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Doncaster Knights 19 - Exeter Chiefs 21
Doncaster Knights played the exciting brand of rugby that saw them beat Nottingham last weekend and, but for a long range penalty with 2 minutes to go, would have followed this up with a deserved victory over promotion co-favourites Exeter. Two well matched, powerful packs and two sets of backs who were prepared to play exciting rugby whenever the opportunity arose produced the most exciting match seen at Castle Park this season.

With the promotion play offs now entering round 3, Knights Director of Rugby Lynn Howells kept faith with the side that had produced an excellent performance against Notting ham the previous weekend with his only change being at prop where Tongan international Toma Toke came in for the injured Stuart Corsar. On the bench back row Adam Kettle and scrum half came back into contention after injury.

The first 20 minutes of the game was full of exciting rugby as both sets of packs sort to establish some sort of advantage over their opposite numbers whilst their backs tried to take advantage of the ball that was produced. From a Doncaster perspective they had one or two early hiccups in the lineout, which they quickly put right, and, after a couple of scrums, prop Toke came to terms with playing against the very experienced Chris Budgen playing at tight head for the opposition. The only criticism that could perhaps be levied at them at this stage was the fact that they did not play enough phases preferring instead to slow the game down by a series of driving plays off the back of rucks. With 20 minutes gone, Knights fly half James Brooks opened the scoring with a penalty with was cancelled out by a similar effort by his opposite number Danny Gray for the Chiefs. Within minutes however Brooks had put his side back in front again with his second penalty after which the Chiefs put the Knights under pressure opting to kick a penalty to the corner rather than going for goal. After their intial drive from the resultant lineout had been stopped, the Chiefs moved the ball to the left before centre Brian Rennie came back on a switch move and his finely judged run to the line just managed to keep out of reach of the Knights defence for the game’s opening try. Gray’s conversion was well struck and his side were ahead for the first time in the game as was a lead they kept until half-time in spite of more attacks by the Knights with winger Oli Goss being pulled down 7 metres from the Chief’s line and then prop Ngalu Ta’u losing possession as he tried to drive over 5 metres out.

After 3 minutes of the second half, Knights gained possession at a ruck just outside their own 22 and a gentle chip over the top by scrum half Chris Hallam was gathered by chasing full back Anthony Carter on the halfway line and his quick pass to Goss put the flying winger on a race down the touchline to beat the covering defence to score fairly wide out. Knights lead was short lived however when, 3 minutes later, Gray kicked his second penalty to put his team back in front. With 52 minutes gone there came the only controversial incident in the game when, after the Knights defence had been breached and winger Mark Foster hauled down inches short, centre Nic Sesteret was on hand to score a try that the referee only awarded after consultation with the touch judge over what the Knights players thought was a double movement. Although this score took the Chiefs 7 points clear, the Knights again took the game back to the Chiefs and were rewarded for their efforts when Brooks kicked his third penalty after 57 minutes. Now it was game on and it was all Knights. Townson won a Chiefs lineout on their own 22; the ball came out the right where prop Toke gained possession to bounce off a couple of tacklers before the ball went to right winger Andy Wright who was hauled down by two defenders only 5 metres short ; back to the left the ball went to the rampaging Toke who this time bounced off defender after defender before being pulled down just short; quick, long passing to the left found the ball with No 8 Neil Cochrane in the outside centre berth and he made a couple of yards before he was tackled; again the ball was recycled and this time it came back to the left through Goss whose pass was taken by replacement full back Steve McColl whose long pass found Wright in space and he raced the last 20 metres to score in the corner to put the Knights back in front. Unfortunately Brooks conversion from a metre in from touch drifted just wide of the uprights and the Knights were only a point in front. With less than 5 minutes left a second controversial incident occurred when the Knights were penalised for holding on after a tackle in spite of the fact the video showed that the ball had squirted out of the side of the ruck as the referee indicated the penalty. Up step Gray and his successful penalty attempt from 47 metres put the Chiefs back in front. From hereon in the Chiefs experience told and they wound down the clock to deprive the Knights of a victory that they just about deserved.

Although beaten, the Knights faithful left Castle Park with renewed optimism knowing the sort of rugby that their side had proved they were capable of playing and looking forward to the remaining fixtures with renewed optimism. Certainly if the team continues to play in this vein of form (penalties excepted) then they could still reach the Championship play offs as well as the final of the British and Irish Cup – not bad for a side that had virtually been written off after their dreadful, but injury hit, six match run of defeats at the start of the season

Doncaster Knights: Carter (McColl 58), Wright, Armitage, Briers, Goss, Brooks, Hallam (Griffiths N 74), Toke (Thiede 70), Boden (Lawrie 66), Ta’u (Cusack 40), Kenworthy (Griffiths B 40), Townson, Boyde (Kettle 61), Cochrane, Grainger

Exeter Chiefs: Dollman, Jess, Sesteret, Rennie (Jones 59), Foster, Gray, Thomas, Sturgess, Clark (Alcott 53), Budgen (Tui 58), Hayes, Hanks (Gannon 70), Johnson, Baxter, Scaysbrook Replacements not used: Miller, Stuart-smith, Cornwell

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