Doncaster Knights fell at the final hurdle in their bid to put their name on the British and Irish Cup for the first time.
Knights, who had topped their group with a 100 per cent record and then seen off Munster A and Bristol in the knock-out stages, finally met their match in last night’s final against Worcester at Castle Park going down 35-5.
Although Warriors fielded what was effectively their second string with just a sprinkling of first-team regulars, the general consensus in the Doncaster camp was that they were the best Worcester team they had played in their three games this season, all of which ended in defeat.
Knights didn’t play well, especially in the first half, but equally important is that they were not allowed to play.
Not only were Worcester clinical when it came to taking their chances but they employed a vice-like grip on the Doncaster attack to such an extent that they didn’t breach the visitor’s 22 until the last minute of the first half.
Warriors enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges – though a better pass to wing Tyson Lewis might have given the home side an early lead - and took the lead on seven minutes.
Full-back Ben Howard spun out of a tackle just inside the Doncaster 22 and raced in unopposed. Fly-half Tiff Eden, who had played for Nottingham at Castle Park a week earlier, added the extras to make it 7-0.
Eden had the chance to extend Worcester’s lead on ten minutes but he pulled his 40 metre penalty wide.
Warriors doubled their lead on 14 minutes, centre Alex Grove diving on the loose ball which had squirmed out of the back of a ruck close to the Doncaster line. Eden again added the extras.
Knights fell further behind on 19 minutes, skipper BJ Bruzulier touching down from a rolling maul.
Although Eden, who had varied his tactics well in the first quarter, missed the conversion, Knights already looked to be fighting a losing battle.
Knights continued to spend most of the second quarter penned in their own 22 and their cause wasn’t helped on 28 minutes when hooker Ben Hunter was sin-binned.
Eden slotted over a 38m penalty on 32 minutes but fell just short from ten metres further out minutes later.
But it wasn’t long before the 800-strong Worcester following had more to cheer – hooker Dan George ducking under a tackle close to the line to score out wide on 39 minutes.
Eden again found his range to make it 29-0.
Knights belatedly started to put Worcester under pressure only for fly-half Ume Fosita to lose the ball in the tackle just short of the line with the last play of the half.
Knights knew that any hopes they may have entertained of lifting the trophy had long disappeared as the second half got underway and that they faced a damage-limitation exercise.
But they showed in the opening minutes that they weren’t going to roll over, and they gave as good as they got in the second half.
Hunter touched down on 54 minutes from rolling maul to produce t the biggest cheer of the game.
Dougie Flockhart was timed out as he lined up his conversion attempt – which had he kicked would have seen Knights win the second half 7—6.
Worcester were reduced to 14 men on the hour when flanker Matt Scott when yellow-carded, but it didn’t stop them increasing their lead with an Eden penalty on 64 minutes.
He also took the opportunity to run down the clock and add to his side’s tally, four minutes later with second penalty this half.
George became the second Worcester player to be sin-binned on 77 minutes.
Knights produced their best move of the game a couple of minutes from time.
Slick handling inside their own half unleashed Lewis down the left and had he elected to use his support rather than back himself in a two-on-one in the Worcester 22 there would have been a second try.
Knights: Jarvis; Flockhart, Catchpole, Clark, Lewis; Fosita, Palu; T Davies, Hunter, Quigley, Hotson, Phelan, Challinor,Hills, Eggleshaw. Reps: List, Viekoso, Foden, John, Armitage, Roberts, Field.
Worcester: Howard; Hammond, Grove, Fatiaki, Vuna; Eden, Bruzulier; Fainga’anuku, George, Rees, Percival, Sanderson, Cox, Gilbert, de Carpentier. Reps: Sowrey, Ruskin, Daniels, Taylor, Mulchrone, Mieres, Humphreys.
Referee: Andy Grace