The '˜unacceptable' Doncaster Knights showing that left Clive Griffiths '˜flabbergasted'

DONCASTER KNIGHTS wore a special festive kit on Saturday and duly brought the season of goodwill forward to gift Nottingham victory during a shambolic performance that left perplexed director of rugby Clive Griffiths questioning his own future.

Gift-wrapped: Tom James, left, and Doncaster Knights played in a festive kit on Saturday but presented Nottingham with victory. (Pictures: Marie Caley)

The proud Welshman admitted he had been bitterly disappointed before by woeful displays of this nature, but conceded this “rated in the top three” of his time at Castle Park that, over two spells, has spanned eight seasons.

It was a fourth successive defeat, but one nobody truly saw coming especially when Nottingham named a raft of student players in their ranks. However, it was the visitors handing out lessons.

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Knights, almost at full strength, knew avoiding defeat against a side with just one Championship Cup win would be enough to secure third place in their pool and a place in the quarter-finals.

However, following an error-strewn display, they succumbed and – though finishing level with Nottingham on 12 points and boasting a superior points difference – missed out on qualification having scored fewer tries.

This, in the long-run, may prove a blessing in disguise; the South Yorkshire club’s main concern is avoiding relegation.

They now have just under a fortnight to prepare for a gargantuan league game against bottom-placed Yorkshire Carnegie; they are ninth but have just three wins and are only 10 points in front of their derby rivals. The manner of Saturday’s capitulation left Griffiths seriously pondering if he could get them ready for the fight.

“On that show you worry, don’t you?” said the 64-year-old, who has overseen Doncaster’s greatest era since rejoining in 2012.

“To lose to a half-strength Nottingham team is unacceptable. I’m flabbergasted. We sat down this week, had a heart-to-heart about doing more – supporting the coaches as the coaches put the effort in and we’re not getting returns – and then we have that. Where’s the pride?

“I wouldn’t blame the powers-that-be if they brought a new director of rugby in on that evidence. I wouldn’t. It’s not good enough. I know it’s not good enough.”

It would be a surprise if the board did move in such a direction and Griffiths did state there had been no indication before kick-off that his future was under threat.

“But it’s my pride looking at that,” he added. “From the first kick-off we kick it out on the full, to the last scrum where we get thumped and the last line-out where we can’t catch and drive over to get a draw or a win, it’s not acceptable.”

Full-back Cam Cowell sailed the kick-off dead and then captain Michael Hills was beaten by Nottingham No 8 Josh Poullett at the scrum before Murray McConnell sniped over for a converted try inside two minutes.

Doncaster responded and had the ascendancy in the scrum, forcing a penalty try. But their discipline waned and they were down to 13 men at one point with forwards Rory Pitman and Hills sin-binned.

Nottingham added just one more try in that period, but, causing all sorts of problems with their line-out drive, added a third in injury-time to go in 19-7 up.

Doncaster were under pressure for most of the second period but in the 63rd minute – with their first foray of the half into the Nottingham 22 – Joe Sproston bundled over to get them in touching distance.

However, they got their line-out wrong yet again late on and ended up being held up over the line. They still had the resulting five-metre scrum, but, criminally, conceded a penalty as Nottingham overpowered them.

Doncaster Knights: Cowell; Wilson, Hayes, Owen, Jarvis; Foley; James, Hislop, Hunter (Malcolm 50), Quigley (Sproston 48), Challinor, Eames, Tyrell (Ryan 54), Hills (Jones 61), Pitman (List 66) Unused replacements: Seniloli, Creed.

Nottingham: Wlliams; Branco, Goble, Peters, Graham; Lyons (Sutton 61), McConnell; Jack (Sio 48) Roe (Farnworth 61) Heffernan (Daniels 73), Jones, Cecil 6. George Cox (Buckley 73) 7. Will Owen, Poullet (Coughlan 41). Unused replacement: Craven.

Referee: Matt Turvey (RFU)