Championship play-off preview: Doncaster v London Irish

  • First play-off leg between Doncaster & Irish
  • Kick-off on Sunday at 3pm
  • Watch live on Sky Sports 2

The phoney war is over for Doncaster Knights and London Irish, after they met in the final round of the regular season.

The Exiles ran out comfortable winners that day at Castle Park, but Sunday's meeting at the same venue will be the real deal, with the Knights looking to cause an upset against the promotion favourites.

It's the second season in a row that Clive Griffiths' side have reached the play-offs, while Irish are eyeing an immediate return to the Aviva Premiership after a season where they have been the dominant force in the Greene King IPA Championship.

Story of the season

London Irish won both encounters between the two sides during the regular campaign, after they opened it with a 19-0 victory at the Madejski Stadium before winning the reverse fixture 22-5 just two weeks ago.

Under director of rugby Nick Kennedy, the Exiles have swept aside almost all before them so far, as they finished 17 points clear of Yorkshire Carnegie at the top of the table.

Their only defeat came last month against Jersey Reds, who stunned them 15-11 at St Peter.

Doncaster, who lost last season's final against Bristol, sealed their play-off place with a game to spare after defeating Jersey 24-20 – eventually finishing ahead of the fifth-placed Reds on points difference.

One to watch

Known as one of the best counter-attacking full backs in the division, Paul Jarvis was named in the Championship Dream Team for the second time in three seasons this week, while he's also the Knights’ Coaches' Player of the Year.

Jarvis scored a try in his last play-off experience, when Doncaster went out swinging by winning the second leg of last year's final against Bristol 34-32 at Ashton Gate, after a 28-13 defeat at Castle Park.

The 28-year-old crossed the whitewash seven times to help the Knights finish fourth and he can't wait to have another crack at winning them the title.

Jarvis said: “I think it's great for the club in general. With recruitment and stuff like that going forward, it bodes well that it wasn't a flash in the pan last year. It shows that this club has got ambitions just to keep pushing forward.

“It's a really big honour to be named in the Dream Team again – I found last year, after I'd been named in it two years ago, people stopped kicking the ball to me.

“I had to change a few things and strengthen up in other places, so I'm glad that's all come off.”

Talking points

Jarvis believes the Knights have more strings to their bow this time around, after they relied heavily on the power of their forwards during their run to last year's final.

He said: “As a backline in general, we're up a lot of tries compared to what we were last year.

“I think the line-out changes and the maul changes in the laws made us have to think outside the box a little bit.

“We've got the players this year with class right throughout the backline – there's competition for places, some of the boys have really stepped up.

“While we trust that the forwards can do it week in week out, it's nice to have the ball a bit more out of the back of the odd scrum or maul.” “We need to go out and execute what we have been doing all year.”

For London Irish, and their flanker Mike Coman, this is where the hard work really begins, as their place in the play-offs has never really been in doubt.

Coman said: “We have been working towards it all year so hopefully we can come out on the right side of the ledger.

“In terms of physicality they are one of the bigger packs in the competition and they very well organised, they challenged us right until the 80th minute and they never gave in. With knockout rugby it is going to be a challenging tie.

“We had sort of planned for Doncaster to make it through because we had a feeling they would get into the top four.

“With it being a semi-final, pressure comes into it a bit. We need to go out and execute what we have been doing all year.”

Team news

Jarvis returns at full back for Doncaster and Simon Humberstone is preferred at fly-half to Declan Cusack, but flanker Jack Ram misses out through injury, while Will Griff and Mat Clark are on the bench after lengthy lay-offs.

London Irish make two changes from their last trip to Castle Park, with James Marshall and Fergus Mulchrone coming in at fly-half and inside centre respectively.

Joe Cokanasiga, who has been called up by Eddie Jones for England's summer tour of Argentina, starts on the left wing.

Doncaster Knights: Jarvis, Flockhart, Bulumakau, Hayes, Lewis, Humberstone, Heaney, List, Hunter, Quigley, Challinor, Young, Shaw, Hills, Carpenter.

Replacements: Bergmanas, Nelson, John, Williams, Clark, Edgerley, Cusack.

London Irish: Bell, Lewington, Tikoirotuma, Mulchrone, Cokanasiga, Marshall, McKibbin, Hobbs-Awoyemi, Paice, Franks, De Chaves, Sinclair, Coman, Cowan, Treviranus.

Replacements: Porecki, Court, Hoskins, Robson, Gilsenan, Steele, Tonks.