‘They don’t look like a team top of the league’, cried a critical voice from the De Mulder Lloyd Stand as Doncaster Knights somewhat stuttered their way to victory over belligerent Blaydon.
Clive Griffiths’ men were far from at their best against the Geordies.
But that fact is Doncaster are now within touching distance of creating history and becoming the first team to bounce back to the Championship, since it was rebranded in 2009, at the first time of asking. They haven’t got there by luck.
Saturday’s 24-19 success was a struggle at times. After three first half tries put the Knights in control, errors crept in after the break. It became a containing job as Blaydon gave as good as they got. A rare moment of fluent rugby saw Dougie Flockhart released down the right to seal not only a four-try bonus point but also what ultimately proved to be the decisive score of the afternoon.
Knights’ 100% home record has not been founded on free-flowing rugby. But what has been evident is a genuine spirit, camaraderie and endeavour. Top-of-the table Doncaster are battling their way back to the second tier, putting their bodies on the line for each other, no quarter will be given.
They will have to improve on Saturday’s performance, however, to get over the finish line.
Doncaster’s win, combined with Rosslyn’s Park failure to collect a bonus point from their win at Loughborough, means that Knights are now eight points clear at the top of National One with just six games remaining. But four of those six are away from home, including tricky assignments at their main promotion rivals Rosslyn, a difficult trip to Esher on Saturday, and another potential banana skin at Coventry. There’s plenty of work still to be done.
The defensive barrier that prevented Blaydon from causing an upset on Saturday, and also held them up over the try line on several occasions, will need to be out in force away from Castle Park. But Griffiths’ men will also need to be better in several other areas of their game if they are to avoid throwing away their strong position at the top.
A confident first half display did for Blaydon. Mat Clark, Michael Hills and Chris Walker all touched down during a dominant spell.
Blaydon struck back just before the interval after a period of pressure, Jason Smithson scoring and Andrew Baggnett converting to reduce the deficit to 19-7 at half time.
The visitors started the second period on the front foot but failed to make their possession count. And they were made to pay when the Knights again broke quickly and fed Flockhart.
To Blaydon’s credit they continued to enjoy good possession and territory and, after a string of near misses, Zach Kibirige crossed to reduce the gap to 12 points.
The visitors were held up deep into Doncaster territory time and again.
Smithson eventually crossed in the final minute and Baggnett converted but the league leaders held on to grind out another vital win and take another step closer to the Championship.
* Knights: Sodini, Santamaria (Bergmanas 70), Davies, Parsons (Kenworthy 70), Challinor, Walker, Hills, Kettle, (Morris 76), Bravo, Roberts, (Lennard 70), Lewis, Armitage, Clark, Flockhart, Jarvis. Attendance: 1,136