A spirited Doncaster Knights gave Championship leaders Newcastle Falcons a serious scare before succumbing to defeat on New Years Day at Castle Park.
Clive Griffiths’ men defended superbly for large periods of the match and showed glimpses of real potential in attack against the Champions elect, but the Falcons ran in late tries as the Knights hunted for a losing bonus point to see off a much improved Doncaster side.
Newcastle fly-half Joel Hodgson opened the scoring with a well struck penalty in front of the posts early on, but Doncaster full-back Jamie Lennard hit back with a kick of his own to level proceedings. With the visitors clearly rattled, fumbling the restart, the primitive spells firmly belonged to a dominant Knights team displaying a great deal of ambition and courage.
Unfortunately another mistake ridden play allowed the Falcons in for their first try. Confusion in the Knights ranks as three players failed to communicate and collect the loose ball forced Dante Mama to clear his lines with a sliced nudge into touch. The league leaders piled on the pressure from the set-piece and after a series of infringements they elected for the scrum which proved to powerful for the home pack. Scotland international scrum-half Rory Lawson nipping around the wheeling scrum to touchdown in the corner.
Several more uncharacteristic errors from the table-toppers saw their attacks snuffed out, but disaster struck when Knights hooker Rhys Buckley was sin-binned for an apparent ‘careless placing on the boot’. With the influential front-rower off the field Newcastle took advantage of their already dominant forward superiority. Gaining territory quickly the Falcons pack set about attacking the scrum once again and were rewarded with a penalty try which was easily converted by Hodgson to extend their lead to 3-15.
The game looked to be slipping away from Doncaster when centre James Tincknell joined Buckley in the sin bin for tackling a player without the ball, but the Knights held firm and pushed on in attack in injury time.
Doncaster continued to surge towards the visitors line with a series of powerful carries from props Tom Davies and ex-Falcon Keiran Brookes, but with a penalty advantage being played Canadian fly-half Connor Braid tried an audacious cross-field kick which produced a moment of magic as the well-placed Lennard collected the delivery and raced for the line to blow the game wide open.
The reliable kicker knocked over the extras for a half-time score of 10-15 as the Knights remained poised for a second half battle.
But the Falcons, perhaps mindful of their wobbly win at home to London Scottish last week, were straight out of the traps in the second period, notching another Hodgson penalty in the opening minute before their favoured chip-and-chase tactic finally paid off when winger Zach Kibirige was able to ground the ball in the corner. Hodgson’s conversion drifted wide again leaving the home side with an uphill battle at 10-23.
The half was largely uneventful, with possession yo-yoing and both sides guilty of scrappy errors. Doncaster again defended spells of Newcastle pressure stoutly, forcing the unbeaten side into making mistakes.
The Knights almost paid the price for a breakdown in communication at the ruck when Chris Planchant surrendered the ball immediately after he had turned it over impressively. The Falcons moved through the gears to sweep the ball out wide and their backs looked to have scored from the wing again. But referee Ian Tempest denied the try after judging a Falcons claw to have drifted into touch, rectifying the earlier error in missing an offside by Newcastle in the same phase.
Doncaster looked to be heading towards being one of the few Championship sides to deny Newcastle a bonus point this season as the clock ticked down, but flyer Kibirige claimed his second try and his side’s crucial fourth with an almost identical surge to the corner. Another missed conversion for Hodgson left the final score at 10-28.
Doncaster Knights: 15 J Lennard, 14 D Flockhart, 13 D Mama, 12 J Tincknell, 11 T Lewis (A Symons 40), 10 C Braid, 9 L Silver (C Hallam 46), 1 T Davies, 2 R Buckley, 3 K Brookes (B McGovern 65), 4 M Challinor, 5 D Parsons (R Cadman 68), 6 S Pailor (A Boyde 75), 7 J Rawling (W Hafu 53), 8 C Planchant. Subs not used: T Francis.
Sin bin: Buckley, Tincknell
Newcastle Falcons: 15 L Fielden, 14 Z Kibirige, 13 A Crockett (J Helleur), 12 T Tu’ipuloto, 11 J Shortland, 10 J Hodgson, 9 R Lawson (W Luveniyali), 1 J Golding, 2 R Vickers (M Thompson), 3 O Tomaszczyk, (S Wilson), 4 C del Fava, 5 J Hudson, 6 M Wilson, 7 R Mayhew (W Welch), 8 T Tu’ifua. Subs not used: J Goode, W Fury.
Tries: Lawson, Penalty, Kibirige (2).
Pens: Hodgson (2)
Referee: Ian Tempest
Man of the Match sponsored by Russell Fennell: Jamie Lennard
Written by Grace Newton; Image Courtesy of Andrew Bennison.