Doncaster concentrate for the next two weeks on the British and Irish Cup satisfied but not complacent with their start to the Championship campaign.
With four wins from the first six league games, the latest of which was earned at Castle Park against Nottingham, beaten by three tries to two, Doncaster on current form should again be contesting the promotion play-offs in the Spring.
However, in such a competitive league, the Knights must avoid landing themselves in trouble by careless play which almost caused their downfall against Nottingham, who began brightly but threw away an 18-11 lead.
Doncaster can be thankful that their opponents, who had scored fine tries by scrum-half Murray McConnell and winger Calum Hall, saw an indisciplined approach ruin any chance of victory.
Nottingham were three times reduced to 14 men as yellow cards were regularly brandished. First to head for the sin-bin was prop Tom West on 33 minutes. He was followed in the 52nd by Hall, and then, to remind the referee Darren Gamage that lessons had not been learned, second-row Toby Freemen was ordered to leave on 64.
Doncaster may not have played to their full potential, such as losing six of their own lineouts, but they were not going to waste the opportunity to take advantage of Nottingham’s generosity. In addition to the yellow cards, the East Midlands club, who could ill-afford another defeat, also conceded another 14 penalties.
Doncaster duly improved in the second half and scored 15 points.
Fly-half Declan Cusack struck a penalty, flanker Latu Makaafi forced his way across as the pack applied pressure on 42 minutes, and during Freeman’s spell off the field, Welsh prop Willgriff John was driven over for the Knights’ third try and with it a 24-18 lead.
Cusack’s conversion, with 15 minutes remaining, improved their position, but Doncaster’s victory was by no means guaranteed in a close match.
Nottingham, though, just as they had been foolish with their lack of self-control also wasted two consecutive lineouts near Doncaster’s line late in the second half.
Once they had failed to exploit those favourable scoring opportunities, Doncaster’s win and four precious points were confirmed.
In stoppage-time, Doncaster were penalised which gave their opponents the glimpse of a losing bonus point. Replacement fly-half Will Millett struck his fourth successful kick to oblige.
The Knights deserved their win, having put behind them a weak first-half effort and are preparing to take on Rotherham in the B & I Cup at Clifton Lane in the second South Yorkshire derby of the season.
The competition has fond memories for Knights’ fly-half Cusack, who won the cup with Munster A in 2011-12.
“Whether you play Rotherham in a friendly or a game of squash, it’s going to be big. So, yes, we are taking the B & I seriously. If we don’t we’ll get bumped and our coach Clive Griffiths doesn’t like to lose,” said the Irishman, now in his second season at Castle Park.
“To be honest, it was not our greatest game against Nottingham and we are still making a few errors, but we had control in the second half and the start to the season has given us confidence.
“Everyone’s pretty happy, it’s a good result that keeps us in the top four and to get four wins out of six isn’t too bad,” added Cusack who will renew his links with Munster later this month as the Irish province are in the same B & I group as Doncaster, Rotherham Titans and London Welsh.
The coaching team at Castle Park, director of rugby Clive Griffiths and forwards’ coach Glen Kenworthy, demand the highest standards and are always plain speaking when the squad fails to match them.
“We were gutted with our first-half performance against Nottingham. Stern words were spoken and doors slammed. It wasn’t us and we didn’t play the brand of rugby we train to deliver,” said Kenworthy.
“But the reaction we got was good but there’s still a lot to work on. As regards the B & I Cup, this competition is good for us. We reached the final a couple of years ago, it’s important to keep going the momentum we have in the league and it’s an opportunity to maybe rest a couple of players.”
Forwards Matt Challinor and Dave Nolan, missing against Nottingham because of injury, may return to face Rotherham.
Doncaster Knights: Jarvis, Bulumakau, Clark, Hayes, Lewis, Cusack, Heaney, List (Hislop 56), Allen (Hunter 62), John (Sproston 72), Maksymiw, Young, Makaafi (Williams 66), Robinson, Shaw.
Nottingham: Stephenson, Yawayawa, Evans, Hakalo, Hall, Rayner (Millett 9), McConnell (Veenendaal 72), West, Stevens, Heard (Appiah 60), Freeman, Morris, Langley (Everard 72), Coghlan, Poullett (Holmes 68).
Referee: Darren Garage (RFU).