Rotherham Titans (38) vs Bedford Blues (38) - Championship
Titans’ first home match of the new RFU Championship season sees Head Coach Andre Bester make just one change to his starting line-up.
Dan Sanderson comes into the side at lock, moving Barney Maddison to blind side flanker in place of Toby Freeman. Latu Makaafi gets the nod for a place on the bench with the likeable Tongan eager to impress when his opportunity arises. Subject to a late fitness & medical test, Club Captain Garry Law may be included in the match day squad of 22.
Looking ahead to the match Andre Bester said, “Bedford are a fine side with great continuity, both in terms of their playing and coaching staff. They will pose a threat from all over the park and can adapt to all styles of rugby. We admire Bedford a lot and have prepared with the greatest of respect, but that will change when the match starts on Sunday afternoon. We just need to concentrate on our own game and our own processes and if we perform to our potential, we are confident the results will take care of themselves.”
Titans: 15 Mike Whitehead, 14 Eamonn Sheridan, 13 Lee Blackett (Capt.), 12 Pale Nonu, 11 Peter Homan, 10 James McKinney, 9 Jimmy Williams, 1 Jamie Kilbane, 2 Dan Baines, 3 Ross Davies, 4 Neale Patrick, 5 Dan Sanderson, 6 Barney Maddison, 7 Carl Kirwan, 8 Alex Rieder.
Replacements: 16 Ted Stagg, 17 Marshall Gadd, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Rory Pitman, 20 Latu Makaafi, 21 Joel Gill, 22 Charlie Mulchrone or Mike Doneghan or Garry Law.
On balmy late summer’s afternoon, Clifton Lane was bathed in sunshine and both sides responded by giving the supporters a cracking game of entertaining rugby.
Bedford got the scoreboard ticking-over as quick as the first minute when James Pritchard knocked over a penalty after Titans had infringed at the breakdown. Nevertheless the home side reacted almost immediately when an interchange of passes by James McKinney, Neale Patrick and Pale Nonu resulted in Mike Whitehead showing good footwork to touch down in the left corner for an unconverted try.
McKinney increased the home side’s advantage on 7 minutes with a fine penalty kick from around 40 metres, after the Blues were penalised for off-side.
In a match where the lead would change hands seven times, Bedford worked a catch and drive move close to the Titans line which culminated in former Titan Neil Cochrane driving over for the visitors first try. Pritchard converted to give his side a 10-8 advantage.
There then followed a period of Titans pressure; Dan Baines made a terrific break which took him deep into Bedford territory and a double movement by the Titans prevented them scoring a second try on 22 minutes. However, three minutes later from a 5-metre scrum Alex Rieder who was having a fine match touched down from the base, for his first try for the Titans. McKinney’s conversion put the host’s 15-10 up.
Titans continued to press and forced another penalty after Bedford were once again pinged for off-side. McKinney’s 40-metre effort sailed through to extend the lead. Pritchard’s penalty two minutes later nibbled into the lead after Titans couldn’t resist hands in at the ruck.
Both sides attacked wherever possible leading up to the break, but the nearest anyone came was James McKinney who pushed his penalty attempt just wide of the sticks and the teams went in at the break with the Titans leading 18-13.
Bedford came out for the second period sharp and two minutes in, following a 5-metre line out, Josh Bassett crashed under the posts for a converted try. Three minutes later however an excellent penalty kick from the touch line by McKinney put Titans 21-20 ahead.
Titans pressed on and looked dangerous throughout, unfortunately for them a forward pass and then a knock on close to Bedford’s line, potentially cost them two further tries. McKinney did extend Titans lead on 55 minutes following a scrum-penalty.
Then approaching the hour mark, in the space of three minutes Bedford scored two tries! Both arguably for the Titans could be traced back to poor restarts. First Don Barrell and then Josh Bassett punished the hosts for some lacklustre defending and suddenly the Titans were trailing 24-32. Pritchard’s penalty three minutes later extended Bedford’s advantage to 11 points.
A lot of sides would have been shell-shocked at this stage and maybe rolled over; not this Titans squad though. Back they came and put the visitors under immense pressure and with 8 minutes remaining Lee Blackett emerged from the bottom of the maul to touch down for McKinney to convert.
Prichard’s penalty for Bedford with just 4 minutes remaining was a body blow, but not a knock out blow for the home side. Once again Titans pressed close to the try line and following a series of penalties in which the Bedford scrum continuously popped-up under the pressure, referee Roberts awarded a penalty try. McKinney converted in the dying seconds to earn his side a worthy share of the spoils.
Post game Titans Head Coach Andre Bester reflected, “We all know that Bedford will be a top 4 side, that’s quite clear. But the positive for us is that we looked as good as them throughout the entire game. For us to stick at our task and score those 14 points inside the last 10 minutes was exceptional. I have to take my hat off to the players and I thought we looked the stronger side at the end. However, it wasn’t a perfect game for us and we did mess up a few of our phases.
“If this team can perform to its potential there are not many teams that can beat them. There’s no doubt that when we play and get our momentum we are a very good side. I think the future looks exceptional for this bunch of players. I have to say the player’s attitude was outstanding and that’s the most important thing that we have seen today. We had an unbelievable attitude and the boys just would not be beaten.”
Referee: Llyr Apgeraint-Roberts
Yellow Cards: Dan Baines (Titans 60), Paul Tupai (Bedford 60), Scott Spurling (Bedford 74).
Titans: Whitehead (T), Rieder (T), Blackett (T), Penalty Try, James McKinney (3C, 4P).
Bedford Blues: Cochrane (T), Barrell (T), Bassett (2T), Pritchard (3C, 4P).
Titans: 15 Mike Whitehead, 14 Eamonn Sheridan, 13 Lee Blackett (Capt.), 12 Pale Nonu (Garry Law 59), 11 Peter Homan, 10 James McKinney, 9 Jimmy Williams (Joel Gill 55), 1 Jamie Kilbane (Marshall Gadd 50), 2 Dan Baines, 3 Ross Davies (Simon Gardiner 50), 4 Neale Patrick (Latu Makaafi 59), 5 Dan Sanderson, 6 Barney Maddison, 7 Carl Kirwan, 8 Alex Rieder (Rory Pitman 47).
Replacements: 16 Ted Stagg, 17 Marshall Gadd, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Rory Pitman, 20 Latu Makaafi, 21 Garry Law, 22 Joel Gill.
Bedford Blues: 15 James Pritchard (Capt.), 14, Oliver Dodge, 13 Brendan Burke (Ian Vass 55), 12 Henry Staff, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jake Sharp, 9 Luke Baldwin (Darryl Veenendaal 59), 1 Ricky Reeves (Dan Seal 48), 2 Neil Cochrane Scott Spurling 59), 3 Philip Boulton (Benjamin Cooper 50), 4 Michael Howard (Paul Tupai 44), 5 Ben Gulliver, 6 Gregor Gillanders, 7 Sacha Harding (Darren Fox 59), 8 Don Barrell.
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Benjamin Cooper, 18 Dan Seal, 19 Paul Tupai, 20 Darren Fox, 21 Darryl Veenendaal, 22 Ian Vass.