DONCASTER KNIGHTS have been virtually unstoppable at Castle Park this season, but it was Cornish Pirates who made themselves feel at home yesterday.
Clive Griffiths’s men had won all four of their previous encounters in front of their own supporters this term and had not lost here to their Cornish visitors since 2011.
On a cold, crisp afternoon, Doncaster’s proud home record, which laid the foundations for their stirring run to the play-off final last term, was reduced to rubble.
The Knights actually outscored their opponents by four tries to three, but they also conceded a glut of penalties and Cornish could certainly not be described as unworthy winners.
It was a smart, streetwise and clinical display from the Cornishmen, expertly guided around the park by fly-half Laurence May, who claimed 20 points with the boot, while No 8 Thomas Duncan enjoyed an outstanding game in the back row.
For ill-disciplined Doncaster there was nothing but sheer frustration; not even a bonus point after May’s sixth and final penalty right at the climax took Cornish out of sight.
Having lost at Yorkshire Carnegie in rather dismal fashion nine days previously, this was a chance to make amends in front of the television cameras.
Although Doncaster enjoyed an encouraging start after four minutes when wing Tyson Lewis finished off a sweeping move involving Declan Cusack and Ratu Bulumakau in the left corner, Cornish gradually took control.
They claimed their first score in the 15th minute when a quick pass sent full-back Toby May scampering over in the left corner.
Laurence May then added his second penalty to make it 11-5, but Doncaster were denied a try on the half hour when the TMO deemed the ball had not been grounded by a home man under a thicket of players.
Shortly before the interval, Cornish registered their second try when the impressive Duncan drove over the line from close range, the score being awarded after review from the TMO.
Laurence May successfully goaled to make it 18-5 at the interval, but Doncaster replied in the 50th minute when Richard Hayes’s exquisite long pass sent wing Paul Jarvis over in the right corner.
Cusack expertly added the conversion to cut Cornish’s lead to six pointss but two quickfire penalties from Lawrence May quickly dented Doncaster’s recovery and gave his team further breathing space at 24-12.
With 18 minutes remaining, Griffiths replaced half-backs Cusack and Heaney with Simon Humberstone and Benjamin White.
Two minutes later, Cornish’s Christopher Morgan had a claim for a try waved away by the TMO after being held up, but Harrison Orr was sinbinned for foul play on the goal-line and Lawrence May’s fifth penalty made it 27-12.
Doncaster had a glimmer of hope with 10 minutes remaining when Hislop ploughed over the line to cap a spell of sustained home pressure.
Flockhart converted to make it 27-19 and set up a tense finale, but Doncaster were picked off badly from a line-out as openside flanker Samuel Simmonds superbly broke clear inside the left channel and sent Morgan scarpering clear.
With two minutes remaining, the hard-running Jarvis superbly jinked his way through the Pirates’ defence for a well-deserved second and put Doncaster on course for a bonus point. But even that slipped through their fingers when Laurence May’s sixth penalty made it 35-26 with the final kick of the game.
Jarvis, one of Doncaster’s better performers, admitted: “Our discipline is a problem at the moment and we really need to rectify what we’re doing around the breakdown. It’s so frustrating but fair play to Cornish, they were probably good value for their win.”
Doncaster Knights: Scanlon (Flockhart 66), Jarvis, Bulumakau, Hayes, Lewis, Cusack (Humberstone 62), Heaney (White 62), List (Hislop 55), Allen (Hunter 31), John (Quigley 65), Challinor, Nolan (Orr 55), Young, Owen, Williams.
Cornish Pirates: Toby May, Moyle, Gilbert-Hendrickson, Dancer (De Battista 16), Arnott, Laurence May, Townsend, Walker, Elloway (Channon 50), Andrew, Morgan, Parker, Lee, Simmonds, Duncan.
Referee: Jack Makepeace.