In all likelihood, these two rivals will meet again in the Championship’s promotion semi-final and, on the evidence of this, that will be something to relish.
The second tier’s second- and fourth-best clubs, and the top two sides in the county, produced a contest full of tries, incidents, lead-changes and comebacks that vindicated Sky Television’s decision to screen the game live.
That Doncaster Knights won said everything about the form they are finding, the opportunism of raging centre Andy Bulumakau and their collective spirit that saw their 13 men withstand enormous pressure at the end.
That Yorkshire Carnegie lost points to a worrying lack of confidence at just the wrong time. For six months they looked the only realistic challengers to runaway promotion favourites London Irish, but five defeats in all competitions have left them still to cement their place in the top four.
“We have lost to Doncaster, Irish twice and Jersey – who a lot of teams have lost to this season,” observed Carnegie head coach Bryan Redpath.
“I’m not worried about confidence or performances.”
Privately he should be concerned about Carnegie’s propensity to switch off and drift through phases of games.
They showed ruthlessness in taking an early lead through impressive prop Lewis Boyce after he finished off a move he had begun with a bulldozing run into the home 22. But for Carnegie to have then found themselves trailing 13-7 at the break will have left Redpath scratching his head.
Joe Ford’s sin-binning for a deliberate knock-on did not immediately derail the visitors, but suddenly Simon Humberstone levelled with a darting run and then two Dougie Flockhart penalties put Doncaster in control.
The Knights could have had more had jet-heeled winger Tyson Lewis made a better choice when in a three-on-one situation.
Carnegie caught the hosts napping at the start of the second half when Chris Elder raced over after centre Tom Casson set him free down the right flank. Ford’s conversion nudged Carnegie in front, before a third Flockhart penalty restored the Knights’ lead.
The game then hinged on a missed opportunity for Carnegie, of which rampant Doncaster made the most. Visiting lock Mike Myerscough was adjudged to have held on as he tried to burrow under a sea of legs to reach the tryline as Carnegie threatened and within moments Bulumakau danced his way over from halfway for Doncaster. Flockhart’s failure to convert with the easiest kick he had all afternoon seemed to matter not, as 10 minutes later Bulumakau had his second score, intercepting an errant Ford pass on the edge of the 22 and racing over. Flockhart, this time, made no mistake to give Doncaster a two-score lead.
Another Flockhart penalty put the game out of reach – or so it seemed – but back came a Carnegie awoken from their slumbers.
Josh Bainbridge raced over – twisting his ankle in the process – to give them a glimmer, and when Matt Challinor was sin-binned for Doncaster five minutes from time, Carnegie had hope. Elder raced through for his second try, and as full-time approached, Carnegie thought they had won it.
With Humberstone joining Challinor in the bin, Ford cut inside and darted between the posts, but a crossing route that had helped create the space had been spotted by the touch judge and the levelling ‘try’ was ruled out.
“No complaints,” said Redpath, in a fashion typical of a sport in which referees are n0t instanly pilloried for such crucial decisions.
Carnegie’s chance had gone as the 13 men of Doncaster kept hold of the ball until time expired.
Bring on the play-offs.
Doncaster Knights: Jarvis, Flockhart, Bulumaku, Hayes, Lewis, Humberstone, Heaney; List (Bergmanas 67), Hunter (Nelson 71), Quigley (Sproston 69), Challinor, Young, Ram, Hiulls, Carpenter (Shaw 57). Unused replacements: Nolan, Edgerley, D Cusack.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Elder, Holmes, Lucock (Forsyth 47), Casson, Arscott, Ford, Davies (Green 55); Boyce, M Mayhew, M Cusack (Faletau 55), Myerscough, West (Smith 58), Stedman (Bainbridge 66 (Poole 72)), R Mayhew, Burrows. Unused replacements: Poole, Beasley, Bainbridge.