ELATED Clive Griffiths has never been so delighted after a defeat.
The Doncaster Knights director of rugby, one of the most enthusiastic characters in rugby, saw his side lose 17-14 at home to Yorkshire Carnegie, a result which would ordinarily leave him incandescent.
However, this second leg scoreline, of course, was crucially still enough to see the South Yorkshire club through to their first ever Championship final and their dream campaign continues.
Incredulously, only Bristol now lie between Doncaster - playing in National One two years ago - and a place in the Premiership.
They had done the hard work at Headingley a week earlier, winning 30-17, and, in searing heat yesterday, they completed the job, prospering 44-34 on aggregate with an at times remarkable defensive effort.
There was, also, a record Castle Park attendance - for a Doncaster fixture - with a near-capacity crowd of 4,797 to witness the dramatic events unfold and Griffiths could not contain his pride.
“I secretly had this as a goal of mine when I came back to the club,” he conceded, having re-joined in 2012 five years after leaving for Worcester.
“I’m not being smart after the event - I said it to the players many times - but we were third when I left, I came back and were relegated and it’s been a long old road to get back here now.
“We were in the B&I Cup for the first time last year, have just earned our highest ever finish of second and now we’ve got a Championship final.
“And we dream on. I’m probably repeating the words of (Leicester City football manager) Mr Ranieri down the road but they realised their dream (winning the Premier League).
“We can take stock now, rest a few bodies and God, if it’s anything like the previous games we’ve had with Bristol, it’s going to be an outstanding final.”
The first leg will be played at Castle Park on Wednesday May 18 with the return leg a week later.
For all the millions of pounds giants Bristol have spent, Doncaster will fancy their chances having won there earlier this season and almost defeating Andy Robinson’s men at home, too.
Granted, Knights were not at their best yesterday but there was still some heroic efforts.
“We’ve defend resolutely again in that terrific heat,” added Griffiths.
“We don’t like to be beaten but it’s two legs and we’ve come out on top on aggregate.
“Our backline defence was superb and the backs really came to the fore. “Mat Clark was outstanding there and Will Hurrell, scoring off a set play again, he takes some stopping.
“That was a fantastic individual effort and our scrum was enormous again.
“There was two committed teams out there - but it’s our year I think.”
For Carnegie, it was a disappointing finish to a campaign that has been disappointingly inconsistent.
They had enough ball and territory to secure the winning margin they required but they did not possess neither the clinical touch nor the necessary nous to overcome Knights’ formidable defensive actions.
Carnegie fly-half Kevin Sinfield, the rugby league legend who has acquitted himself so well to union over the last six months, entered retirement on a winning note but it will have felt like defeat.
Doncaster went in at the break 9-7 ahead, the visitors having failed to take advantage when flanker Latu Makaafi was yellow-carded for bringing down a driving maul which led to a 17th minute penalty try converted by Sinfield.
Knights’ scrum was dominant as in the first leg and they kept the scoreboard ticking over with three Declan Cusack penalties.
In contrast, Carnegie kept inflicting damage on themselves, particularly at the line-out when they could ill-afford such mistakes, or ones like when full-back Joel Hodgson fumbled just as his side seemed to have created an overlap in Doncaster’s 22.
Life became more difficult when loosehead prop Charlie Beech was yellow carded for another scrum infringement, Cusack landing one of those kicks, and so, when Sinfield struck an upright with a penalty at the end of the half, it meant Knights stayed ahead.
They increased that advantage two minutes into the second period when Hurrell, the combative centre, surged onto a Makaafi ball from the back of a line-out and rounded Jonah Holmes from 35m out.
From thereon in it was mostly Carnegie as they battled to save their season, Andy Saull peeling off the back of a line-out to score on 59 minutes.
For all they pushed, though, they were met by some quality work at the breakdown from the likes of Ollie Steadman, Andy Bulumakau and Clark, who all forced turnovers at critical moments.
Carnegie centre Pete Lucock seemed to get over at last but was ruled held up so the visitors did not have any success until as late as the 79th minute when Holmes picked up Sinfield’s well-weighted grubber and that was far, far too late.
Doncaster Knights: Jarvis; Bulumakau, Clark, Hurrell, Lewis; Cusack, Heaney (Field 80); List (Brugnara 50), Hunter (Viekoso 72), Quigley (Sprotson 60), Challinor, Phelan (Young 56), Makaafi (Stedman 56), Hills, Shaw (Makaafi 64 Shaw 70). Replacement unused: Bryant.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Hodgson; Holmes, Forsyth, Lucock, Prell (Stegmann 57); Sinfield, Pilgrim (Green 48); Beech (Imiolek 48), J Walker (Nilsen 48), O’Donnell (Tideswell 48), Schofield (Ryder 48), Smith, Beck, C Walker (Saul 53), Burrows.
Referee: Ian Tempest (RFU)