If ever there was a way to end a season it would be with the two matches that made up the Play Off Final of the Green King Championship - the promotion decider. ickledot's already described the first leg and the second, played at Ashton Gate, Bristol, was an epic encounter, thrilling to the end.
Not only was some of the play sublime, befitting such an important fixture, it was also seen by the biggest crowd that ickledot has ever photographed in front of. ickledot's always maintained that rugby is rugby, played by all abilities, watched by many or by the proverbial man and his dog. However, it has to be said there's something special when a photograph has thousands of excited, expectant faces in the background. The game was a sell-out; more than sixteen thousand people filling three sides of the ground, the fourth undergoing major refurbishment. The atmosphere was electric and at times the noise was deafening.
As outlined previously the Knights were facing an uphill task if they were to overcome their opponents. Bristol had a fifteen point lead from the first leg. A number of early penalties increased the gap and as half-time approached things were not looking good for Doncaster. Player of the season Will Hurrell is made of strong stuff though and, receiving the ball from Declan Cusack, he burst through several tackles and dived across the line under the posts. With Cusack's conversion the Knights moved ahead.
If only half-time had come at that point the final result might have been different. With seconds on the clock Bristol charged down a clearance and scored a try of their own. The mountain to climb became higher and steeper.
This was clearly recognised by the Knights and they came out determined to put points on the board. If they were to go down it would be with a fight. The second half is now something of a blur as it was pulsating, end-to-end action. The Knights scored no less than four tries and had two more disallowed. It was a truly heroic display which gave them a deserved win on the night by 32-34.
But of course it was the aggregate score which counted - with a penalty and late try of their own, Bristol were always able to maintain their overall lead. The Knights' fifth try of the evening was the game's final action and the signal for Bristol's celebrations to begin. Next season will see them playing in the Aviva Premiership. Congratulations to them, deserving winners.
But it was close though. Looking across the two games, it was Bristol's domination of the second half in the first leg in Doncaster which made the difference, giving them a lead which was always going to be difficult for Doncaster to recover from.
In a sense though, the Knights' determined display in the second half in Bristol was as much about the future as the present. It ended the season with a high, even in the face of defeat. It gave the signal that the final was a chapter of a work in progress, not an end.
Photographing the Knights this season has been a privilege and one of life's highlights. Thanks to the club and a hugely talented squad for allowing me to do so. You can see a few more pictures from this epic final game here.