SAT on the bench, Ben Hunter could only helplessly watch from afar and feel for fellow hooker David Nelson as Doncaster Knights’ lineout disintegrated on Saturday.
On three occasions in the first half, over-throws from Nelson actually resulted directly in Nottingham tries. It was really quite brutal.
It was no surprise, then, that the visitors led 20-13 at half-time. But that is only half the story.
Of course, the lineout is an intricate beast where so many aspects can lead to its malfunction – not only the throw but the call, the lift, the jumpers – yet, invariably, when it goes wrong it is easy for the hooker to be highlighted as the offender.
In fairness to Nelson, the talented 22-year-old former Newcastle Falcon making his first Championship start for Doncaster, showed real character to return after the restart and nailed his next three throws.
He was excellent in the loose, too, and it was that positive start that eventually led to his side producing a wonderful response to ultimately overhaul a 10-point deficit inside the final quarter and deliver a third win from four Championship games so far.
Hunter, who replaced Nelson in the 53rd minute, got on the end of a driving maul in the 61st minute to spark things before two brilliant solo tries from replacement scrum-half Tom James and Fijian centre Andy Bulumakau, who cut a swathe through numerous opponents on a mesmerising 45-metre run, completed the turnaround.
“It was a ‘get out of jail free’ card, really,” Hunter told The Yorkshire Post. “We made a few substitutions and it seemed to change the momentum of the game in our favour a little bit.
“We’re pleased to get the result but we can’t have too many of those moving forward.
“That driving maul try settled us. In the first half, we were a little bit all over the place but we showed what we could do once we’d settled and got a bit of ball in hand.
“Andy’s try showed just what he is all about; there’s nobody like him in this league that can do that. I’m just glad he’s on our team.”
On Nelson’s earlier set-piece issues, Hunter added: “I’ve been there many a time myself. I felt the lineout let him down on the first two but then it’s in your head...
“It’s unheard of almost that a side scores three tries from it like that, just Sod’s Law, and fair play to Nottingham, they were there to pick up the points at the end of it.
“It was difficult for him but I thought he played really, really well in the open and he got his game back on in the second half which shows the quality player he is.”
Nelson, who spent much of last season on dual-registration at Castle Park, will certainly offer long-serving Hunter, the 2015-16 Championship Dream Team hooker, competition this time around.
“That’s what you need in-house,” he said. “Sometimes you can get your comfy slippers on but you need people pushing each other all the time. It makes the squad better.
“Whether you like it through selection or not, it will only make the team better and the team comes first.”
Indeed, director of rugby Clive Griffiths saw all his replacements make a positive impact, not least Simon Humberstone, who directed well from fly-half and James, the signing from Bedford Blues who dummied clear from a ruck for his classy score.
Forwards Jordan Coghlan, Tom West and William Stuart were the Nottingham try-scorers, Tiff Eden kicking a penalty and conversion in the first half before adding a second penalty early in the second period.
Declan Cusack slotted two first-half penalties and also converted Michael Heaney’s wonderful try which he helped create with help from excellent captain Michael Hills, and Nelson.
Humberstone improved the scores of both James and Bulumakau but his missed penalty in stoppage-time meant there was still some nerves at the death with Nottingham six points behind.
Doncaster made sure, though, as they held on for the win which Griffiths dedicated to Andy Leslie, the club’s financial director who died last week and for whom there was a minute’s applause.
Knights could really be sat behind a 100 per cent winning start; after losing 15-9 the week before at Carnegie, video evidence since showed Joe Sproston should have had a late try awarded.
Despite losing No 8 Aaron Carpenter to concussion early on, they head to London Scottish on Saturday in a positive state.
Doncaster Knights: Foley; J Bulumakau, A Bulumakau, Owen, Lewis; Cusack (Humberstone 53), Heaney (James 59); List (Bergmanas 64), Nelson (Hunter 53), Quigley (Sproston 58), Eames (Challinor 53), Hicks, Shaw, Hills, Carpenter (Hill 17).
Nottingham: Scanlon; Robinson, Evans, Lyons, Cobden; Eden, McConnell (Veenendaal 78); West (Penman 69), Brownlie (Sio 69), Stuart (Hooper 55), Holmes, Qualter, Buckley, Coghlan (Everard 60), Poullett.