Doncaster Knights fell to a narrow loss against fellow Championship strugglers London Scottish in Friday night's crucial league encounter at Castle Park.
The Knights made a flying start to this mammoth clash as Dougie Flockhart kicked his side into a three point lead from an early penalty with barely a minute on the clock. The early points buoyed the Knights who were impressive in the opening exchanges, running the ball hard and with a sturdy looking set piece.
Tom Davies looked to have broke clear of the Scottish shackles in the opening period before a couple of extravagant offloads via Rhys Buckley and Will Simpson saw the ball in Tyson Lewis' hands with the line beckoning. The winger sprinted forward before being hauled down just short.
It didn't take long however for the Exiles to find their feet in the tie and the game soon opened up with neither side able to really take control. There was certainly no lack of attacking creativity on display as elaborate offloading and long looping passes were flung. A fumble under the high ball by Flockhart gave the visitors their first significant attack in Knights territory as they piled the pressure, the staunch Donny defences held firm but impeded in doing so and winger James Love levelled the scores from the tee.
The Knights enjoyed the better of play for the rest of the half, several bulldozing runs from the likes of Matt Challinor and Adam Kettle broke the game line and the pace of Lewis caused difficulties amongst the London Scottish defence. Unfortunately impressive build up play came to an end with a knock on and the visitors made the most of the loose ball charging down the pitch before some over eager defenfing from the Knights gave Love the opportunity to kick his side ahead, which is duly slotted for a 6-3 lead.
Clive Griffiths' men responded well and carried the fight to the exiles from the restart, winning back possession. Captain Challinor was again the catalyst for the next attack as he bounced through defenders setting up a period of strong phase play which culminated in an audacious chip and chase by Connor Braid. The Canadian misjudged the kick, but Knights returned for a penalty as Flockhart made no mistake with to level the scores.
The magnitude of the tie became apparent as the first period drew to a close, both sides scrapped to assert some sort of dominance over the tie. A clever line out move sent Ben Russell charging clear for Scottish to score, only to be brought back as the throw was deemed not straight. The half drew to a close shortly after with the scores equal at six apiece on the whistle.
The second period began rather sloppily and whilst the Knights had the lion share of possession they also made the most errors, forcing undue pressure on themselves. A moment of genius from Michael Keating looked as if it would provide the games opening try as he intercepted a pass deep in his own 22, but the break ended in disappointment as Doncaster failed at the final hurdle.
But the break had enforced some sustained pressure on the visitors who illegally infringed under the strain. Flockhart stepped up and put the Knights ahead for the second time in the match.
Soon after a host of changes were made as Will Hafu and Brian McGovern entered the fray for the Knights. Hafu made an immediate impact to the game breaking clear and offloading to the oncoming Knights backs who put the ball wide to the ever impressive Keating. The full-back grubbered cleverly to force a hurried clearance and give the Knights a line out just metres shy of the try line. Unfortunately the line out was unsuccessful and Scottish cleared their lines.
Still trailing in the game the visitors started to up the tempo as the Knights defended against relentless waves of attack, whilst not succumbing to a try they were penalised and Love once again levelled the scores from the kicking tee.
This was followed by what would prove to be the decisive moment in the game, the Knights conceded possession rather cheaply and some quick thinking by the London Scottish attack saw them punt the ball long for winger Miles Mantella to chase down and score in the corner. Love missed the conversion, but Scottish now had a five point lead with time running out.
The Knights battled to try and create something in the final few minutes, but were unable to pierce the Exiles defence as the final score read 14-9 to the visitors, leaving Doncaster five points adrift at the bottom of the table and needing local support.
15) Michael Keating 14) Dougie Flockhart (Dante Mama 65') 13) Will Simpson 12) Tom Luke 11) Tyson Lewis 10) Connor Braid (Jamie Lennard 65') 9) Joe Bedford 1) Tom Davies 2) Rhys Buckley 3) Tomas Francis (Brian McGovern 61') 4) Matt Challinor © 5) Dominic Parsons (Sam Pailor 74') 6) Adam Kettle 7) Jethro Rawling (Will Hafu 52') 8) Chris Planchant.
Pens; Flockart 1' 29' 57'
London Scottish: 15 Jim Thompson; 14 James Love, 13 Oli Grove, 12 PJ Gidlow (Andy Reay 57'), 11 Miles Mantella; 10 Phil Godman, 9 Richard Bolt; 1 Mark Irish (Nic Mayhew 57') 2 Adam Kwasnicki, 3 Alex Mackenzie (Eric Fry 57'), 4 Paul Spivey (Alex Karonias 57') 5 Tyler Hotson; 6 Ben Russell, 7 Chevvy Pennycook, 8 Mark Bright (c).
Tries Mantella 73'
Pen; Love 13' 25' 66'
Image courtesy of Blindside Photography