Irish star steps up to Knights challenge

Five tries: And David McIlwaine is also an accomplished long-range kicker.      Picture: Steve taylor
Five tries: And David McIlwaine is also an accomplished long-range kicker. Picture: Steve taylor

YOU can’t give Doncaster Knights’ full-back David McIlwaine much greater praise than to say that the Championship club haven’t missed Steve McColl.

Last season’s player of the year, McColl elected to join Leeds, then a Premiership club, for the 2011-12 campaign leaving new Knights’ boss Brett Davey with the problem of trying to find a suitable replacement within his budget.

But he looks to have done just that with the 22 year-old Irishman who moved from Magners League outfit Ulster.

Not only can he score tries - he’s already claimed five - but he also boasts the same ability as McColl to kick long-range goals as he underlined with a monster 57 metre penalty in the recent game against Leeds at Headingley.

Although not the side’s regular kicker, as was the case with McColl, McIlwaine practices regularly and told The Star: “I was confident that I would kick it.”

Like the rest of his team-mates, McIlwaine was delighted with Knights’ fourth successive Championship win against Plymouth last weekend after kicking off the campaign with two defeats.

“It’s a new squad and it was always going to take a little time to gell,” he said. “Things are going well but we’ve got some testing games coming up away to Bedford this weekend and then at home to Nottingham the following week, so we can’t afford to relax.

“We know it is going to be tough at Bedford but we know that if we turn up and play rugby like we know we can, and put it together for 80 minutes, we can compete with any team in this league.”

McIlwaine decided to leave Ulster following the signing of former New Zealand Under-21 international full-back Jared Payne on a three-year contract.

“I played eight games on the wing for Ulster last season but I wanted to play full-back and I realised that my options would be very limited if I stayed on at Ulster,” he said.

McIlwaine is one of a number of Irish-born players in the Knights’ squad.

“I played with Michael Keating and Michael Noone for Ireland Under-18s so I knew them both before I came here and that helped me to settle in quicker,” he said.