Doncaster Knights boss Clive Griffiths was not best pleased to hear a pundit last week describe this season’s Championship title battle as a two-horse race.
Given the amount of money the two clubs have spent on their squads this season, not many people outside of Castle Park would probably bet against either relegated Bristol or Ealing being crowned champions.
But the competitive Welshman, though acknowledging Bristol and Ealing’s title credentials, isn’t about to raise the white flag and settle for a place among the also-rans.
And why should he having seen his side beat London Scottish 27-15 at the Athletic Ground to pick up their fourth win in five starts to cement their position in the top three.
With the Exiles having suffered a club-record Championship defeat last time out the result will have been closer than expected.
But credit the home side for responding in the way that boss Dave Morris had hoped and they mightfeel unlucky to finish empty-handed.
They were always in the game and entertained realistic hopes of at least a losing bonus point until the dying minutes. Replacement hooker Dave Nelson latched on to dropped ball and then sent centre Will Owen racing away for a 50m plus try which secured his side a bonus point and confirmed the Exiles fourth successive defeat. It wasn’t Knights best performance and there are things that coaching staff will need to work on in the build-up to Saturday’s game at Hartpury College. Showing several enforced changes in their back-row, it took Knights until the second quarter to break the deadlock – scrum-half Michael Heaney going over for his second try in as many games after catching the Exiles out with a quickly-taken tap penalty.
Rather than kicking on, Knights found themselves on the back foot as the Exiles, watched by the legendary Gavin Hastings - who captained both Scotland and the Lions during his time at the club – took the game to them.
Knights repelled several raids before flanker Joe Atkinson raced in just before the half-hour for a try converted by full-back Craig Holland.
Despite coming under further pressure in an evenly-contested first half, Knights secured themselves a 10-7 interval lead with an unconverted try by wing Tyson Lewis after they had tested Scottish from a catch-and-drive.
Knights struck again early in the second half with Heaney capitalising on good work by second-rower Morgan Eames to shoot over for a converted try from the base of a ruck.
The sides exchanged penalties either side of a disallowed Doncaster try. The Exiles cut the deficit to five points when Atkinson raced in from over 30m early in the final quarter and went close again before Owen sealed their fate.
* Knights: J Bulumakau, Wilson, A Bulumakau, Owen, Lewis, Humberstone, Heaney; List, Hunter, Quigley, Eames, Hicks, Challinor, Shaw, Hill. Rep: Nelson, Bergmanas, Sprotson, Langdon, James, Foley.