THE flight over to Jersey had been so rocky, turbulent and with such a heavy landing that Doncaster Knights’ squad and their army of fans broke into relieved applause as the pilot eventually brought their chartered Boeing 737 to a safe standstill.
Just a few hours later on Saturday, those same people were joyously applauding once more after getting the fright of their lives in a similarly rocky and turbulent game before somehow emerging with their proud unbeaten run extended to 11 matches.
The weather was abysmal; part of the reason that landing had been so nerve-wracking was the sheer strength of the wind blowing across the Channel Island which made any semblance of tactical kicking nigh on impossible for the side playing into it.
Add in the relentless horizontal rain and near freezing temperatures and it was instantly recognisable that the 140 Doncaster fans who had paid £299 each for the day trip from Robin Hood Airport would, for sure, not get a feast of glorious rugby.
Nevertheless, they were rewarded with a display awash with guts, determination and no little character as their side – 17-0 down with 72 minutes on the clock – scrambled their way back to secure a famous draw with almost the last play of the match.
It sees them remain second in the Championship and reminds everyone once more they must be taken serious as title contenders.
What is without doubt is that they have certainly earned their free weekend this week as they now take a break ahead of their British & Irish Cup return at Connacht on January 16.
Doncaster had trailed 17-0 at half-time having, aside from Tyson Lewis’s early disallowed ‘try’, struggled to even get out of their 22 for most of the first period.
Given the severity of that wind in their faces, they had little option but to try and edge their way up field but, too often, they made careless errors in contact.
Their hosts duly capitalised, especially when Knights captain Michael Hills was sin-binned for a professional foul, conceding a penalty try in the process.
Gary Graham drove over for another try while Doncaster were down to 14 men, Brendan Cope converting both and adding a penalty in first-half stoppage-time.
However, Doncaster knew they, too, would soon benefit from that same brutal wind.
The only problem was they, initially, struggled to utilise it with a succession of botched attempts at either the scrum or line-out.
With a Premiership referee in place, Doncaster had hoped for clarity at scrum-time but, instead, Dean Richards brought only all the maddening inconsistencies that infuriate so many Championship coaches.
Knights were also particularly aggrieved when, early in the second period, a driving line-out was pulled down but only resulted in another penalty and no penalty try or yellow card.
Regardless, Griffiths’s side stuck at it and, with their replacements all making big impacts, managed to eke their way back in.
Dougie Flockhart slotted a penalty in the 72nd minute and then, crucially, improved Latu Makaafi’s try four minutes later as the Tongan forced his way over.
That set up a frantic finish and, with around nine minutes of stoppage-time due to No 8 Ollie Stedman being stretchered off with a neck injury, the visitors had hope.
Eventually, it came as they started a rolling maul 30m out in centre field and jaded Jersey were simply unable to legally halt it, Uili Kolo’ofai yellow-carded and Flockhart converting to level.
Doncaster lock Jon Phelan explained: “That’s the attitude we have. We never say die and until the final whistle blows we are always in it to win it.
“We always knew the wind was worth a fair few points but now we know exactly – 17. We got there in the end and you have to thank our kicker Dougie Flockhart for nailing that one from the sideline (from Makaafi’s try) as, without that, there’s no points.”
The Canada international continued: “We couldn’t kick going into the wind so we just played boring rugby, trying to kill the clock.
“They did it just as well as we did, so, at that point it’s all about physicality and just desire to be the one to carry the ball and desire to make the tackle.
“It just takes the whole team to get through that wind. I’m looking at it now and it is outrageous.”
The only other time Doncaster failed to win in their 11 game unbeaten run was a 22-22 draw at Jersey again in November’s B&I Cup tie.
Jersey RFC: Lane; Howe, Otto (McCrea 79), Robling, Adair; Cope, Winter-Moates (Dudley 80); Lockwood (Selway Garcia-Veiga 57), Tomaszczyk (Herriott 69), Rowlands, Phillips (Kolo’ofai 46), Graham, Freeman, Rae.
Doncaster Knights: Jarvis; Flockhart, Clark, Hurrell, Lewis; Cusack (Humberstone 78), Heaney (Edgerley 78); List (Sprotson 73), Hunter (Veikoso 73), Quigley (John 75), Challinor, Phelan, Shaw (Makaafi 57), Hills, Stedman (Hotson 66).
Referee: D Richards (RFU).