Analysis: Outstanding Doncaster Knights left to rue first leg defeat
How Doncaster Knights must be rueing their below-par performance in their Championship play-off final first leg tie against Bristol at Castle Park.
Given their outstanding performance in the second-leg last night, when they beat the runaway league leaders for the second time on the road this season, they must now be feeling that they could have condemned Bristol to a third successive final defeat had they taken any sort of lead to Ashton Gate.
Not many people outside Doncaster gave Knights much of a chance of overturning a 15-point deficit in the second leg on a ground where the home side had lost just once – even though they had come away with the spoils in the league back in November.
And whilst in the final analysis they only managed to peg a few points back on the night, to claim a 34-32 win must rank as one of their best ever performances.
One of the main talking points after the game was centre Mat Clark’s disallowed try in the opening minutes of the second half and what, if any, the controversial decision had on the final outcome?
Having finished 16 points clear of second-placed Knights in the regular season, no one should begrudge Bristol claiming back their spot in the top flight they lost seven years ago.
Equally, Knights’ performances in the play-offs - particularly the two away legs - both underlined how far they have come in the last 12 months and how much further they could go in the next year.
Although director of rugby Clive Griffiths made a point of not using the wet pitch as an excuse for how his side played in the first leg against Bristol, the conditions were undoubtedly more helpful to the visitors’ more conservative game-plan on the night.
The conditions were far more conducive to the sort of expansive rugby that Knights like to play in the return and in scoring five tries to two they showed they are far more than just ‘driving maul specialists’.
It was always going to be a fine balancing act for Knights on the night between the need to ‘chance their arm’ in a bid to overhaul the deficit and not to be too cavalier.
Knights should have had more to show for their first half dominance than a well-executed try by centre Will Hurrell, who produced arguably his best performance in a Doncaster shirt, and were unlucky to come in behind.
That criticism was something which couldn’t be levelled at the team in the second half as they ran in four further tries.
Wing Tyson Lewis showed both pace and determination to score his try with full-back Paul Jarvis conjuring up a try out of nothing.
Back-rower Ollie Stedman, who had pulled off a magnificent try-saving tackle in the first half, capped an outstanding display on his last game for the club with a late try.
And it was perhaps fitting that the club’s top try-scorer Latu Makaafi notched the last touchdown of what has been a season to savour.