FEATURE: Doncaster Knights Academy flying high and with big ambitions for 2020
Doncaster Knights Academy team will go into 2020 on a high after winning their last seven BUCS Northern 1A games.
What makes that achievement even more impressive is that the team were promoted three divisions up during the summer after going through last season’s campaign with a 100 per cent record against teams of lesser ability.
The Academy, which links Knights and Doncaster College and University Centre, was started back in 2015.
Knights’ long-serving wing Tyson Lewis was involved at the start and then worked under head coach Ants Posa, before taking over his role.
And he has ensured the good work has carried on at the Academy.
“Under Ant the team achieved several promotions and when I took over I wanted to keep that keep that progress going.” he said.
It is a role the popular Knights’ three-quarter finds fulfilling and says coaching is something that he would like to continue with when the time comes for him to hang up his boots.
“I enjoy seeing the boys get better every week.
"It’s definitely something that I would like to carry on doing at the club when I finish playing, either with (Doncaster) Phoenix or doing a little bit around the first team or both."
Lewis puts the Doncaster students through their paces during four coaching sessions which are fitted in around their studies.
He is ably assisted by the likes of fellow stalwart Matt Challoner and Richard List, who retired from Championship rugby at the end of the season.
“We’ve got an eclectic mix of coaches all with different expertise and experience within the game.
"I think that is a real benefit to young players who learn from all of them.
“For us as coaches it is vital that we cover all bases and are able to give one-on-one advice whatever the position.
“The things I look for in a player hoping to make the grade is a desire to work hard and the right attitude and whether or not they have the necessary skill set that we as coaches can develop.
"They have to be coachable.”
One of the principal aims of the academy is to help provide a conveyor belt of young talent for the club and Midlands League outfit Doncaster Phoenix.
Back-rower Sam Jones led the way – though his subsequent progress has been affected due to several concussion injuries - with Will Holling, Sam Pocklington and more recently, Allan Hudson, all subsequently making the squad.
“Obviously, the academy players can see the sort of opportunities that are there for them if they are good enough and are prepared to work hard to try and get a foot on the ladder as others have done,” said fans’ favourite Lewis.
“The first team coaches take an interest in what we are doing and the players we are developing and they are more than happy to give young players the opportunity.
“Ultimately, all we can give them is the opportunity and whether or not they take it is down to them."
Most of the academy players who have played for the Knights first sampled open-age rugby with Phoenix which Lewis sees as a vital stepping stone.
“The Academy are part of the Knights’ family and the first team players are always happy to give any advice,” said Lewis.
“A lot of the first-team players come down to support the team when they are at home at Castle Park on a Wednesday evening when we can get up to a couple of hundred supporters.”
Lewis is looking forward to the resumption of the season and entertains high hopes of yet another promotion for his team who currently stand third just two points behind leaders Durham.
“Our aim is to be playing in the BUCS Super Rugby which features all the best teams in the country,” he said.
Lewis says he is not worried about the pressure getting to his charges who beat the then-leaders Liverpool in their last game of 2019, in the second half of the season.
“The only pressure that will be on the boys is from within the squad,” he said.
“They are very competitive and want to win and they want to achieve.
“We want to play rugby because that gets the boys excited.
"They are young players and they want the ball in hand. But they also understand that there also has to be an element of structure.”