Bristol Rugby – 25/05/2016

32Bristol Rugby

34Doncaster Knights

7:45 pm · May 25, 2016

The Knights produced an incredible second forty minutes of play to beat regular season Champions Bristol at their Ashton Gate home for the second time this season.

The Knights 32-34 triumph was not enough to prevent Andy Robinson’s men from being promoted to the Aviva Premiership as they claimed a 60-47 aggregate win. But, in front of over 16,000 spectators, Donny outscored the hosts by five tries to two in a gutsy and unrelenting display.

Following a 28-13 first leg defeat at Castle Park the odds were well and truly stacked against the Knights with some bookmakers offering a seventeen point head start to Griff’s charges. When fly-half Callum Sheedy hit his sixth penalty of the evening on the 57thminute to make the score 25-10 on the night those odds looked justified but as this side has repeatedly shown over the past three seasons, they do not know when they are beat.

The game started at quite a pace and with a much more open feel than the opening leg a week earlier. The Knights scrum made an early impression, winning penalties to create good field position however it was Bristol who scored first when Sheedy converted a fourth minutes penalty after Will Hurrell infringed on the floor. Dec Cusack cancelled the score out a few moments later as he successfully converted his own three pointer for another floor offence, 3-3.

Chances continued to come for both sides with David Lemi and Andy Bulumakau both going very close but on both occasions stellar defence prevented tries. On the balance of play few would have argued that the Knights looked the better side as the game creeped towards the half hour mark, the scrum continued to hold the upper hand and the Knights ball carriers were making frequent inroads. Unfortunately there was a slight lack of clinical edge from the Knights with many Bristol mistakes going unpunished and opportunities not properly capitalized upon. Bristol would not be so careless and following two indiscretions Sheedy added six points to his sides tally.

The deficit the Knights faced, despite having produced an accomplished opening to the game, now stood at 21-points and all hope of promotion looked completely lost; or so it seemed until the game’s opening try. Having secured a post penalty lineout just outside the Bristol 22m the Knights pack secured nice ball with Michael Heaney quickly spinning possession to Cusack. The fly-half took a step before hitting Will Hurrell on a hard line and in a carbon copy of his try from the first leg. The centre crashed through the home defences to run in under the sticks. Cusack’s conversion put the Knights in the lead for the first time and the volume at Ashton Gate dropped drastically.

From the restart the Knights only needed secure the ball and maintain possession for a handful of phases to take their, albeit narrow, lead into half time. Unfortunately disaster struck. Having won possession on the floor Heaney looked to kick clear but saw his attempt charged down by his opposite number nine Will Cliff. The scrum half chased down the bouncing ball and pounced over the line, Sheedy’s conversion took the score to 16-10 and with that half time was called.

At this point it looked as if Bristol’s fairytale ending to the season was going to come to fruition, however, the second half saw a simply mouth-watering display by the Knights in which they outscored the hosts by 24 to 16 despite having two tries chalked off by the TMO.

The Knights burst out of the blocks and it wasn’t long until they were threatening the Bristol line and they soon crossed. Nice handling opened up space for Mat Clark to run goalwards and the centre neatly finished but referee Matt Carley elected to go upstairs. On the replay it showed contact between Ollie Stedman and Sheedy, with Stedman blocking the fly-halves path, however, it seemed highly unlikely the number ten would have made it over to Clark; despite this the decision was no try.

More chances went the Knights way but, in a similar fashion to the first half, errors and poor decision making cost them. Frustrations shone through as a hat-trick of successful Sheedy penalties sailed through the sticks; one of which was from the scrum and saw Richard List sin-binned. The nine points moved Bristol into a commanding 25-10 lead and the home crowd into party mode.

Thankfully, the Knights hadn’t read the script and from the restart Paul Jarvis produced a try from a seemingly hopeless position. The fullback stepped his way through several would be tacklers before seeming to be stopped but, unheld by the defence, Jarvis continued his run and scampered over the try line. With Cusack now off the field, Heaney took up kicking duties and slotted the extra points.

Moments later Donny were in again. A penalty was kicked to touch on the Bristol 22m and whipped from right to left where Tyson Lewis collected. The winger was able to fend off Matt Morgan before racing to the corner, once again the TMO was called upon but this time there was no issue with the score.

At this point the Knights were playing with gay abandon and Bristol, all of a sudden, looked very shaky. Almost immediately after Tyson’s score he was on the move again, Mat Clark continued the break and got agonizingly close before being held up in goal. At the scrum Bristol gave up a free kick for an early engagement and quick thinking from Ollie Stedman saw the number eight tap and barge his way over in the corner. The score meant that with ten minutes to play the Knights trailed by less than two converted scores on aggregate and memories of 2014/15 must have been haunting the home support.

More opportunity came for the Knights as Matt Challinor produced a fine break downfield and in the following phase Heaney attempted and almighty pass to Clark but it was well read by the Bris midfield and the attack came to nothing.

A rare scrummaging mishap by the Knights offered the hosts some relief with a penalty that was punted long down field by Sheedy. Having established a powerful driving maul after lineout the host then won another penalty as the Knights forwards illegally dropped it. From the corner there was only ever going to be one option for the hosts as looked to drive the Knights back once again through the pack. The drive was eventually stopped but from the following phase number eight James Phillips was able to pick and carry over to effectively guarantee Bristol’s promotion to the Premiership.

The Knights refused to give up the fight and almost immediately retaliated with another score when Matt Challinor barged over the line following a Hills carry but again the TMO ruled against the Knights. Undeterred the Knights continued to go at the Bristol defense with everything they had, eventually forcing a penalty that was put to touch. A driving maul was formed and, with assistance from much of the back line, the familiar figure of Latu Makaafi crashed over to score. Dougie Flockhart produced a spectacular conversion to win the fixture for the Knights and make it a second win at Ashton Gate in two visits.

Whilst the promotion dream did not quite become a reality everyone who has witnessed the Knights this season will have struggled to have been impressed by the exciting, determined and winning brand of rugby the team have produced since round one. That performance in front of a record Championship crowd against the regular season Champions only highlights what loyal fans already knew. Bring on next season!

Match Statistics

Bristol Rugby:

Luke Arscott; Jack Wallace, Jack Tovey, Ben Mosses, David Lemi (c); Callum Sheedy, Will Cliff; Jack O’Connell, Ross McMillan, Anthony Perenise, Ian Evans, Ben Glynn, Marco Mama, Jack Lam, James Phillips.

Replacements: Chris Brooker (for Ross McMillan, 50 mins), Kyle Traynor (for Jack O’Connell, 40 mins), Gaston Cortes (for Anthony Perenise, 51 mins), Mark Sorenson (for Olly Robinson, 61 mins), Olly Robinson (for Jack Lam, 34 mins), Martin Roberts, Matthew Morgan (for Jack Tovey, 29 mins).

Doncaster Knights:

Paul Jarvis; Andy Bulumakau, Mat Clark, Will Hurrell, Tyson Lewis; Dec Cusack, Michael Heaney; Richard List, Ben Hunter, Colin Quigley, Matt Challinor, Jon Phelan, Alex Shaw, Michael Hills (c), Ollie Stedman.

Replacements: Vili Veikoso (for Ben Hunter, 55 mins), Joe Sproston (for Richard List, 68 mins), WillGriff John (for Colin Quigley, 58 mins), Glen Young (for Jon Phelan, 51 mins), Latu Makaafi (for Alex Shaw, 51 mins), Dougie Flockhart (for Andy Bulumakau, 61 mins), Brad Field (for Declan Cusack, 47 mins).

Referee: Matthew Carley

Attendance: 16,084

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