Plymouth 16 Knights 19.
The Knights concluded their 2014/15 season with a victory over relegated Plymouth Albion but were made to fight for every point by a side committed to playing till the last.
It was the home side that made the better of the early exchanges. In greasy, grey conditions they took charge of possession and carried with intent. Fly half Declan Cusack pulled the strings and was more than happy to test the Knights’ kick defenses with a flurry of chips, grubbers and looming high balls. Albion looked to apply further pressure when a Cusack kick bounced to touch in the Knights 22m but a clever break from Brad Field following the line out looked as if it had eased the pressure; unfortunately the ball was spilt in contact. Over eagerness from the Donny pack gifted the hosts a free kick that was quickly taken and the ball promptly spun wide, Cusack collected and worked his way through a gap to touch down for the game’s opening score. The stand was unable to convert his effort.
Having fallen behind the Knights rallied and quick thinking from Field saw the scrum half take a tap penalty quickly before drawing another penalty on the floor. Paul Roberts kicked to the corner and, as they have done so often this season, the Knights gained advantage through their trusty driving line out. The pack rumbled forward before flanker Latu Makaafi touched down for his second try in two weeks.
Donny were unable to add to their score before the interval, with the only other points in the half coming courtesy of two Cusack penalties in what was a scrappy period of the game.
Trailing 11-5 the Knights did create some late first half opportunities, firstly through their line out. Inching towards the Albion line, the home pack threw everything at the oncoming maul and it seemed as if a penalty was the least the Knights could expect. When the maul was stopped, after some consultation with his touch judge, referee Matthew O’Grady gave a Plymouth penalty much to the bemusement of the travelling support. Despite this the Knights mounted another attack before the break and were awarded a succession of penalties in the home 22m and Ali Bone was sin binned for repeat infringements, with the clock at forty Doncaster tapped and ran the penalties and looked to have got over the try line but possession was spilt and the half time whistle was blown.
Doncaster emerged from the changing rooms operating at a higher level than they had in the opening half. Almost immediately Ollie Stedman carried powerfully and broke in to the Plymouth 22m and at the following phase Eoghan Grace was yellow carded for killing the ball. Grace’s sin binning meant the hosts were down to thirteen men and the Knights took full advantage. Firstly, a strong kick return from Paul Jarvis was well recycled and nice interlinking in midfield by Will Foden saw the ball make it’s way to Mat Clark. The centre did extremely well to work his way through a handful of defenders and touch down, Flockhart converted to put the Knights ahead for the first time in the game.
The Knights next score came following some ruthlessness at the breakdown. First off a surging scrum won a penalty that was put to touch before a driving line out was carried forward by Latu Makaafi. The flanker found Bevon Armitage on his outside shoulder and the midfielder crashed over. Flockhart on target with the extras, 11-19.
With the home side restored to fifteen shortly after the fifty-minute mark the tide of Knights attacks was quelled. Both coaches rang in the changes and neither side really took the game by the scruff of the neck. Credit must go to Plymouth who absolutely refused to give up on the tie and battled until the last and it almost paid dividends.
It was a former Knights that gave Plymouth late hope of a comeback, outside centre Toby Howley-Berridge managed to slip a tackle on the left wing a scoot away to score. Cusack could not convert but trailing by just three points the stage was set for a nervy ending.
Albion’s outlook improved when, with just two minutes to play, Ollie Stedman was shown a yellow for his reaction to a Plymouth scrum penalty decision. The pen was put to touch and only a superb last ditch tackle from Vili Veikoso prevented Eoghan Grace from crossing on the blindside. Having retained possession at the subsequent line out Donny were able to manage the clock and see out the game meaning they end the season with a victory.
The Knights finish the 2014/15 season in 9th position, having made the final of the British and Irish Cup, not a bad return to rugby’s second flight. Thank you to every Knights fan who has supported the team this season, we look forward to seeing you in pre-season.
Albion XV: 15 Lawrence Rayner (Pete Homan 58’), 14 Jack Arnott, 13 Toby Howley-Berridge, 12 Marc Koteczky, 11 Mark Kohler (Lewis Warner 67’), 10 Declan Cusack capt, 9 Cameron Setter (Josh Davies 72’), 1 Tom Harrison (Tom Fidler 59’), 2 James Penman, 3 Dan Pullinger (Tom Heard 72’), 4 Tom Hicks, 5 Brett Beukeboom, 6 Ali Bone, 7 Eoghan Grace, 8 Iain Grieve
Replacements; 16 Ted Stagg, 17 Tom Heard, 18 Tom Fidler, 19 Tom Jubb, 20 Lewis Warner, 21 Josh Davies, 22 Pete Homan
Tries; Cusack 9’, Howley-Berridge 77’
Pens; Cusack 25’, 31’
Sin Bin; Bone 38’, Grace 42’
Knights XV; 15) Paul Jarvis, 14) Dougie Flockhart, 13) Mat Clark, 12) Bevon Armitage, 11) Tyson Lewis, 10) Paul Roberts (Ume Fosita 75’), 9) Brad Field (Bruno Bravo 75’), 1) Richard List (Jack Bergmanas 75’), 2) Ben Hunter (Vili Veikoso 63’), 3) Colin Quigley (WillGriff John 63’), 4) Matt Challinor, 5) Tyler Hotson, 6) Latu Makaafi (Phil Eggleshaw 55’), 7) Michael Hills © (Will Foden 27’), 8) Ollie Stedman
Replacements; 16) Jack Bergmanas, 17) Vili Veikoso, 18) Phil Eggleshaw, 19) WillGriff John, 20) Will Foden, 21) Ume Fosita, 22) Bruno Bravo.
Tries; Makaafi 15’, Clark 43’, Armitage 49’
Conv; Flockhart 43’, 49’
Sin Bin; Stedman 78’
Referee: Matthew O’Grady