London Welsh 14 – 10 Doncaster Knights.
The Knights arrived for what was the first fixture versus London Welsh at Old Deer Park since 2012 having not recorded a win over the Exiles since a 20-9 triumph in October 2009; a run of eleven victories.
That run was extended following a frustrating display in the Capital where the Knights left it far too late to demonstrate their capabilities and, in a tantalizing finish to the tie, allowed the Exiles to hang on for a narrow victory.
To use the old cliché, it was certainly a game of two halves, Welsh were without doubt the more threatening outfit in the opening forty and had it not been for some gutsy, dogged defending from Doncaster would have been out of site by the interval. In the end they went in to the break leading 11-0 and the Knights finally showed what they could do in the second stanza coming within an inch of snatching victory in the dying seconds.
The Knights looked lively enough from the kick off but met a solid Welsh defensive front and eventually an error was forced from which the hosts built their first attacking platform. Over eagerness in the Knights defense saw them caught offside in midfield and Joe Carlisle opened the scoring with an on target penalty kick.
Donny had a chance to level the scores shortly after following back to back penalties against the hosts but Cusack was unable to convert, 3-0.
From the quarter point to half time momentum took a pretty serious swing in Welsh’ favour as they starved the Knights of the ball and produced some fierce form at the breakdown. Another penalty went their way and Carlisle looked to double the Welsh lead but found only the upright, however, a botched attempt to run possession clear very nearly resulted in an opening try for the hosts.
The home fans did not need to wait much longer for a Welsh score, gutsy running and quick phase play opened up space down the right flank where some sloppy defence created space for winger Kristian Phillips who put in perfectly weighted chip that he collected in the goal area to touch down.
The Knights spent the later stages of the first half holding on as Welsh applied wave after wave of attacking force; stretching the Doncaster defence close to the point of breaking…but not quite. Solid resistance just about kept the hosts at bay and good work on the floor from Harry Allen forced another penalty in kickable range but Cusack’s effort again dropped wide.
With half time looming the Knights continued to absorb Welsh pressure but with the last play of the first forty conceded a penalty which Carlisle converted to take both teams into the sheds with the hosts up 11-0.
The Knights needed to demonstrate far more attacking intent than they had up to that point if there was to be any chance of salvaging something from the game but it was Welsh who came out of the blocks quicker.
A nice kick to the backfield pinned Doncaster into their twenty-two and, after securing good line out ball, were pinged for truck and trailer at the maul. The signs were pretty bleak with Welsh in prime attacking position but a monster scrum from the Knights pack forced a penalty in a shove that began a half Donny dominance up front.
Mat Clark created the first purposeful Knights attack of the game as he bust through the Welsh line, the centre wasn’t able to outstrip the covering defence as he carried into the home 22m but after getting back to his feet post collision was penalized somewhat harshly.
Donny continued to turn the screw and it paid dividends shortly after. A penalty on the floor was kicked deep too touch by Cusack and the pack drove with gusto having secured the lineout. The maul was dropped in sight of the Welsh line where Harry Allen picked up to barrel over against his former club. No luck with the conversion, 11-5.
The signs continued to be good for the Knights as another scrum penalty relieved Welsh pressure but they suffered a setback when Richard List received a yellow card for an off the ball tackle and Carlisle converted the resulting penalty.
Welsh were unable to make the most of their numerical advantage and as the hour mark passed the Knights utilized the bench which built on the momentum they had gathered. Unfortunately, good attacking positions were often ruined by careless hands and poor decision making letting the hosts off the hook when there really should have been points on the board.
A centerfield penalty gave Cusack opportunity to establish good field range and he produced a fine touch finder deep into the Welsh 22m where further penalties lead to the sin binning of Ben Pienaar. The Knights went back to the corner and after drawing in defenders and penalty advantage flung possession wide for Lloyd Hayes to cross untouched; the centre was unable to convert his own effort but the Knights trailed by just four going into the closing staged.
The final ten minutes of the game made for extremely entertaining viewing as the Knights threw all they had at Welsh who hung on for dear life. A penalty got Doncaster past halfway but a not-straight line out gave possession back to the hosts who elected for a line out of their own. Glen Young did well to interrupt the Welsh throw and in the next phase Donny forced a knock on from which Sean Scanlon almost latched on to a Lloyd Hayes break but the final pass was judged just forward.
With 79 minutes on the clock Welsh just had to win the scrum and keep possession for another minute to seal victory but an almighty effort from the Knights pack crumbled their Welsh opponents backwards for a penalty.
With just enough time left, possession was kicked to the corner and another driving line out forced penalty advantage and then again as the hosts were caught off side in midfield. This left the Knights with a penalty five metres out in front of the posts on the final play of the game, the decision was made to tap and drive a maul. The pack initially got a rumble going forward, what followed was pretty chaotic and I’m sure, depending on who you ask, there are various interpretations of what happened but the end result was a scrum to Welsh and with that the game ended.
A bitter pill for the Knights who paid the price for a sluggish start. This weekend we welcome London Scottish to Castle Park hoping to maintain our unbeaten home start.
London Welsh XV; 15. Martyn Thomas, 14. Kristian Phillips, 13. Heath Stevens, 12. Seb Jewell, 11. Miles Mantella, 10. Joe Carlisle, 9. Ryan Glynn, 1. Darryl Marfo (James Hallam 58’), 2. Adam Kwasnicki (Koree Britton 60’), 3. Ben Cooper, 4. Alex Woolford (Jesse Liston 28’), 5. Barney Maddison, 6. Ben Pienaar, 7. Ryan Hodson (C), 8. Aaron Carpenter.
Replacements: 16. Koree Britton, 17. James Hallam, 18. Lovejoy Chawatama, 19. Jesse Liston, 20. Rob Lewis, 21. Glyn Hughes, 22. James Lewis.
Tries; Phillips 25’
Pens; Joe Carlisle 8’, 40’, 55’
Knights XV; 15. Paul Jarvis, 14. Andy Bulumakau (Sean Scanlon 60’), 13. Lloyd Hayes, 12. Mat Clark, 11. Tyson Lewis, 10. Dec Cusack, 9. Michael Heaney (Ben white 82’), 1. Richard List © (Ben Hunter 65’), 2. Harry Allen (Ben Hunter 65’), 3. WillGriff John (Colin Quigley 70’), 4. Matt Challinor, 5. Dave Nolan (Latu Makaafi 49’), 6. Glen Young, 7. Will Owen (Jarad Williams 62’), 8. Alex Shaw
Replacements; 16. Robin Hislop, 17. Ben Hunter, 18. Colin Quigley, 19. Latu Makaafi, 20. Jarad Williams, 21. Sean Scanlon, 22. Ben White
Tries; Allen 50’, Hayes 70’
Referee; Andrew Jackson