Doncaster Knights v London Irish: Knights can take it up a level - Richard List

Richard List
Richard List

Neither side in this weekend's Championship play-off semi-final first-leg ties will have had to spend too much time researching their respective opponents.

Doncaster Knights and London Irish will cross swords for the second successive game at Castle Park with Yorkshire Carnegie and Ealing also renewing acquaintances after doing battle at Headingley on the last day of the regular season.

The Exiles will go into Sunday’s game as firm favourites having lost just once at this level following relegation from the top flight last season and having completed the double over the South Yorkshire side.

But there is no lack of confidence in the Doncaster camp, not least because they were below their best in both the 19-0 defeat at the Madjeski Stadium on the opening day of the season and their 22-5 reversal in the last game at Castle Park.

“We know that we can play better than we did a fortnight ago,” said prop Richard List, one of the stalwarts of the Doncaster side which has reached back-to-back play-offs.

“Our scrum didn’t quite function on the day as well as we would have liked in the recent league game against them, but we’ve looked at the reasons and we’ve worked on that.

“We also made too many mistakes – I think it was 12 or 13 handling errors in the first half - and you can’t afford to do that against a team of their calibre.

“You’ve got to keep hold of the ball and build pressure and that’s what we did towards the back end of the second half and scored a late try.

“We definitely deserved it without a doubt because we’d put in a lot of effort against them in the two games we’ve played against them.

“It was important that we did score against them prior to meeting them in the play-offs and it was a positive note to end the game on.

“They’ve got the best defensive record in the league but we’ve shown we can score against them. We also went close on another couple of occasionss, so if we can tighten up in a few areas then we’ll definitely be in with a shout.”

One of several players to have captained the side during skipper Michael Hills’ spell on the sidelines in the first half of the season, and named Supporters’ Player of the Season last Friday, List knows that the outcome of the forward battle on Sunday will go a long way towards deciding the outcome.

But he is under no illusions how tough it is going to be for the Doncaster forwards.

“They are good at what they do and they build pressure on you,” he said. “They are a well-drilled outfit, but we took a lot of their line-out ball in the league game which they won’t have liked.

“They did the same to us so that’s something we’ve worked on in training over the last ten days or so and I’m sure they will have done the same.”

Knights ended the regular season boasting the second best defensive record in the Championship – conceding only five tries in the two games against the Exiles, the top points scorers in the division.

“We defended well for most of the first half in the game at Castle Park but a lapse in concentration led to them scoring just before half time and that proved crucial – especially with them being awarded a penalty try when Ben Hunter was penalised as they tried to drive us over just after half time,” said List, part of a formidable front-row.

“The driving maul is another aspect of their game that they are very good at. We were aware of that fact and it was something that we worked hard to try and nullify in the league game and we’ll have to do the same on Sunday.”

He added: “They have been the best team in the division this season, but I don’t think that they are the finished article and we know that if we can get into them and play for the full 80 minutes then we can cause them problems.

“We know they’ve spent a lot of money and they have a lot of good players. But we are a tight-knit group and we play for each other and we know when we do that for 80 minutes we’ll give anybody a game.

“We’ve got to be in with a chance going into the second leg, be that having won the first leg or running them very close.

“Jersey proved that they are beatable on their day. We’ve obviously looked at that game, and others, for any weaknesses and talked about how we can exploit them.”