Doncaster Knights 24 Cornish Pirates 27

Knight's Nathan Jones bundles the ball over the line for a try against the Pirates. Picture: Andrew Roe

Knight's Nathan Jones bundles the ball over the line for a try against the Pirates. Picture: Andrew Roe

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AN agonising three point defeat to the Pirates ended Doncaster’s hopes of reaching the Championship play-off semi-finals - and brought the curtain down on Lynn Howells’ four-year reign at the club.

Howells announced earlier in the season his intention to quit Castle Park at the end of this campaign and is to be replaced as director of rugby by fellow Welshman Brett Davey.

Had the Knights reached the knockout stage of the season for the first time ever it would have been a fitting tribute to the work done by Howells – but it was not meant to be.

After falling behind to an early Grant Pointer penalty, a determined Doncaster side rallied and winger Andy Wright crashed over, with Tristan Roberts adding the extras and then landing a penalty.

But Pirates, Pool B winners with a perfect record of six wins out of six, just refused to be beaten and kept on responding to the home side’s enthusiastic approach.

Rhodri McAtee scored before the break, and a Pointer penalty and conversion gave the visitors a 13-10 half time lead.

Back came Doncaster and flying winger Matty Williams dived over in the corner to put the home side back ahead, with Roberts adding the extras.

But Mcatee’s second try of the afternoon and a Nick Jackson score put the Pirates in control.

Scrum half Nathan Jones went over in the dying moments and Steve McColl converted to reduce the deficit to three points - but the visitors held firm and quashed hopes of a lucrative semi-final date at Worcester Warriors.

Cornish Pirates will be joined by Bedford Blues from Pool B in the semi-finals after the Blues thrashed Rotherham to leapfrog Doncaster in the table.