IT IS still only the penultimate round of the regular Championship season but mindful Doncaster Knights captain Michael Hills describes today’s crucial game against play-off rivals Jersey Reds as a “final in itself.”
The South Yorkshire club know if they beat their in-form visitors it would be a massively significant step towards securing a top-four place for the second season running.
Lose, however, and last year’s beaten finalists would painfully likely miss out on the play-offs despite being in the top-four for the majority of the campaign.
Given leaders and favourites London Irish, who have lost just once all term, arrive at Castle Park in a week’s time for the final round, Doncaster will certainly not want to need to go into that game still requiring four points.
The emphasis, then, is on beating Jersey this afternoon but their rivals – just a spot behind and two points adrift of fourth-placed Knights – are on a 10-game winning run having also secured a place in the British & Irish Cup final.
Hills told The Yorkshire Post: “This is such a big game; it’s like a final in itself.
We know how well Jersey have been playing – that run puts even more on to this – and they are desperate to get in the play-offs themselves.Doncaster Knights’ Michael Hills
“We know how well Jersey have been playing – that run puts even more on to this – and they are desperate to get in the play-offs themselves.
“We’ve had two weeks to prepare for it now and the boys are really excited while there is, of course, some nerves there, too.
“But these are the sort of games you want to play rugby for.
“We’ve had a successful season but it is really important we push on and finish in the play-off spots again. We set goals at the start of the season and that was one of them. We’re proud of what we achieved last year, getting to the play-offs for the first time, but we want to get there again and give ourselves the chance of another good run.”
Defeat today would not definitely end their hopes but Hills realises it would leave them facing a mountain to climb especially if Ealing Trailfinders – a point and place above them in third – defeat London Scottish at home this afternoon.
Cornish, who are six points behind the Knights in sixth, also have a slim chance of gatecrashing if any side slips up.
Flanker Hills, 31, admitted: “We don’t want to be depending on other results.
“As a team we’ve got to be focusing on this game and not thinking about anything else.
“Jersey need to win, too, to have any real hope of making the play-offs so we know they’re going to be strong.
“They’ll be putting out the best side they have, they’re in great form and have some real experience in that squad.
“They’ve managed to stay fit and healthy while they have such consistent in important positions like nine and ten.
“They’ve got Callum Sheedy in (on loan from Bristol) and have picked up a couple of good players mid-season while they have consistently performed well so all credit to them.
“It’s always difficult to go and win in Jersey but they’ve backed that up with their away form as well this season.
“We have to be clinical. We know they play their own gameplan very well, are always strong in the forwards, and so we have to deliver our best.”
Alex Shaw replaces Aaron Carpenter at No 8 in Doncaster’s one change.
Jarad Williams is among the replacements as he returns for the first time since February.
Jersey, who host bottom-placed Richmond next week, are unchanged.