Doncaster Knights 32 Jersey Reds 26: Patched-up Knights bounce back in fine style
It takes character to bounce back from a 57-0 Championship Cup Pool 2 drubbing.
But Doncaster Knights had that in spades when beating a strong Jersey Reds side 32-26 in an entertaining game at Castle Park.
What makes Knights’ bonus-point win even more notable was the number of players watching from the stands and the fact that a number of those who did play played out of position.
None were found wanting.
Knights gave a debut to utility-back Johnny McPhillips, who had joined them on a season-long loan from Leicester Tigers earlier in the week, and he hardly put a foot wrong.
Jersey got off to a flying start with a well-worked converted try by scrum-half William Homer.
But Knights, who knew they had to defend well and did against a Jersey side who adopted a very expansive game-plan, didn’t panic.
They drew level on 12 minutes when wing Leeroy Van Dam fumbled a kick to the corner by fly-half Sam Olver and McPhillips was on hand to pick up the loose ball and touch down for a try the half-back converted.
Jersey returned to the attack and both wing Thomas Williams and second-rower Kyle Hatherell went close before Knights got their noses in front at the start of the second quarter.
No 8 Rory Pitman broke the line 15 metres or so inside the Jersey half and he found Olver up in support on his left and he carried on the move which eventually led to centre Charlie Foley touching down in the corner for an unconverted try.
Pitman proved a real handful for the Jersey defence, especially in the first half, and beat off several other worthy candidates in the Doncaster ranks to claim the man-of-the-match award.
Olver stretched Doncaster’s 12-7 interval lead with a long-range penalty two minutes after the restart.
Despite trailing at the break the visitors had enjoyed the better of the territorial exchanges in the first half and cut the deficit on 47 minutes when Van Dam touched down in the corner after the ball had been moved along the line at pace.
Jersey opened up a 19-15 lead when Hatherell broke Tyson Lewis’s attempted tackle and touched down near enough for fly-half Greg Dyer to tag on the conversion.
No sooner had Antonio Harris come off the bench than he was in the sin-bin. Knights wasted no time in cashing in on their extra forward with skipper Matt Challinor touching down near enough for Olver to convert from a maul.
A typically opportunist try by the speedy Tom James from a scrum, converted by Olver, saw Knights lead 29-19 and seemingly home.
But Harris celebrated his return to the fray with a close-range converted try to put the result back in the balance. Knights had the last word with a late Olver penalty.
Knights: McPhillips, Evans, Foley, Hayes, Lewis, Olver, James; Hislop, Hunter, Quigley, Hicks, Smith, Challinor, Edgson, Rory Pitman Replacements: Holling, Foster, Beech, Hudson, Sproston, Pocklington, McColl, Wilson