Doncaster Knights 9 Leeds Carnegie 9: Defences dominate as Knights fail to break Carnegie barrier

Doncaster's Fred Burdon takes on Mike MacDonald of Leeds Carnegie
Doncaster's Fred Burdon takes on Mike MacDonald of Leeds Carnegie
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Brett Davey likened this Boxing Day draw to getting a kiss off the mother-in-law.

“I hate draws, you don’t know how to react. You get used to the reaction to winning or losing,” said Doncaster’s frustrated head coach.

“But a draw... it’s like everybody goes home to kiss the mother-in-law.”

Jokes at the expense of relations aside, Davey’s summation of the game was a rare bright moment on a dreary afternoon.

Two teams who know better, who can play enterprising, entertaining rugby, failed to do either.

Five penalties and a drop goal between them was all they could muster in front of 2,107 fans.

“It was frustrating that we couldn’t break them down at the end,” said Davey, whose side at least felt guilted into the onus on the home team by playing with some attacking intent at the death.

“It’s the first time this season that we haven’t scored a try.

“It was a bit of an arm wrestle out there and neither side looked like they would score.

“And that was frustrating because we pride ourselves on being able to score against any team.”

Diccon Edwards was similarly indifferent to the game as a spectacle but he did at least leave Castle Park proud of his side’s defensive performance.

Leeds withstood a belated bit of urgent pressure in the latter stages, with replacement scrum-half Will Cliff coming to the rescue to deny Fred Burdon a decisive try right at the death.

The Leeds head coach said: “Ultimately it was disappointing as a game because neither team got their attacking game going and both teams made a lot of errors.

“But the way we defended our own line at the end deserved something. It was an outstanding effort and certain individuals really stepped up.

“Overall it’s a sense of disappointment. We’re still young, we’re still learning, and we’ll look back and see where we can improve and where we could have executed better.”

Leeds are clearly benefitting of the tutelage from former England defence coach Mike Ford – which is an on-off relationship they are hoping to make permanent.

The task for Edwards now is to instill in his players a better level of decision-making in attacking positions.

Cliff and his fellow Sale loanee Jordan Davies might be the men to do that.

Mike MacDonald captained Leeds to mark his 100th league appearance for the club and he was immediately involved.

It was his thrust down the left flank that almost brought the game’s opening try but the Doncaster defence stood firm and Leeds had to settle for Joe Ford’s drop goal.

That cancelled out a second-minute penalty from halfway by David McIlwaine after Leeds had strayed offside.

Iain Thornley began brightly for the visitors and it was one of his customary bursts through a narrow channel that resulted in a penalty from Tommy Bell that edged Leeds ahead.

McIlwaine levelled from the second of two penalties he was presented with inside the Leeds 22, both of which transpired from powerful driving mauls by the hosts.

The Knights were also eager to get the ball wide as often as possible with winger Michael Keating heavily involved.

A penalty by Bell from halfway dropped short after Leeds had wheeled the scrum and it was the hosts who had the edge offensively.

Scott Barrow was fortunate that a cocky pass was not intercepted, then Michael Stephenson – who was in the wars early on – was a relieved man when a kick he misjudged bounced kindly to a team-mate and not to the rampaging Keating, who would have had a clear line to the posts.

Another penalty by McIlwaine from long range drifted wide as a largely interminable first half petered out.

The Ulsterman atoned three minutes into the second half from similar range.

But despite the scoreboard suggesting otherwise, it was Leeds who had the wind in their sails, with both Stephenson and Thornley running wilfully at the massed ranks of blue shirts.

Typical of the rest of the game, though, any bright spots were quickly darkened by a handling error, with Barrow again culpable as he ran into traffic.

Another penalty by Bell levelled matters before Edwards threw his Sale loanees Davies and Cliff into the backline for Barrow and the ineffective Craig Hampson.

McIlwaine missed a third kick at goal and when Ford overthrew a pass straight to Oli Goss, fly-half Burdon kicked to touch instead of giving McIlwaine another chance to restore the lead.

The ambition yielded a sin-binning for Ryan Burrows from the lineout but Doncaster could not capitalise as prop Tom Davies was guilty of holding on after his dash to the try line, past MacDonald, was stopped inches short by Jacob Rowan.

Dougie Flockhart got the home crowd on their feet with a rousing burst that set up another penalty that Doncaster sent to the touchline.

Chris Hallam moved play from right to left and back again but the Knights could not punch a hole in the well-drilled Leeds defence.

Like Leeds, when there was room to run into, eyes got bigger than hands and the ball was dropped – Keating the guilty party this time.

When Leeds eventually broke out of their own half, they looked to fashion a drop goal chance for Ford but he drilled his effort low and off target.

Burdon almost pinched it for Doncaster with a surge at the tryline only for Cliff to pull off a game-saving tackle.

“I wasn’t sure if I was the last man as he came through, I just knew I had to commit to the tackle,” said a modest Cliff.

Davey added: “At the end, our intention was to go for the posts and kick for the points but once we got the scrum, someone switched off and it fell down.

“That’s been a theme for us all season. The final five minutes is where we really need to concentrate. We kind of get lost a little bit.”

Doncaster will tomorrow sign young Irish scrum-half Michael Heaney, 21, from Ulster Ravens who will go straight into their side for the Friday night trip to Plymouth.

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk

Doncaster Knights: McIlwaine, Flockhart, Goss, Gidlow, Keating, Burdon, Hallam; Davies, Boden (Yeandle 62), A Brown (Burke-Flynn 55), Challinor, Parsons (Kenworthy 69), Makaafi, Farivarz, Planchant (Boyde 71). Unused replacements: Noone, Bateman, Toft.

Leeds Carnegie: Bell, Stephenson, Thornley, Barrow (J Davies 50), Lucock, Ford, Hampson (W Cliff 50); MacDonald (Lockwood 72), Freer, Palma-Newport, Hemingway (Denton 55), Hohneck, Burrows, Rowan, Paul (Beck 15). Unused replacements: Nilsen, Mustafa.

Referee: D Gamage (RFU).