London Welsh 24-19 Doncaster Knights.
The Knights played twenty minutes of the first half with at least one player in the sin bin culminating in a 17-5 half time deficit at Rosslyn Park. Typically, Donny fought back and lead on the hour mark but the Exiles had the last laugh as full back Chris Elder score the last try of the game to secure a 24-19 win.
The loss makes no difference to the Knights who wrapped up second place last weekend and the losing bonus point means that the side finish ahead of Carnegie by points, not just number of wins.
The, much changed, Knights side arrived at Rosslyn Park for this final regular season clash versus London Welsh, plenty has changed since the Knights last visited ‘The Rock’, not least the playing surface which is now artificial.
The Knights have been criticized for starting slowly in recent clashes against Moseley and Bedford and the trend continued against the Exiles. It took winger Nic Reynolds just five minutes to open the scoring after the Knights failed to retain possession at the kick off. A poor clearance kick put the hosts in range and from the resulting lineout Welsh forced a penalty. Despite being straight in front of the sticks former England fly-half Ollie Barkley went to the corner. A well-taken lineout set up a platform for the home pack to drive and when the maul was illegally collapsed, Reynolds pounced through a hole on the blind side. Barkley could not convert, 5-0.
The Knights showed much improvement following the opening try and really should have evened up the scores. A couple of penalties marched them deep into Welsh territory and Brad Field nearly broke over after a driving maul went to deck. Penalties continued to come for the Knights but the Knights failed to put away their chances; a penalty for crossing, an interception and a miss thrown pass killed three stone wall chances in the opening quarter.
A momentum swing came on twenty minutes when the Knights lost a man to the sin bin, Vili Veikoso prevented a quick tap penalty which saw the hooker yellow carded. A man light, the Knights set piece suffered which caused headaches for the rest of their play and Welsh began to move more freely.
A turnover deep in the Knights half set the home side moving and when Oliie Stedman was, somewhat harshly, penalised for a no arm tackle Barkley stuck his side in the corner. Tyler Hotson did well to interrupt the Welsh lineout but the Knights had no one back to clear up the loose ball and Ollie Bryant had to race over to ground possession in goal. From the resulting series of scrums the Knights were put to the sword – a succession of penalties saw, firstly, Richard List sent to the sinbin and then a penalty try which Barkley converted, 12-0.
The Knights needed a reaction or risked being out of sight before the interval, thankfully is came. Good pressure forced a knock on from which Ollie Stedman carried powerfully. The Knights pack patiently picked and carried from the breakdown before Bryant attacked down the blindside and nearly opened up a gap but unfortunately his offload missed its target. Donny did not need to wait long to make the breakthrough however, a solid scrum gave Stedman a platform to carry from and the number eight broke the gain line. Quickly recycled possession was spun to Dave McIlwaine who produced a nice tip on for Paul Jarvis who collected and raced over in the corner. Dougie Flockhart’s impressive conversion attempt from the touchline hit the post, 12-5.
Getting to half time and returning to a full complement trailing by just a score would have been a good result for the Knights but unfortunately a lapse in concentration and a superb display of ball carrying by home centre Guy Armitage saw Welsh extend their score. The midfielder broke through several would be tackles to gallop home, Barkley’s conversion hit the sticks – half time score 17-5.
The second half started at a frantic pace with attacking opportunity coming for both teams, Guy Armitage looked to have split the Knights defence again only to be stopped just short of the line by an impressing last gasp tackle from Flockhart. Defence was quickly turned into attack and McIlwaine carried hastily into broken play and found a gap to take him deep into the Welsh 22m, the full back found Bevon Armitage on his inside shoulder who collected the offload to touch down. Flockhart was on target with a fine kick from the touchline to make the gap just five points.
The game continued to be played at breakneck speed and, whilst it may have been a tad scrappy at times, was certainly an entertaining watch. Both teams looked threatening going forward and vulnerable in defence which was symbolized by the next score. The Welsh backs seemed to have opened up a gap only for Bryant to shoot out of the line and make an interception the standoff put his foot down to race over from all of 80 metres. Once again Dougie nailed the extras from a tricky wide angle and the Knights lead for the first time in the game.
The lead was short lived however as The Exiles hit back just minutes later, Reynolds ran a nice line to break through the Knights defence before handing onto Chris Elder who raced under the posts. Barkley’s conversion made it 24-19.
The Knights had the better of the final ten minutes and created a handful of opportunities that looked for all the world as if they would end in tries. A driving lineout culminated in several pick an go drives on the try line before possession was flung wide, Paul Jarvis collected and seemed to have grounded the ball in the corner but it was not given and Welsh held out.
Whilst disappointing to end the regular season with a defeat, the result makes no odds with a playoff campaign beginning next weekend. The Knights side with many changes produced an impressive second half display ahead of what could be the biggest few weeks in Doncaster Knights history.
London Welsh:15) Chris Elder, 14) James Lewis (Joe Carlisle 15’), 13) Guy Armitage, 12) Seb Jewell, 11) Nic Reynolds, 10) Olly Barkley, 9) Josh Davies (Ryan Glynn 51’), 1) Nathan Trevett, 2) Koree Britton (Nathan Morris 51’), 3) Ben Cooper (Eddie Aholelei 51’), 4) Josh McNally, 5) Matt Corker (Alex Woolford 64’), 6) Will Skuse, 7) Ryan Hodson ©, 8) Richard Thorpe (Kieran Murphy 51’).
Replacements: 16) Nathan Morris, 17) Darryl Marfo, 18) Eddie Aholelei, 19) Alex Woolford, 20) Kieran Murphy, 21) Ryan Glynn, 22) Joe Carlisle.
Tries; Nic Reynolds 5’, Penalty 32’, Armitage 40’, Elder 65’
Conv; Barkley 33’, 65’
Knights: 15) Dave McIlwaine, 14) Dougie Flockhart, 13) Andy Bulumkau, 12) Bevon Armitage (Dec Cusack 71’), 11) Paul Jarvis, 10) Ollie Bryant, 9) Brad Field (Ben White 71’), 1) Rich List © (Joe Sproston 57’), 2) Vili Veikoso (Ted Stagg 30’), 3) WillGriff John (Jake Armstrong 69’), 4) Tyler Hotson (Jon Phelan 57’), 5) Glen Young, 6) Latu Makaafi, 7) Will Owen, 8) Ollie Stedman.
Replacements; 16) Ted Stagg, 17) Joe Sproston, 18) Jake Armstrong, 19) Jon Phelan, 20) Alex Shaw, 21) Dec Cusack, 22) Ben White.
Tries; Jarvis 37’, Armitage 44, Bryant 60’
Conv; Flockhart 45’, 61’
Sin bin; Veikoso 20’, List 30’
Referee ; Andrew Jackson