Doncaster Knights 11 – Hartpury University 10

For the second time in six matches, Hartpury were denied a well-deserved and hard-fought away win by a last gasp penally awarded in a kickable position.  As he had been in Coventry in January, Mr Joe James was officiating.

Thanks to Rod Wetton/Doncaster Knights for the image

In a game of relatively few penalties – and few scoring chances and few scoring chances due to wet, blustery conditions – refereeing was pivotal in the match.

Strangely, there was not a single penalty award in virtually the entire first quarter and it was not until the 19th minute that James first raised his arm.  He decided that the illegal entry from Lewis Holsey, responding to a Knights line-out drive, was worthy of an immediate yellow card, although not denying a clear try-scoring opportunity, which would have presumably brought a penalty try.

Normally, there is a ‘cumulative’ process before issuing this sanction, but not yesterday, despite the blemish-free prior proceedings.

It was to have a direct influence on the outcome.  Preferring to maintain eight forwards on the field, Hartpury withdrew winger Sam Smith and it was in the space left vacant as a result, that Knights were to score their only try, shortly afterwards.

Knights are currently top of the Championship and are one of a small number of who clubs who have indicated an interest in promotion should they stay there.

Promotion is an expensive business and there was no indication, based on yesterday’s performance, that Doncaster are equipped to compete regularly at a higher level. 

They have a strong, but not unbeatable, pack and for long periods yesterday, particularly in the second half when conditions improved, Hartpury had the edge in terms of both possession and territory.

The tale of the match was as follows.  Following the yellow, Hartpury continued to repel the Knights drive, even with 11-12 players involved, before a well-executed cross-field kick from Sam Olver found Kyle Evans in the wide open space that would have normally been defended by Smith.  He had the simplest of finishes, before Olver’s scruffy conversion went wide.

James Williams landed a well-struck penalty before half-time, as Hartpury – restored to 15 – started to assert themselves more regularly.

Olver kicked another three-pointer from 40 metres n the 56th minute, but it was against the run of play which was – just – starting to favour the visitors.

The Doncaster kicking game was becoming increasingly aimless as the clock progressed, much to the annoyance of many home supporters.  Hartpury, meanwhile, were also kicking frequently, but trying to keep the ball in play, thus avoiding the Knights potential to drive.

In the 70th minute, the Red & Blacks finally got some reward.  A kick return from just inside his own half by Mitch Eadie led to ball in space for winger Ben Foley.  His chip ahead was well-weighted and he had the pace to finish the job.

Williams’ conversion was excellent and Hartpury led 8-10.

Not surprisingly Knights responded, although Hartpury, despite some scares in their own 22, appeared to have weathered the storm before Mr James late intervention, presenting Olver with an easy kick and the match to the Knights.

There were a number of good performers in red.  Eadie we have already mentioned, while the stand-out – not for the first time this season – was lock Cameron Jordan.  He is something of a ‘banker’ at the lineout – well-supported by he likes of Dale Lemon, Josh Gray and James Dun – and always shows up in the loose, where his carries never fail to make ground.

Hartpury lost Ethan Hunt to a nasty cut early on but, in Will Capon, they had a Premiership-class replacement who was good value for the more than an hour that he was involved.

All of the forwards worked hard and, whilst it was not a day for flowing rugby, the backs also acquitted themselves well on both sides of the ball, dealing comfortably with any Knights threat and occasionally creating space, despite the conditions.

Mentions go to scrum-half Oscar Lennon – tidy in everything that he did – and also to Tommy Mathews, normally a 10, who was secure at full-back despite every thing that came his way.

Hartpury stay fifth in the table with three league matches remaining.  The bonus point also ensures the highest league points total in the club’s Championship history.

We now play old friends and rivals, Ampthill, at the Alpas next week (BE THERE!), before finishing with away fixtures at Richmond and Pirates in March.


  1. 15-20 when we last met and another close encounter on Saturday. Very one sided reporting with no balance you make out that Hartpury dominated the whole game. Not one positive comment about the Knights ( I hope you liked our cow pie!). It wasn’t a pretty game – which could have gone either way because of the rain and pitch conditions. Overall I thought it was a hard fought contest both sides chucked the kitchen sink at each other for 80 minutes and those out there (on both sides) should be commended for the effort and hard work they put in they are the real heroes. Blaming the ref so publicly and not showing respect for your opponents is very disingenuous and not worthy of true unbiased reporting. I hope the RFU do not see your withering disembowelment of the match referee. There’s no wonder there is a shortage of people wanting to be refs. I thought we were all in this together for the sake of rugby. Yours in Sport

    • Hi. Interesting. All comments appreciated. As you say, two close games over the season – presumably you had no issue with the 15-20 report in which we gave Donny credit for a good win. The good news is that we’re allowed to disagree…

      With regard to Saturday, we fail to understand how this report represented a ‘withering disembowelment’ of the Ref. We have not even questioned any of his decisions! We have pointed out two FACTS. 1) the first penalty of the game produced the the yellow card (leading indirectly to the home try) and, 2) the last penalty of the game decided the outcome. Hardly controversial or even questionable.

      With regard to referees’ sensitivities, I would suspect that the constant loud, verbal and frequently profane response to decisions throughout the game might have a far greater effect than a few carefully chosen words in writing. Obviously, this now happens at most grounds, so please don’t assume this is criticism aimed at Doncaster specifically.

      At no stage does the report suggest that Hartpury were ‘dominant’. You may be a little over-sensitive. Did we feel that we had been the better team over 80 minutes? Yes, but not a lot in it as reflected by the score-line. Speaking to one or two Knights players after the game they were certainly disappointed with the overall display, but – hey – what do they know? We fully agree that it was hard-fought and both teams worked hard in poor conditions.

      Sadly I personally didn’t get to sample the cow pie on this trip, but I dare say I’ll get another chance in ’22-’23.

      Enjoy the remainder of your season…

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