Analysis: Doncaster Knights distinctly second best in play-off final part one

Ben Hunter tries to break clear.
Ben Hunter tries to break clear.

Nobody in the 4,700 plus crowd at Castle Park last night can have any complaints about the result of the Championship play-off final first leg against Bristol.

If anything, the 28-13 defeat flattered Doncaster Knights who were penned in their own half for long periods.

Bristol must certainly have been expecting a tougher game given that Knights came within seconds of completing a league double over them.

But the South Yorkshire side, who have become the talk of the town in recent months, were well below their best and produced little of the quality rugby which has had the crowds flocking to Castle Park in ever increasing numbers.

Bristol have lost in three previous play-off finals, including the last two, since being relegated from the Premiership in 2009, and there was a steely determination about them last night not in evidence in either league game.

All of their big guns stepped up to the plate on a night when it mattered. They also got their tactics right with fly-half Callum Sheedy – perhaps perceived as a weak link given his inexperience at this level - looking to have an old head on young shoulders.

Knights were up for the battle and there was a genuine belief in the camp that they could lower Bristol’s colours on a ground where they have proved hard to beat this season.

But on the night they made too many handling errors, were often second best at the breakdown, and struggled to break Bristol’s defensive stranglehold.

The likes of Paul Jarvis, Will Hurrell, Mat Clark and Tyson Lewis got little chance to show their undoubted class behind a pack second best on the night.

Fortunately for Knights they have a second crack at Bristol on Wednesday night and 80 minutes in which to try and turn things around and it’s not Mission Impossible.

But to be in with any sort of chance of denying Bristol a return to the top flight, Knights will have to learn the lessons from last night and come up with a performance which is far more representative.

At the very least, on a night when several players will don a Doncaster shirt for the last time, they will want to end a record-breaking season with their heads held high.