Doncaster Knights 3 London Irish 35: Knights well beaten in play-off semi-final first leg

Simon Humberstone on a run for  Doncaster in the   Championship play off semi final
Simon Humberstone on a run for Doncaster in the Championship play off semi final

The top two teams look likely to be contesting the Greene King IPA Championship play-off final.

Less than 48 hours after second-placed Yorkshire Carnegie posted an 18-point win over Ealing, which the third-placed side will struggle to overturn at Headingley on Friday, table-topping London Irish put Doncaster Knights to the sword (35-3) in their semi-final first-leg tie at Castle Park.

They ran in six tries, four in a disappointingly one-side second half when Knights had two men sin-binned, and went close to a couple more.

Knights had only managed one try in the two league games against the Exiles, and only rarely threatened in this game with their highly-rated back division getting little chance to shine against the best defence in the league.

The pundits have written Knights off at their peril in recent times - not least in last year’s final at Bristol.

But not even their most optimistic fan would fancy their chances of an upset in the return leg at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday against a side who have been the best team in the Championship by a distance this season.

Knights made the surprise announcement in midweek that they would not take their place in the top-flight next season even if they won the play-offs.

The right decision in my opinion, but one which may have had an adverse affect on the players’ mentality going into their biggest game of the season.

But such was the gulf in class over the 80 minutes it is unlikely to have been a factor, if indeed it was within the dressing room, in the size of the defeat.

Irish were the first to threaten with highly-rated fly-half James Marshall – one of only two changes to the side which beat Knights 22-5 on the same ground a fortnight earlier - jinked his way into the Doncaster 22 prior to being nailed by wing Dougie Flockhart.

No 8 Aaron Carpenter turned defence into attack and set up the position from which Knights almost scored.

Full-back Thomas Bell was wrong-footed by an awkward bounce from Simon Humberstone’s kick on his own line. Flockhart was well placed to capitalise but just failed to touch down in play.

Knights continued to work hard but fell behind on 16 minutes when skipper David Paice, one of five internationals in the Irish pack, touched down from a catch-and-drive ploy.

Flockhart missed a good chance, though the conditions for kickers was never easy in the blustery wind, to open Doncaster’s account prior Irish opening up a 10-0 lead.

Strong-running No 8 Ofisa Treviranus broke the line in midfield in a move finished off in spectacular fashion by centre Aseli Tikoirotuma.

Flockhart cut the deficit with a late penalty but their hopes of a second half comeback suffered an early setback when wing Alex Lewington raced in for a 43rd minute converted try.

Paice added a second from a driving maul with Hall kicking a penalty to make it 25-3.

Seb De Chaves and Tikoirotuma added further unconverted tries for the Exiles who also bombed a late chance when Lewington knocked on.

Knights battled to the end, with replacements Mat Clark and Sam Edgerley showing the odd bit of class, but they finished a well-beaten side on the day.

* Doncaster Knights: Jarvis, Flockhart, Bulumakau, Hayes, Lewis, Humberstone, Heaney; List, Hunter, Quigley,Challinor, Young, Shaw, Hills, Carpenter. Rep: Bergmanas, Nelson, John, Williams, Clark, Edgerley, Cusack.