Hartpury 8 Doncaster Knights 20: Knights make winning start to Championship campaign

Ben Hunter scored against his former club.Ben Hunter scored against his former club.
Ben Hunter scored against his former club.
Doncaster Knights got their Championship campaign off to a winning start with a scrappy 20-8 victory at Hartpury.

It was certainly a much less impressive victory than when they beat the Gloucestershire side 44-22 in their Championship Cup Pool 2 win at Castle Park in their opening game of the season last month.

The result was in the balance throughout and it wasn’t until the last couple of minutes that Knights, who led 13-8 at the time, put the game beyond the home side.

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Former Yorkshire Carnegie centre Pete Lucock, one of a number of players who missed the win the Championship Cup win over Jersey last week, crossed from close range and touched down near enough for fly-half Sam Olver to convert.

Victory made it three wins from four league and cup games for the Knights.

Defeat left Hartpury, who had had rotated their squad in their opening block of three Championship Cup games choosing instead to focus on trying to make a winning start to their league campaign, still without a win.

Whereas the game at Castle Park had been a free-flowing encounter boasting several quality tries by both sides, Saturday’s game never reached any great heights as a spectacle.

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Despite coming off second best in the territorial exchanges against a home side desperate not to find themselves in another relegation battle at the end of the season, Knights came in leading 7-5 at the break.

It could have been a different story, however, had Hartpury fly-half Josh Bragman had his kicking boots on.

He was wide with an early penalty he would normally have backed himself to kick and he also failed to convert the first try of the game.

It was scored by London Irish loanee Chunya Munga who touched down from close range following several pick up and goes by the home forwards who wasted no time in capitalising on their extra man following the sin-binning of Matt Challinor.

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Challinor, who also handed the captain’s arm band back to the fit-again Michael Hills, was back in his regular second-row berth after dropping into the back-row for injury-hit Knights against Jersey.

Although Knights defended well throughout and will have been pleased to restrict the home side to just one try, they didn’t start to threaten themselves until the closing stages of the first half.

They finally opened their account with a 33rd minute try by hooker Ben Hunter – who lists Hartpury among his former clubs - from a catch-and-drive ploy.

Olver added the extras and he also hit the target within two minutes of the restart to make it 10-5.

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It proved a case of third time lucky for Bragman when he cut the deficit to just two points again several minutes later.

Olver restored Knights’ five-point advantage with a second penalty on 55 minutes and that’s the way it stayed until Lucock’s 78th minute touchdown.

Knights: McPhillips, Evans, Hayes, Lucock, Wilson, Olver, James, Hisplop, Hunter, Quigley, Challinor, Smith, Edgson, Hills, Pitman. Rep: Holling, Foster, Thomas, Eames, Sproston, Pocklington, Lewis, Foley.