Doncaster land major blow in race for Premiership promotion
Doncaster Knights tightened their grip at the top of the Championship with a hard-fought 25-17 win over promotion rivals Ealing Trailfinders.
At the end of this season, the winner of the Championship will be promoted to a 14-team Gallagher Premiership, subject to them meeting the required minimum standards of the league.
The relegation/promotion ladder will then be effectively pulled up for a season. A play-off will then take place at the end of the the 2023/24 season between the club finishing bottom of the Premiership and the winner of the Championship that year, with the result to decide which club plays in the Premiership during the following season.
Put simply, a lot was on the line for both sides as they vie for the top spot.
Two first half tries from winger Maliq Holden gave the visitors an early lead before fullback Billy McBryde intercepted a pass in the 75th minute and ran the length of the pitch to seal the victory and deny Ealing a losing bonus point.
The hosts scored three tries of their own, the first by fullback David Johnston recovered a chip kick and dotted down. Second half tries from winger Luke Daniels and No. 8 Rayn Smid brought Ealing within touching distance, but weren’t enough to prevent a second straight league loss to Doncaster.
The Londoners were promotion favourites at the start of the season but have now relinquished control over the title race. Only the team that tops the league will move into the Premiership and Ealing have a way to go if they are to do this.
Doncaster are first at the moment and are well accustomed to top-of-the-table scraps. In fifteen seasons of league rugby, the Knights have been promoted eight times and this impressive record will hold them in good stead as they look ahead to their two remaining league fixtures.
That being said, Ealing are still in the hunt. They are second, seven points adrift of Doncaster, but have two games in-hand and while these matches are not guaranteed wins, it gives the Londoners a chance to cut the deficit.
But there is another team in the picture. The Cornish Pirates sit a point behind Ealing but have game in hand, meaning they could also top the table if they mount a winning run.
Of the three teams in contention, the pressure is on Ealing to deliver. Ben Ward’s men have been eyeing up promotion for some time now and were comprehensively beaten by Saracens in the playoff final last season.
Before the Premiership was expanded last year to accommodate another club, one of the 13 minority shareholder clubs of England’s top league was in the Championship. That prevented any other side from moving up but the new expansion has changed that, opening a pathway for a new rugby club.
Ealing were in the driver’s seat for this but Doncaster have crashed the car, splitting the Championship wide open.
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