DONCASTER Knights fell at the final hurdle in their bid to reach the quarter-final stages of the British & Irish Cup.
Beaten semi-finalists last year, the Castle Park side lost 23-17 at Ayr in their must-win final Pool D game and had to settle for third place behind runaway leaders Pontypridd and the Scottish side.
To add to Knights’ disappointment, they lost strong-running centre PJ Gidlow with a broken arm. He will miss the Championship play-off campaign which kicks-off on Sunday week.
Knights’ boss Lynn Howells, who claimed that a full-strength side would have finished comfortable winners, made numerous changes for the game.
“We’ve done that all season in the Cup as we did last season,” he said. “I picked a side that I thought was capable of winning the game as I always do.
“We had several players coming back from injuries who needed a game and it was important that we gave some of those players who have not been starting league matches of late a run, because we want all the squad to be ready for the play-offs.
“We also wanted to look at some younger players.
“Some of the players we brought in held their hand up and staked a claim for a place in the side to face Cornish Pirates in our first play-off match, whilst others didn’t.”
Knights trailed throughout but Howells said that Ayr hadn’t produced any surprises on the day.
“We knew that they had a strong pack and that proved to be the case,” he said.
“They were a good side; you don’t get to be top of the Scottish Premier League if you aren’t.”
Despite the defeat, Howells said it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
“We got what we were looking for from the game in certain respects as regards to Doncaster’s long-term future,” he said.