IT HAS taken almost six years but Doncaster Knights have finally won again at the home of their fierce South Yorkshire derby rivals Rotherham Titans.
Clifton Lane has proved a miserable hunting ground for them since April 2011 but, with the help of two tries from winger Tyson Lewis, a welcome first appearance of the season for captain Michael Hills and an impressive debut from Tonga flanker Jack Ram, Clive Griffiths’ side have tasted success there at last.
More important than breaking any such wretched sequence, though, was a first win in four Championship outings.
If Doncaster can defeat bottom-placed Richmond at home on New Year’s Eve, they could be up to third and what has been a difficult first half to their campaign after last season’s rise to the play-offs final will suddenly be viewed as actually quite adequate.
They had been out of action for the last three weeks – successive British & Irish Cup games with London Welsh were cancelled after their opponents went into liquidation – so there was a general feeling on Boxing Day that the frustrated Knights were primed for this.
Furthermore, Rotherham were missing 10 first-teamers to injury and, so, it was credit to them that they stayed competitive to the end.
Griffiths admitted: “It’s been difficult and frustrating, training for three weeks with no game to show for it, but the players have been absolutely magnificent during that time.
“The training they’ve put in has been fantastic. They’re a credit to themselves and the club and they got their rewards today.
“The win was much-needed but we showed signs of what we can do with some lovely tries from new stuff we’ve worked on.
“We coughed up so much ball, though, and could have nailed it earlier but Rotherham kept on hanging in there.
“Yet to come here and stop them scoring a try is a fantastic feat while Hillsy and Jack Ram off the side were outstanding. I’m delighted for them.”
Initially, however, Doncaster were scrappy and errors – a short line-out going awry, Dougie Flockhart and Ben Hunter both spilling half-chances and issues in the scrum – meant they had no foothold.
Instead, Rotherham full-back Caolan Ryan booted over two kicks from scrum penalties and it was not until the 19th minute that the visitors crossed.
Flockhart had earlier struck a penalty and it was Declan Cusack who finally profited following some fine offloading and plenty of pressure on the Titans line. That signalled the start of their dominance and, though, a line-out drive was held up, they added their second try in the 34th minute.
Ironically, Rotherham looked to have survived that blitz, earning a penalty, only to see the line-out stolen and Doncaster strike.
Jarvis – switched to his preferred full-back position from wing yesterday with former Titans 15 Sean Scanlon moving the other way – made the initial incision with another weaving run before excellent handling from Hills and Hunter allowed Lewis to tip-toe down the flank for his first. The hosts, deprived of possession, escaped long enough to at last gain some position in Doncaster’s half where they forced another scrum penalty for Ryan to see his side trail just 13-9 shortly before the break.
However, with the last play of the half, Hunter – looking more like last season’s Championship Dream Team hooker – made a smart break and the intelligent Hills once more provided the final pass for Lewis to cross again, Flockhart making it 20-9.
Mat Clark, the stylish centre returning after missing a month, almost made his way to the line after some shoddy midfield defence. Rotherham’s self-inflicted woe continued when Jonny Sykes missed touch with a penalty to increase pressure in their own 22.
However, they rallied enough for Ryan to add his fourth penalty just before the hour mark although many would have opted for a scrum under the shadow of the Doncaster posts.
Indeed, that three points was immediately eroded when Flockhart added a penalty but it was Justin Burnell’s side who actually finished strongest, especially when Latu Makaafi was yellow-carded late on.
Burnell admitted: “I was really pleased with our scrum but to see our mistakes cost us tries like that was really gut-wrenching.”
Rotherham Titans: Ryan; Sykes, Thomas (Humberstone A 72), Barker, Walsh; Connon , Tresidder; Williams T (Hutchinson 52), Socino (Graham 62), Rees (Herriott 52), Normandale (Salmon 55), Hicks, Curry (Tyas 62), Calladine, Grange. Replacements unused: Robinson.
Doncaster Knights: Jarvis; Scanlon, Clark, Flockhart, Lewis; Cusack, Heaney; Hislop (List 71), Hunter, John (Quigley 40) Young, Ram, Hills (Makaafi 71), Williams J. Replacements unused: Bergamanas, Taylor, S Humberstone, Edgerley.
Referee: T Wigglesworth (RFU).