London Irish 19-0 Knights.
The Knights made a frustrating start to the new season, going down by 19-0 to Championship favourites London Irish.
A trip to the Madejski on the opening day is about as tricky a round one fixture as anyone could ask for against a London Irish side packed with international and top flight experience. Despite this, the Knights players and coaching staff will return to Castle Park disappointed not to have pushed the Exiles harder having produced a unsatisfactory performance.
The hosts made a lively start to proceedings and quickly spun together some smart phases after the Knights kicked away possession post kick off. A high tackle gave Irish a Penalty in front of the sticks and Tommy Bell made no mistake in opening the hosts account.
Bell would go on to slot a further two penalties in the opening twenty minutes but otherwise the Knights limited the Exiles attacking opportunities and created a couple of their own - too many butchered by slack handling.
The Knights scrum looked solid throughout the afternoon but they stuttered at the line out which often meant good field position was lost and phases of hard work were undone.
The first real Doncaster chance of the came on the half hour mark when Dec Cusack made good ground with a kick to touch following a penalty against Irish on the floor.
A second penalty was put to the corner after the home pack illegally halted the Knights driving lineout, the pack looked to get the nudge on again but couldn’t quite get over the line so play was brought in field. With space on the blindside Michael Heaney switched direction and found Harry Allen who juggled the ball before carrying to the try line but the hooker was unable to hold on to possession in contact.
It was Irish who finished the half in the ascendancy as they registered the first try of the match with less that five minutes to go to the interval.
A surging driving line out rumbled downfield and pulled in a number of Knights players before Irish looked to go wide. Several quick phases created holes in the Donny line and centre Tom Fowlie was able to run through one and touch down. Bell’s conversion dropped wide. 14-0 half time.
Undoubtedly on the receiving end of some stern words at half time, the Knights began the second half brightly. A handful of powerful carries, notably from number eight Alex Shaw, moved Donny down the field but again errors meant Irish kept their lead in tact.
More positive play went the Knights way with Jarvis looking dangerous whenever he was able to run into space. Richard List produced a big hit on Greig Tonks to force a fumble which Harry Allen recovered and carried forward before play was brought back for a scrum. An impressive drive won Donny a penalty but Flockhart produced a rare miss to let Irish off again.
Shortly after the Irish extended their lead following a smart counter attack.
Jarvis might have been in but for a cruel bounce of the ball, instead Johnny Williams broke deep down field then from an attacking line out Irish were awarded a penalty.
Playing advantage, possession went wide and Asaeli Tikoirotuma beat off the covering defence to finish in the corner. The extras from Bell went wide but with just over twenty minutes left to go the hosts held a commanding 19-point advantage.
The Knights enjoyed the majority of possession in the final quarter and opportunity knocked but, in the face of an extremely well-drilled and discipline Irish defence, Donny were unable to threaten the scoreboard and Irish closed out the win.
A rude welcome back to Championship rugby for the Knights however I think it is a safe assumption that plenty of other teams will leave the Madejski stadium disappointed this season.
Next up is the small matter of a South Yorkshire derby at Castle Park against Rotherham Titans, September 10th KO 14:30.
London Irish: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Ross Neal (Ben Ransom 73’), 13 Tom Fowlie, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Tommy Bell, 9 Brendan McKibbin (Darren Allinson 68’), 1 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (Tom Court 61’), 2 David Paice (Gerard Ellis 78’), 3 Ben Franks (Oliver Hoskins 68’), 4 George Robson (Jerry Sexton 70’), 5 Sebastien De Chaves, 6 Luke Narraway (c) (Joe Trayfoot 67’), 7 Blair Cowan, 8 Ofisa Treviranus
Replacements: 16 Gerard Ellis, 17 Tom Court, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Jerry Sexton, 20 Joe Trayfoot, 21 Darren Allinson, 22 Ben Ransom
Tries; Fowlie 38’, Tikoirotuma 57’
Pens; Bell 3’, 14’, 18’
Knights XV; 15) Paul Jarvis, 14) Dougie Flockhart, 13) Lloyd Hayes, 12) Mat Clark, 11) Tyson Lewis, 10) Dec Cusack (Simon Humberstone 58’), 9) Michael Heaney (Sam Edgerley 73’), 1) Rich List © (Robin Hislop 58’), 2) Harry Allen (Dave Nelson 68’), 3) WillGriff John (Joe Sproston 68’), 4) Matt Challinor (Makaafi 58’), 5) Dave Nolan, 6) Glen Young, 7) Beau Robinson (Will Owen 73’), 8) Alex Shaw.
Replacements; 16) Dave Nelson, 17) Robin Hislop, 18) Joe Sproston, 19) Latu Makaafi, 20) Will Owen, 21) Simon Humberstone, 22) Sam Edgerley