In-depth interview with Clive Griffiths as Welshman enters what is set to be final season at Doncaster Knights
It is with a mixture of sadness, pride and unwavering determination that Clive Griffiths embarks upon what is expected to be his final season in charge of Doncaster Knights.
Sadness because the workaholic Welshman will sorely miss the day-to-day demands of the director of rugby role and the friendships he has forged.
Pride at the notable achievements on and off the pitch during his nine seasons at the helm; Knights are now an established Championship club with an infra-structure to match.
Determined as ever, despite a wretched 2018, suffering a heart attack just months after the tragic training ground death of prop Ian Williams.
Knights have had it tough more recently but they have come a long way since Griffiths arrived for his first spell in charge in 2006.
Now the former dual code Wales international is determined to bow out on a high.
“Last season I wasn’t at full throttle but I’m firing on all stents now as I keep telling people,” joked the 65-year-old with typical gallows humour.
“I’ve got two very good coaches with me now, Steve Boden and Francis Cummins plus Dougie Flockhart on the conditioning side and a host of others in analysis, medical and team management. That’s not to mention stalwarts like Glen Kenworthy and Paul Cooke who have helped me over the years. All of them are class and loyal to the hilt.
“We’ve now got one of the best coaching set-ups outside of the Premiership. There’s a legacy there for them to carry on.
“And there’s lads at the club, the likes of Matt Challinor, Michael Hills, Tyson Lewis and Dougie, who are the salt of the earth. They are Knights through and through.
“But it can’t last forever and I can’t last forever.
“It’s a transitional period and people have to realise that.
“I’m looking to get the best results but I’m also trying to leave the club in the best possible health.
“Let’s just look at the worst case scenario; if we just stay in the league this year I still believe that no matter what position we finish I’m leaving the club in a much better place than when I first came in.
“When I left in May 2007 to when I came back in early December 2012 I walked in and there was a lot of work to be done. What are your values? What’s your team structure? What’s your tactics? What’s your ambition? ‘Keep us up ‘ was the short term aim but I’m not David Blaine.”
He added: “I’ll leave others to decide on the legacy that I’ll leave.
“But I think about the landmarks we’ve achieved; we were the first Doncaster team to do this and to do that.
“If whoever takes over from me betters the achievements of my tenure we’ll be in the Premiership, and they should have a statue built of him at the entrance to Castle Park or in the middle of the town because it isn’t easy with the financial disparity that exists with the team coming down from the Premiership.”
Griffiths guided Knights to their best ever final league position in 2016 when they finished second in the Championship.
That same year, in their first ever play-off final, they came agonisingly close to beating big-spending Bristol for a place in the Premiership.
Crucially, under Griffiths, Knights spent just one season in the third tier when they won the National One title in 2014. A year later they also reached their first ever major cup final.
“To see Doncaster now as an established Championship club which could win things gives me great pride,” said Griffiths.
“When I came in midway through the 2012-13 season they were going down so it was important to end that yo-yo effect.
“Last season was a bit nervous towards the end because we weren’t getting the results we wanted.
“Don’t get me wrong, the wins and the landmarks are fantastic.
“But I think the biggest thing is that the club has never overstretched itself in terms of budget.
“To get where they are now, from the Yorkshire League, they invested heavily. Steve Lloyd and Tony De Mulder’s input obviously helped massively. Those two deserve medals.
“But the biggest thing for me was managing a budget which wasn’t as high as a lot of other clubs and overachieving. Overachieve we did.
“I love it when people say ‘it can’t be done’ and then you do it. Success comes in cans, failures in can’ts!
“We managed to put Doncaster on the rugby union map and make people sit up and take notice. People were going ‘Wow, Doncaster are in the play-off final, Doncaster are on Sky, Doncaster are in the B&I Cup final’. It has been a little bit of a flagship for the town.
“When you set the benchmark high it raises expectations. So when you don’t reach that benchmark you get criticised.
“I’ve had a few choice comments thrown at me over the years, not many. It’s part and parcel of the job. It’s the ones who hide behind keyboards that I can’t stomach.”
The last couple of seasons may have been disappointing in terms of league position but the academy has blossomed, training facilities have been improved and the club is more united than it has ever been.
“You’ve got a wonderful facility in Doncaster now down at Castle Park,” said Griffiths.
“The motto of the club is ‘rugby for all’. More than 550 people play rugby at Doncaster at the last count.
“There’s a pyramid here now – mini juniors, colts, women’s team, the academy, Phoenix, with Knights at the top.
“The shining example is Michael Hills, who went from the mini juniors to captain the Knights.
“What we want is for the really young ones to develop a lifelong love of rugby and their rugby club, Doncaster Knights, and aspire to be Michael Hills.
“Then you start getting into the colts, the academy and education. The links with Doncaster College have been fantastic. You’ve got a solid base there now which potentially could be self-sustainable in the long term.
“What we’ve also tried to do is develop a cultural side of the club, a set of values and what it means to be a Knight.
“The likes of Glen Kenworthy, Richard List, Michael Hills, Tyson Lewis and Matt Challinor are now integral parts of the coaching set-up and they’re able to share those values with the lads in the academy. It’s an holistic approach.”
He reflected further: “It’s been a fantastic journey. I wouldn’t change it for the world – even the journeys over the M62 [back home to St Helens].
“The people that I’ve met in Doncaster and become friendly with, they’ve become like family to me.
“When I actually close my office door in May – if I don’t get ‘removed’ beforehand! – there’ll be a massive amount of sadness but a lot of pride and joy as well.
“I’ll come back and watch the games with fondness. It’ll be nice to watch a game with a pint in my hand maybe?
“I’d like to stay involved with the club in some shape or form if they want me in any advisory capacity or anything like that.
“But I’m already looking to the next challenge after this anyway. I’m not going to finish just yet. I can’t just stop.”