Championship club rivalry was put on hold on Saturday when a select RFU XV took on the Maori All Blacks at Doncaster’s Castle Park.
And despite going down 21-52, head coach Mike Rayer was full of praise for his side: “I’m extremely proud and it was all about the players today. We gave them a framework and they were absolutely terrific,” he told The Rugby Paper.
“They emptied their tanks, as they said they would, and I couldn’t ask for any more.
We showed good intent, backed ourselves and the score-line probably flattered the Maori. But they’re a class act and their offloading game was unbelievable.”
The tourists, who were being beaten by Leicester Tigers on Tuesday evening, found their form and ran in eight tries to record a 21-52 victory in front of a crowd of 4,956.
The Maori side were slow to get out of the blocks, as the Championship XV started strongly. However, all the select XV had to show for their dominance in the opening quarter was two Tristan Roberts penalties.
Waikato winger Declan O’Donnell, who was named Man of the Match, scored the opening try, but the Championship XV struck back with a try from home fullback Dante Mama, following good continuity from his forwards.
Winger Kurt Baker and hooker Hika Elliot both scored tries to give the Maoris a 14-21 lead at the interval, after Roberts added a third penalty.
But the visitors upped the tempo in the second half. First, fullback Trent Renata finished a good attack to touch down under the posts.
Then both Maori locks, Elliot Dixon and Romana Graham crossed the whitewash, as the visitors’ pack began to dominate.
Halfback Frae Wilson, who was outstanding, scored his second try of the tour before centre Jackson Willison burst through tired defenders to complete the Maori scoring.
However, the final say went to the Championship XV, when Blues fly half Jake Sharp chipped the Maori defence for Nottingham winger Rhys Crane to collect the ball and dot down; Sharp added the extra points.
For highlights of the clash, courtesy of the New Zealand Herald, click here.
Tonga take on Newcastle at Kingston Park on Tuesday night, where head coach Dean Richards makes ten changes to his Falcons’ side that dispatched Nottingham on their previous outing.
Grant Shiells, Matt Thompson, James Hall, James Goode and Chris York will start in the pack, while Andrew Higgins, Alex Crockett, James Fitzpatrick, Joel Hodgson and Warren Fury have the opportunity to stake a claim for a regular starting place in the backs.
“It is a fantastic honour to welcome Tonga to the North East,” Richards told the Falcons’ website, “and it is a great opportunity for some of the players to experience international rugby,” he added.
News of two appointments completes the Championship round-up this week.
First, as widely expected, Rotherham Titans’ Chairman Nick Cragg confirmed the signing of Alex Codling as Head Coach.
Cragg said: “We were delighted by the quality of candidate and the general level of interest shown in the post… ”
Codling, who was capped once for England, has has a wealth of coaching experience, most recently at London Scottish where he was forwards’ and defence coach. He told the Titans’ website: “I am honoured and thrilled to have been appointed as Head Coach of Rotherham Titans and can’t wait to get started. It is a club with a great tradition and passionate supporters. I share their passion for the club and this great game and will do everything possible to keep moving the club forward.”
And finally, Doncaster Knights announced the signing of Clive Griffiths as Director of Professional Rugby at Castle Park.
The 58-year-old is a former Wales international rugby league and rugby union player and is currently defence coach of the Canadian National team.
“I am delighted to be back at Doncaster, I enjoyed my last tenure here before it was cut short too early, Griffiths said. “Everything I love about the Club is still here and the future is still very bright… Our main focus as a Club is to get Doncaster Knights on the rise up the table.”
Griffiths’ immediate challenge will be to get Doncaster off the bottom of the Championship table.
The one to watch this weekend is at Richmond Athletic Ground where London Scottish and Moseley will also be keen to move away from the foot of the table. This appetising warm-up for events down the road at Twickenham kicks off at 12.15.