9:42am Monday 31st March 2014
By Charlie Addiman
Rosslyn Park’s largest home gate of the season was treated to a match well worthy of its billing as a title decider.
And it was the home fans who cheered loudest at the final whistle after Park overcame National League One leaders Doncaster Knights 21-18.
The win closed the gap to the Knights to four points, but it could have been better until a last minute try secured the visitors a losing bonus point - frustrating for Park but in truth no more than the Knights deserved from a hard fought encounter.
Doncaster, playing with a blustery wind at their backs, had the better of the opening period.
They piled into Park from the off, winning a first minute penalty, which they kicked to touch to set up the catch and drive.
Park spoiled it cleverly, but could not clear beyond their 22, and Knights pressed hard, again winning a penalty that was propelled to the corner, and again Park stole the throw.
When Knights were penalised going forward, Park strung together a good attack of their own, but the visitors were soon back.
Park’s tackling was equal to the occasion, eventually winning a penalty to clear.
Fly half Scott Sneddon’s kick failed to find touch, but as Knights tried to play out of defence they were penalised for ‘crossing’ within kicking range.
Committed: Park and Knights battle for possession
Sneddon did not miss this time to put his side 3-0 up on 13 minutes.
Doncaster swept back but simply could not find a way past some tackling of the highest order.
Park were trying to run the ball out of defence but they also met with an impregnable defensive wall.
Eventually Park were pinged for not releasing the ball, but Dougie Flockhart’s penalty kick bounced back into play off a post.
Knights eventually found their way onto the scoreboard when the referee appeared to reverse a penalty decision, and Flockhart made amends for his previous error to level the scores on 18 minutes.
Doncaster had done the lion’s share of attacking up to this point, but appeared frustrated at their inability to find a way through.
Park were beginning to come into the match as an attacking force - winger Dave Vincent made a telling run up the left and the ball was swept across in front of the posts but the Knights’ defence was equal to it.
Park persisted and eventually won a penalty.
The ball was hoofed to touch near the corner and Park set up a massive drive which the defence could not cope with.
Defence: A Knights man is hauled to the ground
As the pack surged over it appeared to be number eight, Hugo Ellis, who grounded the ball to put Park 8-3 ahead.
Knights upped the pressure, but Park were now playing really well. However, as Park tried to counter-attack they were pinged for not releasing and Flockhart’s penalty reduced the margin to 8-6 with less than 10 minutes to the interval.
Park immediately returned to the attack and gained a penalty that, but for the wind, would have been meat and drink to Sneddon but it veered wide.
Park ratcheted up the pressure and Knights’ resistance cost them scrum half Bruno Bravo to a yellow card. Sneddon duly atoned for his earlier miss to give his side an 11-6 lead at the interval.
The second half saw Park continuing to press and gained a further penalty but Sneddon was off-target.
A further blow came for Doncaster when prop Ross Davies was yellow carded on the intervention of the touch judge.
Park belted the penalty to the corner. Doncaster defended well and gained a scrum, but Park took it against the head and forced a penalty in front of the posts.
Sneddon took his time but cruelly a gust blew the ball over at the last moment, so he had no alternative but to pick it up and attempt a quick drop goal which missed.
But he was on target on 55 minutes to stretch the lead to 14-6.
Doncaster were not yet done for. It was a massive blow to Park when Ellis was adjudged to have prevented early release and was sent to the sin bin.
Park resisted an immense attack up the left, but Knights kept up the pressure and eventually winger Tyson Lewis used his electric pace to get round the outside of the defence.
A magnificent touchline conversion, into the wind, by Flockhart made it 14-13.
The tension was palpable as two excellent sides went toe-to-toe, and it was a flash of opportunistic brilliance by scrum half Jack Gash that settled the issue.
His opposite number was a split second slow in reacting to the ball emerging from a ruck.
Solid: There's no way through the Park defence on this occasion
Gash saw his chance, pounced, and sprinted away to score between the posts, Sneddon converted for 21-13 with less than seven minutes left.
Doncaster tried everything but there was no way through a magnificent defence until, with the match entering its last minute, Knights centre Matt Clark received the ball and galloped a superb curving line for a great individual try to claim the losing bonus point.
Flockhart had only a token go at converting as his side still needed three points to win.
There was never enough time and when Park gained possession they ran the ball into touch to end a match that was an immense credit to the standard of National League One rugby.
Park: Edwards; Broughton, Staff, Mackey (Gower), Vincent; Sneddon; Gash; Liffchak, Bellamy, McKenzie (Lundberg); Ingles (Bowley), Boyle (Wollstencroft); Shires, Broadbent, Ellis.
Sub did not play: Heeks.
Happy days: Jack Gash gets over the whitewash for Rosslyn Park
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