, but another effort went adrift, ‘Booj’ as he is commonly known, slicing the kick.
The match became scrappy as both sides missed chances hunting for victory, with Knights all but throwing the kitchen sink at Jersey, unable to find the vital score.
Le Bourgeois suffered a worrying injury on the hour mark as play was brought to a long halt for the doctors to ascertain the ten’s condition before stretching him off and sending him to hospital. Although it would appear to attention received was more precautionary than serious.
Donny never gave up the fight and with just under ten minutes left to play a tired Jersey defence fell foul of the offside line after a scintillating break by wing Will Sharp nearly resulted in a try. A seemingly simple penalty was missed by Lennard before he departed for substitute Dougie Flockhart.
Griffiths’ troops continued to chase the win which by this time appeared only a matter of time, added with the red carding of Silcock for a dangerous tackle, but the Jersey defence held stout.
The match closed 13-10 with missed chances the story of the season summarising this basement battle, but whilst Knights mathematically can still catch Jersey the fight will remain.
Jersey: Davies, Copsey, Foster, Bishop, Dawson, Le Bourgeois (Stelling 63), Griffiths © (McCormack 56), Barrington (McCarthy 48), Taione, Brennan (Gethings 74), Anderson (Lang 74), Markham, Walker-Blair (Buckle 70), Silcock, Thompson. Replacment not used: Felton
Tries: Silcock 5, Thompson 26.
Pens: Le Bourgeois 31.
Doncaster Knights: Braid, Keating, Mama, Simpson, Sharp, Lennard (Flockhart 72), Bedford (Hallam 64), Davies (Brown 63), Buckley (Sowery 49), Francis (Hooper 63), Challinor ©, Parsons, Kettle, Hafu, Planchant (Boyde 65). Replacement not used: Bergmanas.
Tries: Sowery 53.
Conv: Lennard 53.
Pens: Lennard 19.
Referee: Andrew Small
Image courtesy of David Goodenough