D-Day for Doncaster Knights: ‘In our heart of hearts we hope it comes together’

Doncaster Knights
Doncaster Knights

Even the most positive of men are prone to a little occasional fatalism.

“I can see it coming down to the final minute,” Clive Griffiths sighed as he pondered the Knights’ do or die clash with Blackheath this weekend.

The Knights have already taken their promotion campaign to the final act. After 29 hard fought games of rugby, it will be the 30th and last match that will ultimately determine whether they rejoin the Championship at the first attempt.

So it is easy to see why one of the most upbeat men in the sport is fearing a nervy Saturday afternoon ahead.

The objective is simple: beat Blackheath, be it by one point or more, and promotion and the National One title is theirs.

Lose, and another long campaign in English rugby’s third tier seems certain.

Griffiths’ job since the last gasp, skin of the teeth win at Coventry a fortnight ago has been to keep his squad focused on the cup final-like fixture which is facing them.

“Everyone knows the size of the task ahead,” he said.

“Everyone knows the result of winning and losing.

“We built the Coventry game up as a semi-final – lose and we’re done.

“The initiative would have gone to Rosslyn Park who I just can’t see slipping up at Cinderford.

“This is the final. If we don’t get the win we’ll be disappointed.

“It’s just another 80 minutes now. That’s it.

“We’re very positive going into the game.

“We know that if we put it together consistently over 80 minutes then we’ll be champions.

“We just won’t know how it’s all going to be until half past four on Saturday.”

As the division’s solitary full time professional outfit, the Knights were widely expected to win the league from the very beginning.

But a horrendous injury record, plus opposition side after opposition side determined to slay the giant, has made the road back to the Championship far from a smooth one.

Griffiths says there is disappointment the Knights did not complete the job before now.

He said: “We’ve missed opportunities for bonus points but we’re in this position because we’ve picked them up as well.

“There is disappointment that we’re not already up but it’s been a long, hard season and we’ve done things the hard way.

“We’re in this situation now on merit.

“We could have had it sown up before now but for sheer bouncebackability and durability I’m really proud of the group.”

In terms of doing things the hard way, the 18-17 victory at Coventry two weeks ago summed up the campaign.

A last gasp Knights try and a last-kick missed drop goal for the hosts ensured the most nervy of finishes.

Griffiths is hoping to see improvement from his side in order to prevent a repeat.

He said: “We were poor in our execution at times.

“We’ve looked at it a number of times and feel just a few minor adjustments on our alignments and decision making would have meant we’d have won at lot easier.

“We just hope in our heart of hearts that everything will come to a boiling point at Blackheath, that we put everything together and we don’t have a nervy last 20 seconds again.

“The boys have been magnificent all year.

“They’ve been criticised for not performing at times this year. We’re all disappointed when we don’t put that consistency of effort together week in, week out or over the full 80 minutes.

“But through sheer determination and guts you can’t fault them.”

The Knights head to Blackheath refreshed from a weekend off, something Griffiths feels was just what the doctor ordered.

He said: “It was a good weekend for the lads to have off, emotionally as well as physically,

“A few were carrying knocks so it was good to get them on the treatment table.

“The Coventry game was emotional for everyone in the manner of the victory and how we held on.

“We’ve been disappointed with the timing of some of the breaks but this one has been valuable for us.

“Everyone knows the stakes and the lads have come back with an extra spring in their step.”

Griffiths admits the thought of failing this weekend has crossed his mind – but not for long.

He said: “It’s there in the back of your mind.

“I don’t like to contemplate it but it’s there.

“We don’t like to think negatively.

“We’d cross that bridge if we got to it and make decisions based on that.

“But we’re confident the boys will rise and finish the season on a high.”

The final message Griffiths will deliver to his players before they run out at the Rectory Field will be simple: “If your eyes and mind are clear and your heart is strong, you can’t fail.

“At the very least you will give a performance. If we get the performance we will get over the finish line.”