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Home > News > Doncaster Knights mid season review
Your News Doncaster Knights mid season review

With the Knights players enjoying their first weekend break of the season, it is perhaps opportune to reflect on the season to date. Back in the summer there was a lot of excitement in the air as the Knights had just signed former Wales coach Lynn Howells as their new Director of Rugby and former Irish international winger Justin Bishop as their backs coach and player. This coupled with the arrival of Scottish international flanker Scott Gray put everyone in a very positive mood for the approaching season.

Having finished third last season, the Knights had expectations of a similar finish even though the relegation from the premiership of Northampton Saints, with their 2mn parachute payment, made them the odds on favourite to win the league. However, with the attraction of their superstar back division, led by the All Black legend Carlos Spencer, boded well for the crowds at every ground they visited.

The Saints and the Knights were the early leaders as both won their first six matches. Strangely the Knights were at their best away from home where they put in superb performances away at Coventry, Newbury and Nottingham whilst looking strangely lethargic in front of their own crowd against just promoted Esher and Cornish All Blacks (Launceston) and previous seasons strugglers Pertemp Bees.

And then the crunch came the Knights away against the Saints at Franklin Gardens in front of a crowd over over 11,000. What a game it was for the first 20 minutes the Knights pack took the game to the Saints and were hardly ever out of their half scoring a try through Scott Gray in the process. However the Saints showed their strength which was their ability to score tries from the slightest opportunity and it was their recent signing from Rugby League giants Wigan Chris Ashton who lead the way with a try from deep inside his own half. The final score of 39 points to 17 to the Saints was not a true reflection of the game as exemplified by the fact that the Knights were denied a try as the game went into injury time before seeing Scottish international Sean Lamont break away from his own goal line to score the games final try.

Then it was a simple away victory against strugglers Sedgley Park before another first for the Knights live on Sky TV on a Friday evening against Plymouth Albion which the Knights won by 19 points to 13, a match they should have won by more. Still what an experience for everyone players, managements, Castle Park staff and supporters alike we felt as if we had hit the big time.

After a lack lustre victory away at Moseley, the Knights were brought down to earth with a bang as they lost narrowly at home to Cornish Pirates by 16 points to 12 in a match they could, and should, have won. But the following week it was back on track as the Knights won away for the first time against Bedford Blues by 16 points to 14, a victory made all the more sweeter by the fact that Bedford, with its infamous slope, is probably one of the hardest places in the league to come away from with a victory.

The Knights then beat London Welsh at home by 22 points to 3 and then it was another crunch match, a local derby at home to Rotherham Titans. With South Yorkshire bragging rights up for grabs it was the Knights who came up trumps with an excellent 39 points to 15 victory, probably their biggest margin in recent times, and making that four consecutive victories over their neighbours.

The first half of the season finished with a journey to fellow high fliers Exeter Chiefs and the Knights were well beaten by the powerful home pack by 26 points to 8 in a game they set off with high hopes of winning. What this game proved was that you have to step up to the mark every time and take nothing for granted as the Chiefs scored 3 of their 4 tries from driving mauls from close in lineouts.

The second half of the season started with the return fixture against struggling Coventry and the Knights never showed any form losing by 25 points to 17 against a side they had comfortably beaten three months earlier. What made the defeat even more hard to take as it marked the break-up of the Clubs outstanding back row. Firstly skipper Glen Wilson was forced to withdraw on the eve of the match with a career threatening back injury; during the match Scott Gray badly damaged his knee and, although he played on, he subsequently needed a major rebuilding operation; and then openside flanker Simon Grainger, unusually lethargic against Coventry, aggrevated a back injury three days after the match in the gym and this is likely to keep him out until the end of March.

The Knights regrouped with young Chris Planchant in particular putting in some good performances and the arrival of Tongan internationals prop Toma Toke and lock Lisiate Faaoso, fresh from the World Cup, lifted spirits. Five consecutive wins, including two outstanding performances at home against Newbury and Nottingham, both of whom had run Northampton close, and more than competent victories away at Launceston and Esher. For good measure Richmond, runaway leaders of London Division One, we beaten by a weak Knights side in the EDF National Trophy.

And then the Knights pressed the self-destruct button. Away against bottom of the table Pertemp Bees, they scored their first try after only 21 seconds, a second after 6 minutes and missed other numerous scoring chances in the next 15 minutes. However the home side dug in, scored three tries and the Knights were staring defeat in the face. Although they fought back and scored a third try the Bees denied them possession and counted the clock down for an unlikely victory that left Lynn Howells spitting blood.

Fate was not too knid to the Knights at this point as they were drawn at home to Northampton in the next round of the EDF National Trophy immediately before their return league match against the Saints. Although both games were lost the Trophy game by 17 points to 3 and the league match by 36 points to 10 the Knights stuck to their task and gave the Saints as good as they got in the pack. However it was in the backs that the Saints stars Carlos Spencer, Bruce Reihana, Jon Clarke and Chris Ashton gave the Knights an object lesson in making the most of every opportunity that came their way.

With 8 matches left the Knights were left to regroup again and Lynn Howells set them a target of winning every game if they want to match last seasons finishing position. They started well with a comprehensive 41 points to 12 home victory over Sedgley Park but with away trips to Plymouth, Cornish Pirates, Rotherham and London Welsh on the horizon, as well as 2nd placed Exeter at home, Howells target is a one that the Knights will have to be at their peak to achieve.

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