Doncaster Knights were narrowly defeated by Nottingham after a much improved performance by Clive Griffiths' side at Castle Park.
The Knights produced some brilliant rugby at times and deservedly came away with a losing bonus point for their valiant efforts in front of the Sky cameras against Martin Haag’s second placed Green and Whites.
Doncaster should have opened the scoring, but for the usually reliable boot of Jamie Lennard which was off target as he pushed the relatively easy chance wide.
Nottingham hit back and opened the scoring through Japan international fly-half James Arlidge who kicked a successful penalty from over 40 metres out.
After a lengthy period of aimless kicking the match came to life through a moment of brilliance by Michael Keating, who bypassed a number of wannabe tacklers with his elusive running to within the visitors 22. A lack of composure this time hurt Donny as the ball was lost and Nottingham cleared the ball to safety.
The lead was extended after 17 minutes when Nottingham were awarded a penalty when Doncaster were penalised for an infringement at the scrum. This came following a well executed chip through by Nottingham but the bounce of the ball didn’t go for the visitors and the ball was knocked on with the try line begging.
Doncaster responded well to going two scores behind and were awarded a penalty of their own after Tom Luke had made the initial break into the 22. Lennard this time was back on form and slotted over the penalty to reduce the deficit.
Knights continued to impress in both defence and attack with Keating in particular causing the Nottingham defence problems with his speed around the pitch.
On 28 minutes Nottingham scored the first try of the game after some impressive works by the back sent free winger Alex Lewington who then passed the ball inside to Andrew Savage to finish off the move. Arlidge added the extras to open up an eight point lead.
Nottingham scored their second try soon after through Andrew Forsyth. The visitors once again executed the chip over the top well and Forsyth was first to the ball over the try line after winning a foot race with Will Sharp after he had hacked on the initial kick. Arlidge kept up his 100 percent record with another successful conversion
Donny hit back and responded through a succession of Lennard penalties. The first one after Joe Bedford was illegally tackled off the ball, with the fly-half stepping up to kick the penalty from over 30 metres out.
His second came after great play from Keating and Luke who made valuable field position deep into the visitors half before earning a penalty for an infringement at the ruck, which Lennard subsequently kicked.
Just before half-time Nottingham looked to have scored their third try but for some fantastic last ditch defence initially by Keating who forced Lewington into touch with a big hit.
This was the final action of an end to end first half with Doncaster trailing by 9-18.
Knights started the second half on fire and stunned Nottingham in the opening two minutes through a brilliant try from Dante Mama. After turning the ball over from the restart, Mama evaded a number of Nottingham defenders to glide over for a well worked try. Lennard added the extras from out wide to give Donny the best possible start to the second half.
Nottingham nearly responded with a try of their own but once again for desperate last gasp tackling from the Knights players. Donny were however penalised for holding on and Arlidge kicked the resulting penalty on 49 minutes to extend the lead.
Lennard was once again off key when he miss hit a penalty attempt well wide from the halfway line as Knights missed the chance to reduce the deficit.
Nottingham gifted Donny a lifeline when Alex Lewington dropped the ball with a clear open run to the try line gaping after impressive play by the backs gave the winger the opportunity.
Matt Challinor and Brent Wilson were both sent to the sin bin on 58 minutes after a fight had broken out in centre field, with the referee signalling out both captains for ten minutes on the sidelines. Arlidge kicked the penalty after Nottingham were awarded a penalty following the incident.
Donny pressed to get back into the match but failed to add to their tally but were given a boost when Nottingham second-row and former Knight Daniel Montagu was yellow carded after another fight had broken out between the two teams.
Knights were back in real contention in the match when rugby league convert Sharp burrowed his way over in the left hand corner to touchdown. The opportunity came from good work by Challinor and Andy Brown that enabled the winger to show his finishing qualities to score the try. Lennard missed the hardest of conversion from the touchline as the score remained 21-24
From the restart Knights gifted the ball back to Nottingham and were penalised for diving over the top at the ruck, Arlidge stepped up to kick the penalty and finish the match.
Disappointment for Doncaster as they fell to another defeat but a much improved performance and more importantly a bonus point that gives Griffiths’ Knights significant hope of survival with three league games still to play.
Knights now focus their attention to the massive fixture at St Peter in a fortnights time when Doncaster face Jersey in the crunch relegation clash.
Doncaster Knights: Braid, Keating, Mama, Luke, Sharp, Lennard, Bedford (Hallam 39), Brown, Buckley, Francis, Challinor, Parsons, Kettle, Hafu (Sowery 65) , Planchant (Boyde 70).
Tries: Mama 43, Sharp 72
Conv: Lennard 43
Pens: Lennard 22, 37, 40
Yellow: Challinor 58
Nottingham: Savage, Lewington, Streather, Forsyth, Jackson, Arlidge, Romans, Parr (Bower 68), Malton (Duffey 67), Holford, Montagu, Rouse, Cooper (Calladine 75), Wilson, Shaw.
Tries: Savage 28, Forsyth 33
Conv: Arlidge 33
Pens: Arlidge 9, 17, 49, 58, 80
Yellow: Wilson 58, Montagu 70
Referee: Llyr Apgeraint-Roberts
Match Sponsors: Togel Contractors
Match Ball Sponsor: Building Link Design
Broderick & Leslie Man of the Match: Andy Brown
Written by Richard Hossack and image courtesy of Alex Dodd Photography