Tony De Mulder, Doncaster Rugby Football Club’s President, issued a statement last week to allay fears of what a drop to National League One may do to his Castle Park outfit.
“… if the worst happens and we are relegated, our main sponsors and many others have agreed to put in additional finances to offset the loss of RFU central funding thus enabling the Knights to compete as a full-time professional side within National One with the aim of securing a return to the Championship the following season.”
Doncaster, who began league life in Yorkshire 2, and rejoice in being the ‘most promoted club in England, have three games left to avert relegation.
But despite emptying the tank on Friday night, the Knights went down 21-27 to second-placed Nottingham, whose win has guaranteed them a play-off place.
In a full-blooded affair at Meadow Lane with both skippers spending ten minutes in the bin, the outcome wasn’t settled until the final whistle.
With two tries apiece, the difference — as it often does — came down to kicks. While Nottingham’s James Arlidge was on song with the boot kicking five penalties and a conversion, Doncaster’s Jamie Lennard was noticeably out of tune. Had Lennard been on target with a couple of kickable shots that went wide, both the outcome and Doncaster’s prospects would have been very different.
However, Newcastle’s late demolition of Jersey on Friday night at Kingston Park helped Doncaster’s cause no end, as the Channel Islanders left the north-east without a bonus point.
The Knights’ losing bonus point at least narrowed the gap to six points; and as Tony De Mulder had predicted some time ago, the battle for survival will come down to the last two games.
Max Stelling gave the visitors an early lead with an unconverted try in the corner before Tom Catterick hit back for the Falcons.
Then Joe Buckle’s try, that got the visitors back in contention, was wiped out when Noah Cato intercepted and ran in from 35 metres.
But with five minutes left on the clock, Jersey were trailing 20-12, still very much in contention, before the Falcons cut loose with two tries from debutant Adam Powell and one from No8 Ollie Stedman; the final score line of 34-12 perhaps less than the visitors deserved but emphatically recording a perfect 20 for Newcastle in the Championship.
Saturday’s only second tier game, was an absorbing encounter at Billesley Common between two sides playing for little other than pride.
However, there was nothing to suggest that this was the case as London Scottish twice came from behind. Once Lewis Calder had scored to give them a 25-20 lead, a determined Scottish defence thwarted all that Moseley could throw at them and cemented this as the final score.
Chevvy Pennycock also touched down for the Exiles and Oli Grove, who had replaced the injured James Love, struck two conversions and a penalty to add to Love’s three-pointer.
Billy Robinson touched down early on for Moseley, who were also awarded a scrum penalty try, and Ollie Thomas added 10 points with the boot.
Bristol looked home and hosed on Sunday with a 17-0 lead late in the first period, but then leaked two tries in quick succession as Plymouth found some form.
“We dropped off at the end of the first half and that’s disappointing,” director of rugby, Andy Robinson told the Bristol website. “It’s where we’ve been all season and we were punished for that on Sunday.
“We have to understand that if you don’t take opportunities, the other sides will come back at you and credit to Plymouth, that’s what they did.
“We have a lot to work on in our defence, but the more we practice and work together, the better the understanding will be.”
Bristol scored five tries through Jon Goodridge, James Merriman, Marco Mama, Mariano Sambucetti and George Watkins in a hugely entertaining affair at the Memorial Stadium.
Albion, who would have found themselves in contention with more clinical finishing, had to settle for tries from Aaron Carpenter, Rhodri McAtee and a late score from Tom Bowen in a 34-20 defeat.
“The attacking intent was shown from the off and our accuracy was good.” Robinson added. Overall, I’m pleased with the way we played, especially to get the bonus point, but we have lots to work on in the coming weeks.”
Bedford Blues consolidated third place by defeating the Cornish Pirates 18-26 at the Mennaye Field on Sunday. Myles Dorrian scored a try and 16 points from the boot; Josh Bassett also crossed the whitewash but the hosts remained in the hunt with tries from Junior Fatialofa and Phil Burgess.
Earlier, Blues’ chairman Geoff Irvine confirmed on the club website that, that whatever the outcome of the play-offs, Bedford would remain in the Championship for now. Mr Irvine said: “(Bedford)… would not seek promotion under the present circumstances.”
Finally, another sub-plot simmering nicely is whether Leeds or Bristol — two clubs who definitely would seek promotion — will grab the fourth play-off spot.
On Sunday Leeds got the win but not a much needed
bonus point with a 24-7 win over Rotherham at Headingley. Stevie McColl and Chris Walker crossed for Carnegie while Rory Clegg added 14 points with the boot.
This leaves Leeds in fifth place, one point behind Bristol, but with a game in hand.
All of this leaves the Championship table looking like this: