Doncaster Knights set for Championship challenge
Doncaster Knights return to competitive action this weekend hoping to build upon last season’s impressive third place finish.
Jamie Crawford gives us the lowdown ahead of their Championship opener at Coventry on Saturday...
Who are the Doncaster Knights?
Doncaster Knights are the most promoted team in English rugby history currently playing in the Championship, English rugby’s second tier.
The Knights play at Castle Park, a 22-acre site located four miles from Doncaster town centre on Armthorpe Road. It is one of the best grounds in the Championship.
Doncaster finished third in the Championship last season, performing well above their cost. Promoted Saracens and second-placed Ealing Trailfinders spent far more than the Knights did.
It is common for a relegated Premiership team to yo-yo back up immediately, due in no small part to their substantial parachute payment by the RFU.
Finishing third made the Knights the 15th best team in England.
Championship clubs refer to the phrase of ‘doing an Exeter’.
Exeter Chiefs played in the Championship since 1997 before devising their own five-year plan to gain promotion to the Premiership. This included moving from their County Ground to Sandy Park Stadium, which meets Premiership entry criteria and creating a limited company to manage all the club’s affairs.
Since winning promotion in 2010 the Chiefs have become one of the leading clubs in the Premiership, winning the title twice in 2016/17 and 2019/20 and reaching a further four finals.
Other clubs such as Rotherham Titans and London Scottish have made brief appearances in the Premiership but were quickly relegated.
Knights finished tenth in 2019 and 2020 prior to Steve Boden’s appointment as head coach.
Their best season was in 2015/16, under Clive Griffiths, when they finished second and narrowly lost to Bristol in the two-legged play-off final.
The 2021/22 squad
Forwards: Joe Wrafter, Henry Paul, Conrad Cade*, Will Vaughan**, Will Hollings, George Roberts, Andrew Foster, Gareth Denman, George Edgeson, George Oram, Josh Peters, Ronan McCusker, Danny Drake, Guido Volpi, Sam Graham, John Kelly, Jack Davies, Sam Hudson.
Backs: Alex Dolly, Joe Green, Gus Warr***, Billy McBride, Sam Olver, Mark Best, Fraser Strachan, Joe Margetts, Connor Edwards, Maliq Holden, Jack Spittle, Kyle Evans.
*Dual registered with *Newcastle Falcons, **Bath Rugby, ***Sale Sharks.
Although there are 15 players in the team, there are also eight substitutes. Domestic competitions can mandate a lower numbers of subs.
The team is divided into eight forwards and seven backs. It is important that there is competition for places and cover for injuries.
What can we expect from the 2021/22 season?
Big-spending Ealing Trailfinders will start this season as favourites for promotion and there will be no relegation from the Championship again.
Premiership Rugby will be expanded to 14 teams in 2022-23 season after the RFU voted to temporarily pause relegation in a bid to improve the financial situation of clubs hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are rumours that this temporary pause may become permanent if the RFU ringfences the Premiership.
Knights head coach Steve Boden, who previously played for the Knights, will start his first full season in charge after last season was truncated to just ten games due to Covid.
Boden has stated that the coaching team are looking for adaptability in their style of play. He has also reduced the average age of the squad.
Young, ambitious players who can adapt to differing opponents and perhaps alter the style of play during a game to either nullify a threat or increase their strength and menace in attack have been the focus of the recruitment.
Knights aim to play at a high pace with great mobility. This makes for an exciting brand of rugby to watch.
As Yorkshire’s only remaining second tier club, the Knights are fortunate to be a full-time club at a time when other clubs are struggling for finances and must tighten their belts.
Pre-season has been intensive, aimed at the Knights’ fitness peaking for their first game against Coventry.
They visited Wasps’ Elite Performance and Innovation Centre in London a week before their only pre-season game at Newcastle Falcons on Saturday.
Knights blew hot and cold in a 33-29 friendly defeat at Newcastle.
The Premiership side started a full-blooded contest with real purpose and led 21-3 at half time.
But Doncaster’s revamped squad gave an excellent account of themselves in the second half, running in four tries to run the Falcons close.
George Roberts, Gus Warr, George Edgson and Ronan McCusker touched down for Knights, with Sam Olver kicking three conversions and a penalty.
Falcons also won 12-7 at Glasgow the night before and fielded a largely-youthful side at Kingston Park.