DONCASTER Knights are certainly enjoying their return to the Championship, picking up a third win already yesterday against an embattled Yorkshire Carnegie side reduced to 14 men due to Phil Nilsen’s first-half red card.
Of course, before that drama – there were two sin-binnings and a penalty try as well – the principle sub-plot of this encounter was the fact it was the first Yorkshire derby since Leeds controversially opted to take the county’s name ahead of the new campaign.
You can imagine the feelings of those in the south of the region, notably Doncaster and Rotherham Titans, who both operate in the same division.
Clive Griffiths’s side, back from their 12 months hiatus in National One, made sure any perceived arrogance was blasted out of the hosts yesterday although it was an absorbing game throughout.
Nilsen’s dismissal in the 39th minute was undoubtedly crucial, although Yorkshire also contributed to their own downfall later on with some basic errors and then squandered the chance of a losing bonus point when ignoring an easy penalty chance at the death.
Nilsen, though, the long-serving hooker, who is approaching 150 games for the club since debuting in 2006, could perhaps feel unlucky with his sending off following a dangerous tackle on Bevan Armitage.
He had executed a fearsome but legal hit worthy of such a derby but referee Steve Lee deemed his opponent then went above the horizontal position and, by also letting go of the Doncaster centre mid-air, all that hard work was undone.
Dougie Flockhart, the Scottish winger who proved so influential for the visitors, slotted the penalty after Armitage received lengthy treatment and, though he missed one from just inside his own half with the last kick of the half, his side led 13-1o which was about right for the balance of play.
In a game rife with incident, Doncaster – seeking to hit back from their sole loss so far against Worcester – got off to a perfect start when scoring in the 13th minute via a penalty try.
They had shown real skill and control to go through countless phases before Jamie Lennard finally slid in a kick to the corner.
Mat Clark just lost the race to the ball but Lee ruled Yorkshire full-back Christian Georgiou had checked the Doncaster centre’s run in the process and, thus, awarded the score regardless and gave the offender a yellow card.
It was a brave call – was the official certain Clark would have scored? – but the visitors obviously did not argue and Flockhart converted from in front.
However, Doncaster were soon reduced to 14 men, too, when prop Tom Quigley was penalised for a professional foul close to his own line after Latu Makaafi had denied winger Oli Goss with a thunderous tackle.
The hosts duly capitalised when, with Georgiou readying himself to return, Jon Clarke surged onto Harry Leonard’s cut-out pass to power over.
Flockhart responded with his first penalty but after the Yorkshire pack forced Doncaster into conceding one on their own feed at a scrum, another flat pass from the excellent fly-half Leonard allowed full-back David McIlwaine to burst through and score in the 34th minute. Leonard missed his second conversion attempt so it meant Griffths’s side pressed ahead following Nilsen’s misdemeanour – Yorkshire’s second red card in as many games after Nathan Hannay’s in the win at Moseley.
Nevertheless, Gary Mercer’s team, who lost lock Liam Edwards in first half injury-time, took the lead for the first time when Leonard’s brilliant long ball out wide unleashed Georgiou in the 53rd minute.
He kicked ahead for Rob Vickerman and, though the ex-England Sevens captain was tackled just short, replacement Ollie Hayes showed real subtlety to send fellow prop Lee Imiolek crashing untouched between the posts for Leonard to convert.
Clark’s defensive positioning, though, rushing out of the line, left a lot to be desired but it mattered not given his side eventually made their numerical advantage pay.
Tyson Lewis scored in the 57th minute following a strong midfield break from Clark, Flockhart converting, and then Yorkshire erred badly with a lineout overthrow which Michael Hills snaffled up to send Flockhart racing in from 40m.
Leonard responded with two penalties and Josh Bainbridge broke threateningly from the restart after the latter. However, after being tackled by Paul Jarvis on halfway, he tried scrambling onwards and conceded a penalty.
Soon after, Doncaster blindside Makaafi was bundled over from a line-out charge.
Flockhart’s conversion attempt hit an upright so, when Leonard made another break and was infringed in front of the posts, the hosts had that kickable penalty.
Yet they opted against it and could only watch helpless as Leonard fumbled when stretching for the line in the final play.
Yorkshire Carnegie: McIlwaine; Goss, Clarke (Vickerman 47), Lucock, Georgiou; Leonard, Pilgrim (Fitzpatrick 62); Imiolek (Harris 61), Nilsen, Hooper (Tideswell 40), Edwards (Ramshaw 40), Casson, Barnard (Hayes 40), Walker (Bainbridge 40), Burrows.
Doncaster Knights: Jarvis; Flockhart, Clark, Armitage (Bulumakau 47), Lewis; Lennard (Roberts 71), Palu (Bravo 68); Davies (Richard 55), Hunter, Quigley (Makaafi 23-33, Quigley 68), Challinor, Phelan (Hotson 72), Makaafi, Hill, Shaw.
Referee: S Lee (RFU).