Analysis: Why are Doncaster Knights doing so well?
Doncaster Knights proudly sit second in the Championship and also at the top of their British & Irish Cup pool.
So why are things going so well? We asked our rugby writer Steve Hossack to give us the lowdown.
FP: Why have Doncaster Knights done so well in the first half of the season?
SH: They have learned the lessons from last season when they lost a number of games they should have won.
Half-back was a big problem area and that often resulted in a lack of running opportunities for the back division.
The recruitment of four quality half-backs has brought about the organisation and structure so often missing last season.
FP: What style of rugby are Knights playing and what in particular is working?
SH: Director of rugby Clive Griffiths likes nothing better than seeing Knights score tries which thrill the Doncaster supporters.
The same applies to backs and skills coach Paul Cooke who has helped bring about a noticeable improvement in handling technique and lines of attack.
But both men are aware that a try is worth five points no matter how it is scored.
Knights often struggled in the first half of last season against sides well drilled in the art of catch and drive rugby. They can now not only hold their own but are now one of the best exponents of the ploy.
FP: Who have been the stand-out performers so far, and why?
SH: It has been a real team effort with everyone playing their part.
Flanker Latu Makaafi and goal-kicking wing Dougie Flockhart have proved match-winners on more than one occasion this season but both are quick to credit others for their success.
To a man, the forwards have been tremendous. The likes of Makaafi, Ollie Stedman and skipper Michael Hills have taken the plaudits at times but the front five have been remarkably consistent – particularly in the set-pieces.
Jon Phelan has certainly proved a point to the selectors who left him out of the Canadian World Cup squad.
Full-back Paul Jarvis and wing Tyson Lewis form part of a formidable back-three and Irish half-backs Declan Cusack and Michael Heaney have both played their part when fit.
It’s always difficult to single players out when, as I say, everyone has played so well but I think most people would agree than centre Will Hurrell has made a big impact with his direct style of running in his first season at the club.
FP: What or who has impressed you most so far this season?
SH: The team spirit and confidence within the side.
The players expected to beat promotion favourites Bristol - which wouldn't have been the case 12 months ago - when they duly went to Ashton Gate and defeated the former Premiership side in November.
There are few, if any, fitter teams at this level due to the positive response to (fitness coach) Dougie Flockhart’s fitness programme in pre-season and beyond.
FP: Clive Griffiths was under pressure from certain quarters last season? Has he proved a point?
SH: Undoubtedly so, though I personally never lost faith in him given his track record in both codes and his passion for the game.
A driven individual who sets himself high standards, Griffiths is a renowned defensive coach, having worked at international level for Wales in that capacity, and his work in that respect has been evident in most games this season.
One of his great strengths is spotting a player who will not only fit in with the Castle Park ethos but who will also take the team forward.
FP: Can Knights realistically win promotion to the Premiership?
SH: Given their resources, you would have to say that Bristol are the favourites to go up.
But Knights are definitely in with a chance and president Tony De Mulder would love them to see them in the top flight next season.