Doncaster Knights’ grit and desire sees them beat Ealing Trailfinders in race to the Premiership

For the second memorable occasion this season, Doncaster Knights, their battle-plan thoroughly prepared and then successfully executed, triumphed against the team which began the Championship campaign as the favourites to win promotion to the Premiership.

Sam Olver: Kept the scoreboard ticking over with key penalties and conversions (Picture: Tony Johnson)
Sam Olver: Kept the scoreboard ticking over with key penalties and conversions (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Doncaster’s outstanding performance and victory at Vallis Way, without doubt one of the best in the club’s contemporary history, was highly significant; not only did it maintain their lead at the top of the league, but also prevented Ealing earning a losing bonus point.

In such a close contest to gain promotion – as well as Doncaster and Ealing, Cornish Pirates and Jersey Reds are also contenders – small margins may matter most.

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The Knights now have two games remaining next month against Pirates at Castle Park followed by Nottingham away, but the London side have the advantage of still needing to play four against London Scottish, Ampthill, Pirates and Richmond.

Steve Boden, Doncaster Knights head coach (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

In a tense encounter, well attended by dozens of Doncaster’s proud and enthusiastic supporters, the Knights showed more hunger and energy combined with relentless commitment, not least by the forwards, among whom the back five of John Kelly, Ben Murphy, Sam Hudson, Sam Graham and Thom Smith played with impressive authority.

During an entertaining clash, Doncaster led 17-7 at the interval after skilfully creating two tries on 12 and 39 minutes for winger Maliq Holden who, apart from taking his opportunities smartly, also defended courageously.

With fly-half Sam Olver kicking two conversions and penalties on 30 and 47 minutes, Doncaster led 20-12, and having controlled much of the first half, had to defend solidly as Ealing recovered, adding to a try by full-back David Johnston. As Ealing at last played approaching their potential, Doncaster’s resistance rose to the challenge, and although Ealing’s best forward, Rayn Smid, barged over on 74 minutes cutting Doncaster’s lead to 20-17, any hope they had of snatching a late win was ruined in dramatic style soon after Smid’s try. As Ealing attacked Doncaster’s line again, full-back Bill McBryde intercepted a pass and instantly sprinted more than 70 metres to the opposition line for the match-winning score.

“I’m thrilled to bits. We played with a lot of confidence. This is a hell of a result for us, and I can’t speak highly enough of our forwards,” said McBryde.

The Welshman’s delight was shared by coach Steve Boden, ecstatic with the team’s result and performance. “They were brilliant. We had emotion, physicality, energy and work rate. The boys delivered. We had grit, heart and desire in abundance, and didn’t get flustered in the moments of high pressure.”

Considering the manner in which Holden scored his tries, no one would have guessed he’d been to hospital earlier in the week: “I’m so proud to be part of this team, but on Monday I didn’t think I’d be playing in the biggest game of my life. Some steak got stuck in my throat and I was struggling to breathe and went to hospital. It was awful but after a couple of hours we got it out.

“Some think we are not the best team in the league, but I’m sure Doncaster have the biggest heart. This was a massive performance.”

Ealing Trailfinders: Johnston, Daniels(Kelleher 55), Bodilly, Howard, Kernohan, Willis, Hampson, Davis(Whyte 52), Campher(Malton 53),Thiede, De Wee, Cannon(Maddison 52), Linsell, Northcote-Green, Smid.

Doncaster Knights: McBryde, Evans, Margetts(Edwards 67), Best, Holden, Olver, Dolly, Davidson, Edgson(Roberts 61), Foster, Kelly(Oetwers 69), Murphy, Hudson(Volpi 63), Graham, Smith(Davies 72).

Referee: Hamish Smales.