Bristol Rugby – 27/03/2016

29Doncaster Knights

31Bristol Rugby

1:45 pm · March 27, 2016

Knights 29 v 31 Bristol.

The Knights came agonizingly close to completing a historic double over league-leaders Bristol at Castle Park only to be foiled in the sixth minute of added time as former England international winger Tom Varndell went over for the match winning score at the death.

Donny led for the vast majority of a scintillating affair in front of a bumper crowd and the Sky Sports cameras but had to settle for two bonus points in agonizing fashion. On his 100th game for the Club Tyson Lewis set pulses racing with a two tries in the opening 25 minutes but Andy Robinson’s all-star cast refused to roll over and strengthened their grip on the Championship top spot.

The game started at a frantic pace with the Bristol backs keen to run to ball, they were met by a wall of blue, red and white with Mat Clark and Will making their presence felt in midfield early on with some thumping hits. Over eagerness gave Gavin Henson an early chance to go at goal but the former British Lion missed his penalty attempt in a shaky first half kicking performance.

Whilst the visitors may have had more of the early possession the Knights looked threatening when they were able to spin phases together, Andy Bulumakau was a constant menace when he carried to the line and the pack made inroads with continuous, solid work in the tight. Gaps began to appear and when the ball went wide Tyson with space ahead of him the winger produced a phenomenal finish. At full tilt Lewis left two in his wake to cut in off his wing and charge over putting the Knights 5-0 to the good.

Bristol were given an opportunity to reduce their arrears shortly after however Henson fluffed what looked a relatively simple penalty and the Knights made it pay. Under pressure Bulumakau gambled and intercepted a stray pass just outside his own 22m, support came in the form of Mat Clark who continued the move before it was put wide to Lewis. The winger gave all in the stadium a reminder of his blistering pace as he put his foot down to finish, Dec Cusack added the extras and the Knights were in the box seat.

Since the Knights triumphed at Ashton Gate in November Bristol haven’t lost in the Championship and there is good reason for that, a reaction was expected and it came. From the restart the visitors produced wave after wave of attacks and forced a penalty out of the home defence which Henson pinged to the corner. A well-formed driving maul was quickly established which resulted in flanker Ollie Robinson touching down, Henson dispatched the conversion.

A second Bristol score came almost immediately after the first. Having won a scrum deep in the Knights 22m Nick Carpenter carried to within an inch of the line before Will Cliff darted from the base of the ruck to score. The conversion was good and Bristol led for the first time.

The signs looked ominous for the Knights as momentum was, seemingly, well with visitors and the twelve point advantage they held just minutes earlier had disappeared. However, the Knights don’t understand what giving up is and rallied once more just before the half. Hot pursuit in defence forced a hurried clearance kick out of Varndell which set up an attacking home lineout, a maul was established but well stopped so Donny brought the ball in field through Will Hurrell. The centre got to within a couple of metres of the try line and at the next phase WillGriff John collected at first receiver and charged under the posts under heavy coverage. Referee Luke Pearce made use of the television match official and the try was awarded to regather the home lead on the stroke of half time.

The second half began with exactly the same intensity that the first finished, both sides showed complete commitment to every attack and tackle and it was the Knights who struck next. A solid scrummaging effort forced a penalty which Dec Cusack successfully navigated through the uprights, 22-14.

Unfortunately the advantage was short lived and the scrum went from hero to villain as the home pack lost out on their own scrum ball deep in their 22m. The visitors quickly transitioned from defence to attack to put the ball through hands with winger Jack Wallace profiting out wide.

After the try, the half settled with Bristol generally on top of possession but the Knights stout defence meeting them at every turn. Having spent minutes camped on their own line the Knights forced a penalty on the floor through good work from Ben Hunter and Michael Hills which allowed Cusack to clear to touch. A Latu Makaafi carry moved Donny further down field before a penalty was awarded and put to the corner. Looking to utilize their driving maul the Knights forwards quickly moved into formation but were unable to push back the Bris defence, Michael Heaney splintered off trying to weave his way through defenders before offloading to Matt Challinor who took a more direct approach. From short range the lock is a difficult man to stop and he fought his way home for the bonus point try. Cusack’s successful conversion meant the Knights held a 29-19 with less than twenty minutes to play.

The away response was swift and Bristol hit back almost immediately, impressive attacking rugby saw the visitors link phases together with frightening speed to open a gap that Will Cliff finished down the right wing. Full back Matt Morgan took over kicking duties and successfully added the conversion.

The closing stage were unsurprisingly tense, time and time again the Knights defence thwarted the visitors attacking efforts and it seemed as if they had done enough as the clocked ticked past 80 however play was allowed to continue. After what seemed like an eternity a post scrum carry from Henson saw the fly half stopped very close to the try line and quickly recycled ball found space out wide for Varndell to dot down; the conversion fell wide but it mattered not.

A heartbreaking end to a fantastic game of rugby for the home faithful but the Knights can take solace from the fact they match their illustrious opponents in every departments for the duration of a fascinating contest.

Match Statistics

Knights: David McIlwaine; Andy Bulumakau, Mat Clark, Will Hurrell, Tyson Lewis; Dec Cusack, Michael Heaney; Rich List, Ben Hunter, WillGriff John, Matt Challinor, Jon Phelan, Latu Makaafi, Michael Hills (c), Alex Shaw.

Replacements; Vili Veikoso (for Ben Hunter, 66 mins), Joe Sproston (for Richard List, 66 mins), Jake Armstrong (for Willgriff John, 63 mins), Glen Young (for Latu Makaafi, 80 mins), Paul Cooke, Bevon Armitage, Brad Field.

Tries; Lewis 14’ 23’, John 40’, Challinor 62’

Conv; Cusack 23’, 40’, 63’

Pens; Cusack 43’

Bristol: Jack Wallace; Tom Varndell, Jack Tovey, Nick Carpenter, David Lemi (c); Gavin Henson, Will Cliff; Jack O’Connell, Marc Jones, Anthony Perenise, Ian Evans, Ben Glynn, Marco Mama, Ollie Robinson, Mitch Eadie.

Replacements: Ross McMillan (for Marc Jones, 73 mins), Kyle Traynor (for Jack O’Connell, 42 mins), Gaston Cortes (for Anthony Perenise, 58 mins), Joe Joyce, Rayn Smid, Martin Roberts, Matthew Morgan (for Jack Wallace, 51 mins).

Tries; Robinson 29’, Cliff 35’ 66’, Wallace 47’, Varndell 80’

Conv; Henson 29’ 35’, Morgan 66’


Referee: Luke Pearce

Attendance: 3,223

Image by Ickledot.

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