Cross Keys 32 Knights 37
The Knights made the trip to Newport for their first game in the British and Irish Cup in almost two years to face a Cross Keys outfit boosted significantly by an influx of talent from Guinness Pro 12 side Newport Gwent dragons as well as the other players from the Gwent region.
No fewer than eight Dragons were included in the Cross Keys starting XV including a full front row, which contained former Knight Rhys Buckley. Clive Griffiths also named a slightly different looking side to the ones that have started the Knights Championship campaign as; Glen Kenworthy, Ross Davies, Phil Eggleshaw and Andy Bulumakau made first competitive starts of the season, as did Captain for the day Will Foden.
A downpour half an hour before kick off ensured slippery underfoot conditions but the sun came back out just in time for kick off though that did not help the Knights who made an underwhelming start to the game. Glen Kenworthy cleanly collected the kick off but Donny gave up possession in the maul that followed with referee Sean Gallagher awarding a home scrum. A solid scrum gave Keys a platform to attack from and they quickly spun together several sharp phases in offence. Having worked hard down the blindside they came back in field and centre Leon Andrews hit a nice running line to charge through the Donny defences and touch down. Dorian Jones added the extras.
Things did not improve quickly for the Knights and the restart was put straight into touch. Cross Keys were on the attack again shortly after and a well-weighted chip from centre Barney Nightingale forced a knock on from Paul Jarvis. Referee Gallagher pinged Knights front row at the resulting scrum for an incorrect bind and Jones kicked the Welshmen into a ten-point lead.
The Knights looked a little shell-shocked but started to feel their way into the game, a nice spell of possession initiated by a purposeful kick return from Jarvis was followed by a thunderous hit from Bevon Armitage on home full back Geraint Rhys Jones but the centre was then pinged for not rolling away. Good pressure from the Knights defensive line forced a handling error from the hosts and Mat Clark was the quickest to react. He hacked ahead before winning the footrace to dot the ball down and open his side’s account. Dougie Flockhart has no problem adding the extras to put the Knights sluggish start behind them.
Donny built on the opening score and, following a couple of solid scrums, won a penalty when the hosts illegally used their hands at the breakdown. Comfortably in his range, Dougie took opportunity to level the scores and then put the Knights ahead with another penalty just a couple of minutes later.
Having fought their way back into the lead the Knights contrived to bring Cross Keys back into the game and conceded a try from the restart. Miscommunication amongst the ranks saw the ball bounce straight into the path of Polu Uhi. The winger collected at full pace and was able to gallop home untouched; Dorian Jones was off target with his conversion.
The remainder of the first half was closely contested with neither side really asserting any authority over proceedings. A greasy playing surface affected handling and both sides set piece remained solid. Breaks did come from for the Knights, notably from Bruno Bravo and Ross Davies. With the forty minute mark fast approaching clever work from the Knights scrum half saw him chip forward and then, with assistance from Dougie Flockhart, force the retreating Luc Jones over his own try line. The Knights pack produced a solid scrum and, five metres from the Keys try line, Phil Eggleshaw picked and battled his way over the line for a score that put the Knights in the lead at half time. Flockhart converted to make the score 15-20.
Cross Keys came out brightly in the second period, they spun together a number of phases and played some very ambitious rugby, more than happy to throw the ball around. The expansive play paid off and when Dorian Jones was able to drop a chip kick into space, a kind bounce meant the ball fell in to the path of Barney Nightingale who collected and scored.
Buoyed by the try, Keys continued to attack and forced another foul out of the Donny defence. Despite being just inside the Knights half Jones elected to go at posts and converted comfortably to make the score 25-20.
As was the case in the first half the Knights reacted positively to their slow start and hit back. They were awarded a penalty when the Keys midfield was caught offside after a chip ahead, which Flockhart converted.
Clive Griffiths introduced some fresh legs as the game approached the hour mark and the Knights began to look the better side again. A penalty at scrum time saw Paul Roberts produce a fine kick to touch and from just inside the 22m a well-executed driving maul saw the Knights drive their way over for the third score of the game. Michael Hills was the man to touchdown and Flockhart converted to put the Knights five points clear.
The next score of the game secured Doncaster a four-try bonus point and ultimately put the game beyond Cross Keys. On his first competitive start for the club, winger Andy Bulumakau received the ball with a couple of defenders in close watch. Despite this he managed to step his way into space and break clear to sprint home down the left wing. Refusing to be hurried by the audibly irritated home crowd Dougie added the extras and with ten minutes left to play the Knights had established a twelve-point lead.
The hosts have a good record in this competition and do not take kindly to being beaten at home so it was unsurprising to see the Keys outfit fight until the final minute. A quickly taken free kick inside the Knights half gave the home side the attacking impetus they needed in an attack that ended in lively winger Ashley Hewitt going over in the corner, impressively converted by Gerain Rhys jones.
With the clock all but out Cross Keys launched one last attack but were unable to secure the ball after a line out and the game came to an end.
In a competition that Clive Griffiths has stated he intends to take seriously this is a notable result and means the Knights take a maximum return of points in to next week’s home game with Cornish Pirates.
Cross Keys XV: 15. Geraint Rhys Jones, 14. Ashton Hewitt, 13. Leon Andrews (c), 12. Barney Nightingale, 11. Polu Uhi, 10. Dorian Jones (James Cordy-Redden 69’), 9. Luc Jones (James Leadbeater. 57’) 1. Phil Price (Luke Garrett 40’), 2. Rhys Buckley (Darren Hughes 70’), 3. David Young, 4. Danny Hodge, 5. Simon Williams, 6. Josh Skinner (Reuben Tucker 48’), 7. Ollie Griffiths, 8. Adam Powell
Replacements: 16. Darren Hughes, 17. Luke Garrett, 18. Alex Jefferies, 19. Harrison Ceddy, 20. Reuben Tucker, 21. James Cordy-Redden, 22. James Leadbeater.
Tries; Andrew 3’, Uhi 22’, Nightingale 43’, Hewitt
Pens; Jones 7’
Conv; Jones, D. 3’, 43’, 45’. Jones, R. 70’
Sin bin; Danny Hodge 64’
15 Paul Jarvis, 14 Dougie Flockhart, 13 Mat Clark, 12 Bevon Armitage, 11 Andy Bulumakau, 10 Paul Roberts, 9 Bruno Bravo (Tomasi Palu 53’), 1 Tom Davies (Richard List 73’), 2 Jack Bergmanas (Ben Hunter 60’) 3 Ross Davies (Colin Quigley 69), 4 Glen Kenworthy (Matt Challinor 48’), 5 Tyler Hotson, 6 Latu Makaafi, 7 Will Foden (Michael Hills 60’), 8 Phil Eggleshaw.
Replacements:16 Richard List, 17 Ben Hunter, 18 Colin Quigley 19 Michael Hills 20 Matt Challinor 21 Jamie Lennard 22 Tomasi Palu.
Tries; Clark 11’, Eggleshaw 40’, Hills 64’, Bulumakau 68’,
Pens; Flockhart 15’, 20', 53’
Conv; Flockhart 11’, 40’, 64’, 68’
Sin Bin; Armitage 80’
Referee: Sean Gallagher