Founded in 1875
Doncaster Rugby Football Club was founded in 1875 although there is some evidence of a rugby side in the town at an even earlier date. For the first 50 years of its existence it led a fairly nomadic life playing at numerous sites around the area: it even had a spell at the turn of the century when it became a Northern Union club.
The Early 1920s
In the early 1920s DRFC moved to a site near the town centre where it shared a ground with the cricket club. This uneasy liaison lasted for 30 years before the club moved to its existing ground at Armthorpe Road, some three miles away from the town. What started as a single pitch, two changing rooms and a small clubroom facility evolved over the years as a second and then a third pitch were added, eight additional dressing rooms were built, the original bar was extended, a gymnasium was erected and then converted into a second large bar, a grandstand was built and full playing floodlights were installed.
First Taste of Success
Playing-wise for many years Doncaster Rugby Football Club were a typical middle-of-the-road Yorkshire side enjoying good and bad seasons alike. Its first taste of real success came in 1979 when it won the Yorkshire Shield, a knock-out cup competition for junior clubs. At around the same time it introduced mini-rugby and this has developed to such an extent that DRFC now have over 400 junior members, making it the largest in Yorkshire and the most successful in terms of county cups won.
Doncaster Rugby Football Club started league rugby placed in the eleven-club Yorkshire Two Division (national level 10) in its inaugural season in 1987/88, together with Huddersfield YMCA, Ilkley, Ionians, Leodensians, Malton & Norton, North Ribblesdale, Old Otliensians, Sheffield Tigers, Wath and Wheatley Hills, and gained promotion to Yorkshire One two seasons later. At this time DRFC’s Colts sides embarked on a remarkable run of four consecutive County Cup finals, two of which they won. This prompted the club to adopt a ‘home grown’ policy which still exists to this day. This policy was very successful and the club gained three consecutive promotions taking them from Yorkshire One to North Two. Whilst the bulk of the side played throughout, a number of former players returned from senior clubs and a few newcomers arrived, the most notable of whom was David S Fairclough, who joined them from Sheffield and became the club captain for five years.
At the start of the 1996/7 season, their coach for the previous five seasons, Paul Morris, stood down to become Director of Rugby and DRFC entered the professional era by employing former West Hartlepool and North of England lock Kevin Westgarth as their Rugby Development Officer/Player-Coach. Since then the club have hardly looked back and they won all 22 of their league fixtures that season to finish well clear at the top of North Two. At the same time they reached the final of the Intermediate Cup before losing to a disputed try in the final at Twickenham. For the first time in their history they also reached the final of the Yorkshire Cup beating Bradford and Bingley, Sheffield, Rotherham and Leeds on the way before losing to Sandal, four days after their Twickenham match.
In 1997/98 they finished second in North One on equal points to the winners New Brighton who had a superior match points difference. They reached the fourth round of the Tetley Bitter Cup (beating Scunthorpe, Nottingham and Tynedale on the way) before losing 58-8 to Richmond. They again reached the Yorkshire Cup final, this time narrowly losing to Leeds at Morley. DRFC’s 2nd XV won the finals of both the South Yorkshire Trophy and Northern 2nd XV Merit Table. DRFC’s Junior Section won their Yorkshire Cup at Under 16s and Under 13s and drew at Under 12s. Eight of their players represented the county including Richard Senior who captained the side.
In 1998/99, after a mid-season falter, Doncaster Rugby Football Club won their last seven matches and comprehensively beat the then league leaders Northern by 33 points to 3 in their last game in front of a crowd of 2,000 to win North Division One and thus gain promotion into the National Leagues. In the National Cup DRFC reached the second round before narrowly losing away by 6 points to 3 against Sandal but then gained some revenge when they won the Yorkshire Cup by beating Sandal by 13 points to 10.
The New Clubhouse
In February 1998 Doncaster Rugby Football Club were formally told that they were to receive a £1.8m lottery grant towards the cost of providing three additional pitches and a brand new clubhouse complete with 12 dressing rooms, a weight training gymnasium, a multi-activity suite, dedicated medical/physiotherapy facilities and social areas. In November 2000 the new clubhouse opened.
April 2002 National Division Two
The 1st XV carried on the DRFC policy of concentrating on home grown talent, but under the experienced direction of Derek Eves, and were rewarded by winning promotion once again, this time into National Division Two. The dream of knocking on the Premiership door continued!
April 2005 National Division One
National Two became the level at which progression based on home grown talent was to prove a step too far and after finishing seventh behind the promoted Penzance and Henley at the first attempt, a rethink brought Kingsley Jones, the former Welsh captain, to Doncaster as a playing Director of Rugby and he stiffened the squad significantly.
A close fourth place finish behind promoted Sedgley Park and Nottingham was heartening and proved the launching pad for season 2004/05. Sadly though, Kingsley Jones was to leave Doncaster to become forwards coach at Sale; but the search for his replacement brought 33-cap former Springbok Pieter Muller to the club and under his leadership promotion was won, and the championship secured, with games to spare. This was the Club’s eighth promotion in the 15 years of leagues in England and had never been achieved previously. The strength in depth within the Club was also reinforced as the 2nd XV retained the N2C league title they had secured the year before, and the Colts won the Yorkshire Cup for a second successive season.
Season 2005-06 was our first in National One and the step up in pace and intensity took some time to adjust to. Home support was excellent, though, and the growing awareness of the club and its values around the area was noticeable. After 17 games, though, with just 5 wins and languishing in the bottom two, it was deemed the right time to take a change of direction and Peter Muller left the club in February. A panel of senior players under the guidance of Paul Morris took responsibility for all team affairs and there was a significant improvement in the later stages of the season, culminating in 6 wins in the last 8 matches. The club finished with more wins (10) and more league points (52) than any of the previously promoted clubs in National One. We were never going to end in the bottom two whether there was relegation or not! The final games saw club captain Rob Liley reach the 1000 point mark for the club in his four seasons with us, and the 2000 point mark in an illustrious career before retiring. Clive Griffiths, the Wales defence coach, joined Doncaster as the new Director of Rugby on 1st June 2006, and immediately signed up Jason Forster to join him as forwards coach in a set-up that took its first steps towards professional rugby with over half the squad on full-time contracts.
Season 2006-07 for the newly branded Doncaster Knights exceeded all expectations. After leading the Division going into the New Year the Knights eventually finished in third place with 22 wins and one draw in 30 league matches. Silverware did appear when the Yorkshire Cup was won but that end-of-season high was tempered by the news that Clive Griffiths was to leave the club to taste Premiership rugby under his old friend Mike Ruddock at Worcester. Jason Forster retired as a player and returned to Wales. Their legacy, however, remains at Castle Park.
The Welsh connection continued with the appointment of Lynn Howells as Director of Rugby for the new season, and his first appointment was the Italian legend Massimo Cuttitta as forwards coach. Justin Bishop had already joined the club from London Irish as backs coach. A new season and a new management team.
The Knights ended the season in 4th place with 21 wins and 9 defeats. In addition, they retained the Yorkshire Cup, beating Wharfedale for the second year running in the final at Harrogate.
For the first time in three years, the Knights had continuity in their coaching staff as Lynn Howells and Justin Bishop went into the new season with a team of their own choosing, including 21 new signings and a new club captain in Anthony ‘Shaggy’ Carter. The season promised to be a major one as it started with the RFU and FDR locked in negotiations about making National Division One a 12-team fully professional league. The Knights’ finishing position that season was vital in determining that they would be part of the new league. Off the field the season started with the old West Stand having been demolished in the summer and the new 1600+ De Mulder Lloyd stand, with hospitality and public facilities, under construction. Our targets are now to consolidate our position as one of the top teams in the new Championship and to build our crowds up to a level sufficient to make us a serious contender for the Premiership.