Knights 13-28 Bristol
The Knights promotion hopes took a hammer blow following a difficult 13-28 defeat to regular season Champions Bristol.
It all looked like it might have been very different as the Knights returned to the changing rooms for half time with a 13-11 advantage but an impressive second forty from Andy Robinson’s men saw them amass 17-unanswered points to establish a lead of fifteen ahead of the second leg at Ashton Gate next week.
Once again the Doncaster public turned out in force to support the Knights and on a dreary Wednesday evening 4,579 fans packed into Castle Park for the final time this season.
The Knights started brightly and looked to play from kick off and when Luke Arscott was unable to control a looming up and under from Michael Heaney it set up good field position for the game’s first scrum. A good shove was met by cries of elation from the home support and referee Wayne Barnes soon had his arm in the air for a Donny penalty which Dec Cusack coolly slotted.
The score stayed the same until almost 20 minutes in, largely due to the Knights unrelenting defensive effort. 20-year-old fly half Callum Sheedy, who looked very impressive all nights, almost released David Lemi for an early try but the ball was dropped inches from the try line.
Whilst the home defence could not be faulted, in attack there certainly seemed to be a nervousness about the Knights play and Bristol continued to control possession and territory. Rare attacking opportunities tended to arise from the visitors mistakes, an overthrown lineout was fielded by Michael Hills who set off downfield but the move soon came to an end and it wasn’t long before Bristol went back on the attack.
Bristol’s first points came just before the quarter point after Lemi did well to force Michael Heaney into touch in his own 22m following a testing Will Cliff box kick. From the resulting lineout James Phillips went close down the short side and the Knights were penalised on the floor, following a failed advantage, the away side equalised with a successful penalty strike from Sheedy.
The Knights response was immediate, Tom Varndell mistimed a tackle on fly half Dec Cusack who made impressive ground when kicking to touch from the resulting penalty. From the line out, the home pack set up a patient maul before scrum half Heaney took over possession to hit Will Hurrell on a hard line, the centre broke through and crossed for the game’s opening try; Cusack converted to put the Knights ten points up.
The visitors then used their own driving maul to devastating effect as they pushed post lineout from halfway all the way to the Knights 22m before and were awarded a penalty as the Knights pack illegally dropped the rumble. Sheedy was on the money once again to double his sides tally, 10-6.
Bristol lost Tom Vardnell to the sin bin for tackling Andy Bulumkau mid-air in an almost identical challenge to the one on Cusack. Unfortunately, the Knights could not capitalise on the advantage and shortly after Bristol scored their first try to put them in the lead. Lemi, the scorer, found a quick pass from teammate Anthony Perinese after the home defence had been stretched to breaking point and the winger went basically unchallenged to the line.
Doncaster ended the opening half on the front foot powerful carries from Hurrell, Hunter and Clark all almost made the break but each time the visitors held on. One Clark carry did bear fruit as a mistake on the floor was penalised to give Cusack a chance at goal, the standoff was on the money and the Knights went into the interval up by 13-11.
There will not have been many that could say that Bristol had not looked very impressive in the first half but the Knights defence had been mega and with almost every attacking opportunity they had come away with points so there was certainly optimism about the second forty. However, the toll of phase after phase of defending was about to tell as Bristol produced an exemplary second half of rugby.
An injury to try scorer Lemi caused quite a lengthy stoppage after he clashed with Bulumakau, both players got back to their feet but the Bristol captain was forced from the field of play and replaced by Matthew Morgan. The switch did little to slow the visitors and they crossed shortly afterwards, a nice lineout move opened a gap on the short side for hooker Ross McMillan who charged over for his side’s second score. Sheedy added the extras to put the Knights behind by five.
The visitors quickly added a third after taking advantage of back-to-back penalties to cruise down the field. The try itself was perhaps a little unfortunate, Michael Hills seemed to have interrupted the lineout but a cruel bounce sat up perfectly for Will Cliff. The scrum half raced forward to be stopped inches short and in the next phase Ben Glynn bundled over. There was a short deliberation as Barnes consulted his TMO before the try was declared, Sheedy’s kick put Bristol 13-25 ahead and in the driving seat.
The Bristol attack continued in the same vein as it had all game as the fixture eked towards it’s closebut the battered Donny defence were determined to keep themselves in the contest. The coaching staff made a raft of substitutions around the 60 minutes mark, emptying the bench in a bid to change the flow of the game.
With fifteen minutes to go, Bristol scored another penalty following a big scrum to extend the lead further for what would be the final score of the game.
At the death the Knights rallied and got agonisingly close as, from a tap penalty, five metres out the forwards set up a driving maul however the visitors were able to stifle the drive what seemed like just inches from their own try line. From the following scrum Bristol forced another penalty to bring the tie to an end.
It was a hard pill for to swallow for the home side who will doubtlessly curse a few of their attacking strategies but they came up against a Bristol side playing at their very best. Next week’s task is now all the harder, however, this side has spent the past three years achieving things no one thought they were capable of…perhaps there is one last shock left in this season!
Knights XV; 15) Paul Jarvis, 14) Andy Bulumakau (Dougie Flockhart), 13) Mat Clark, 12) Will Hurrell, 11) Tyson Lewis, 10) Dec Cusack, 9) Michael Heaney (Brad Field), 1) Richard List (Riccardo Brugnara), 2) Ben Hunter (Vili Veikoso), 3) Colin Quigley (WillGriff John), 4) Matt Challinor, 5) Jon Phelan (Glen Young), 6) Latu Makaafi (Ollie Stedman), 7) Michael Hills ©, 8) Alex Shaw
Replacements; 16) Vili Veikoso, 17) Riccardo Brugnara, 18) WillGriff John, 19) Ollie Stedman, 20) Glen Young, 21) Dougie Flockhart, 22) Brad Field
Tries; Hurrell 23’
Conv; Cusack 23’
Pens; Cusack 3’, 39’
Bristol XV; 15) Luke Arscott; 14) Tom Varndell, 13) Jack Tovey, 12) Ben Mosses, 11) David Lemi (c) (Matt Morgan 45’), 10) Callum Sheedy, 9) Will Cliff (Martin Roberts 71’), 1) Jack O’Connell (Kyle Traynor 56’), 2) Ross McMillan (Chris Brooker 60’), 3) Anthony Perenise (Gaston Cortes 56’), 4) Ian Evans (Mark Sorenson 64’), 5) Ben Glynn, 6) Marco Mama, 7) Jack Lam, 8) James Phillips (Olly Robinson 58’).
Replacements: 16) Chris Brooker, 17) Kyle Traynor, 18) Gaston Cortes, 19) Mark Sorenson, 20) Olly Robinson, 21) Martin Roberts, 22) Matthew Morgan.
Tries; Lemi 35’, McMillan 46’, Glynn 50’
Conv; Sheedy 46’, 50’
Pens; Sheedy 19’, 29’, 66’
Referee; Wayne Barnes.
Image by Ickledot