Blackheath 20 Doncaster Knights 38
A comfortable victory in the end, but a valiant effort from Blackheath, who close to the hour found themselves only two points adrift with the visitors seemingly rattled.
Pinned back in their own half of the field, and with loose-head Richard List in the sin-bin, errors began to creep into Doncaster’s game as nerves began to show, but ironically it would be a Blackheath mistake that released the pressure.
With a penalty conceded for crossing, the siege was lifted, and as the full-time professionals stepped up a gear, three tries in the final quarter regained the Yorkshiremen a place in The Championship at the first time of asking.
‘Your can never feel comfortable until the final whistle,’ said a relieved Doncaster Director of Rugby, Clive Griffiths.
‘But we deserve it. It’s reward for all the training and hard work throughout a long season.’
‘Blackheath are the most improved side in the league. They had nothing to lose today and we expected a hell of a fight, which is exactly what we got. But our defence around the driving maul, where we knew they’d be strong, was awesome, and they had no answer to our firepower around the scrum.’
However, for 58 minutes Blackheath did have some answers.
In a frenetic opening, Simon Whatling cancelled out an early Dougie Flockhart penalty, but it was Doncaster who were first to cross the try-line.
On 27 minutes, as the ball was held up following a line-out, the visitors won the five-metre put in and with the excellent Bevon Armitage tackled just short, the ruck was set for tight-head Ross Davies to drive over to give Doncaster the lead.
Not for long though. Almost immediately from the re-start, it was Blackheath’s turn to win a scrum, and with James Catt controlling at the base, a delightful inside ball from Joe Crust sent Joe Hardy through from halfway, the wing outsprinting the cover for a try on his home debut.
Nevertheless, strong running from Doncaster continued to probe the Club defence, and although the tackling was relentless for the most part, on 37 minutes Knights’ scrum-half Bruno Bravo orchestrated a move through numerous phases culminating in full-back Paul Jarvis breaking through for a 17-10 interval lead for the visitors.
The third quarter though belonged to Blackheath. In the 48th minute, List was despatched for infringing on his own goal-line and as the Club produced a drive from a close-range line-out, Dave Allen piled across for his 20th try of the season to bring the hosts within a couple of points.
With Rosslyn Park cruising to victory at the other end of the South Circular, and the penalty count increasing against the visitors (flanker Adam Kettle particularly fortunate not to be dismissed!), it looked, just for a moment, as if the title might slip but in the 58th minute came the moment that put Doncaster back in the Championship.
With pressure lifted from the penalty for crossing on halfway, line-out ball again allowed Doncaster to keep the ball alive through a number of phases, and as Armitage received possession on the twenty-two, the inside-centre broke the tackles to score next to the uprights. Five minutes later a five-metre scrum surged towards the Club goal-line and as the penalty try was awarded by referee Richard Kelly (and Flockhart added another conversion in a faultless kicking display from the wing), Doncaster moved 16-points clear.
Terrific work from Allen, driving Doncaster behind their own goal-line, set the platform from which Rhys Crane responded for Blackheath as the ball was moved wide, but the final word fell to a former Blackheath man as Tyson Lewis rounded the defence for his 22nd try of the campaign.
‘We played some great rugby today,’ said Simon Legg. ‘Our aim was to continue in the same vein as we have for the last three months and we did that, but it wasn’t quite good enough.’
‘Congratulations to Doncaster, they deserve the title. For us the hard work starts now and over the summer to build for next term.’
Tries: Hardy, Allen, Crane
Tries: Davies, Jarvis, Armitage, Penalty try, Lewis
Conv: Flockhart 5