Hartpury 43 Doncaster Knights 14: Knights close season on low note but optimistic over future

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Against all expectations, this result and defeat by almost 30 points in Doncaster’s final Championship match was one of the worst this season.

The Knights were outplayed; none more so than by Hartpury’s excellent fly-half, Harry Bazalgette, who finished with 23 points – four conversions and five penalties – which punished his opponents’ indiscipline.

Only briefly competitive for a short period when tries by hooker George Roberts and scrum-half Ollie Fox, both converted by fly-half Sam Olver – one of several players making their last appearance – cut the gap to 24-14, Doncaster failed to reach the standards achieved two weeks ago when champions Ealing Trailfinders were beaten at Castle Park.

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Yorkshire’s only full-time professional club, which this week will announce more signings for next season and release the names of departing players, finished in sixth place, the same position as in 2022-23, with a record of 11 wins, eight defeats and one draw in 20 league games.

PLANNING AHEAD: Doncaster Knights' head coach Joe Ford. Picture: Jonathan GawthorpePLANNING AHEAD: Doncaster Knights' head coach Joe Ford. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
PLANNING AHEAD: Doncaster Knights' head coach Joe Ford. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Their 57 points put them behind Ealing, Cornish Pirates, Coventry, Bedford and Hartpury. So, after a moderately satisfactory season, every effort is now being made to ensure the future is much more successful.

The signs are promising, and as Sir Ian McGeechan, the ex-British and Irish Lions coach, now advising Knights’ head coach, Joe Ford, said: “We have made some exciting signings, there are more to come and there’s a lot to look forward to next season.”

McGeechan’s opinion is shared by full-back Billy McBryde, who is returning to RGC, the professional club at Colwyn Bay in North Wales, after four seasons and 75 games.

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“I think Donny have made some handy signings,” said McBryde. “Budgets in the Premiership are tight and Championship clubs are benefitting because the Premiership are getting rid of players, so Doncaster have been able to sign some good players.

“This has been a frustrating season because we’ve lacked consistency. When we turn it on, we can be so good, and we’ve had excellent results down at Cornish Pirates and then beating Ealing. That was special.

“But we’ve had poor results too – losing twice to Ampthill. Losing at Hartpury was a disappointing end to the season. They were ruthless and their fly half, Bazalgette, was outstanding. Our discipline was poor.”

As Doncaster rebuild under Ford and new forwards’ coach, Darren Fearn, they now have a few weeks off and report back for pre-season training in July.