Out-of-form Doncaster Knights won’t take rock-bottom derby rivals Yorkshire Carnegie lightly

Doncaster Knights Matt SmithDoncaster Knights Matt Smith
Doncaster Knights Matt Smith
THERE will be no complacency from Doncaster Knights at winless Yorkshire Carnegie tomorrow with director of rugby Clive Griffiths admitting their derby rivals will be “smelling blood”.

Carnegie, of course, remain in real trouble since the financial problems earlier this year and subsequent CVA left them battling for survival before a ball had even been kicked.

Indeed, having reverted to part-time status and with a paltry budget, they still await their first victory of the campaign as they prepare for the Championship clash at Emerald Headingley.

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Moreover, in their dozen defeats, they have received some sizeable beatings, not least Saturday’s 50-0 Championship Cup annihilation by Nottingham.

Martyn Wood, left, and Joe FordMartyn Wood, left, and Joe Ford
Martyn Wood, left, and Joe Ford

Doncaster have hit their own problems, mind, given they have lost their last five games in all competitions and Griffiths refuses to think it will be a simple task tomorrow.

“There’s no thoughts about that whatsoever,” said the Welshman.

“Yorkshire Carnegie’s players will be seeing this as an opportunity to get their first win.

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“When they look at our last four or five games – particularly the last one where we didn’t come alive until the last 25 minutes – they’ll be seeing this as a real chance to get off the mark.

“I’m sure they’ll be smelling blood on Sunday.

“Conversely, we won’t be thinking about those previous results; we want to put an end to this run and do a job on them.

“We’re not thinking about they’re 12 straight losses. In fact, I think we’ll be going in with a bit more of a siege mentality than them.”

Bizarrely, although everyone expects bottom-placed Carnegie to be relegated, Doncaster and Bedford Blues, in tenth and 11th respectively, are still only seven points above them.

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They need to address their own issues in case Carnegie do manage to find a run of form.

But Griffiths, whose side qualified for the Championship Cup knockout stages despite Sunday’s 37-24 loss at Hartpury added: “Apart from that first half last week – when we were dreadful – we have competed. Everything that could have gone against us, has done.

“Whether that’s our own play, injuries, illness or some horrendous decisions from officials –it’s embarrassing how the scrum’s being officiated at the moment –we’ve had a lot to deal with.

“But the boys are ready to put a shift in on Sunday. We’re looking a bit healthier and more experienced than we have for a while.

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“We haven’t got a prop playing second-row or hooker playing at seven or a No8 at second-row.

“We have specialist front-rows, an exciting back-row and five forwards on the bench that, for the first time in a while, have left me with a bit of a selection dilemma.”

Doncaster have won two of six league games so far and a sign of their aforementioned strength is the return of two experienced former Carnegie forwards: lock Matt Smith, who joined in the summer after his old club imploded, and blindside flanker Ollie Stedman.

Jack Roberts is missing along with Dougie Flockhart, Pete Lucock – who also moved from Carnegie but is out for the full campaign due to a knee injury – Tom Hicks and Sam Jones.

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Kyle Evans and Sam Pocklington return to the squad on the bench. Carnegie have no such luxuries and it is hard to know how they can improve. Unless they do some major recruitment soon it is difficult – for all their effort and endeavour – to see them escaping the drop.

However, spending money they did not have around this time last year, when nine players were brought in on hefty 18-month contracts, is one of the reasons they are now in this mess so they are unlikely to make the same mistake twice.

Player-coach Joe Ford and director of rugby Martyn Wood will continue working diligently with what they have and hope that elusive first win will arrive shortly.

There would be no better time than tomorrow but, clearly, despite once being one of the most eagerly-awaited fixtures of the season, sadly this now is an entirely different proposition.

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Back-row Trystan Lloyd returns to the starting line-up after missing the last three Cup games.

There is a reshuffle in the backs with former Hull KR star Ryan Shaw starting on the wing and James Robins returning at full-back.

Ex-England winger Tom Varndell moves to centre with Newcastle Falcons loan player Joel Matavesi unavailable this week.

The final change sees Guy Graham come in at No8.

Alex Reid, injured against Nottingham, is recovering well but is waiting to see a specialist before he is cleared to play.