Plymouth Albion (3) vs Rotherham Titans (21) - British & Irish Cup
Along the Titans back line a new centre pairing of Joel Gill and Pale Nonu come in for the injured pair of Eamonn Sheridan and Lee Blackett. Following an impressive on-loan display for Sheffield Tigers last week, Mike Doneghan returns hoping to impress on the wing. Jimmy Williams knee injury prevents him from travelling, meaning Charlie Mulchrone will start at scrum half.
In the pack there an entire new front row with Jamie Kilbane, Dan Baines and Gareth Denman coming in; Ross Davies is unavailable for selection due to a shoulder injury. Dan Sanderson comes back into contention in the second row, whilst Joe Ellyatt gets the nod at open side flanker with Carl Kirwan ruled out with a back injury. Alex Rieder’s shoulder injury sidelines him, so Rory Pitman will start in the number 8 jersey.
In all competitions the overall head to head between the sides sees Rotherham hold a narrow 12-11 advantage, with one drawn game. Titans’ last victory away to Plymouth came back in February 2009 where a five-try performance secured maximum points.
Looking ahead to the fixture, Titans Head Coach Alex Codling said, “We had a great result in Munster last time out in the B&I Cup and we are looking to build on that terrific result. Unfortunately, by us coughing up a late penalty in Ireland and allowing them to get a draw out of the match, we have now lost control of the group. However, we are not out of the competition and we’ve got to go down there and get the win and that’s what our aim is.
“Momentum is also important to us; we have been playing well of late, despite the Nottingham result and we are sending a strong side down there which we feel will give us an opportunity to keep our momentum moving in the right direction.
“Every away game is a difficult proposition and we know it will be tough down at Plymouth, but it’s a challenge we are relishing. Our work ethic around the place is getting better all the time; the boys are ready, the spirit in the camp is good and we are all looking forward to the game. We’ll go down there and give it a real go, the game doesn’t hold any fears for us but it will be a massive challenge.”
Titans: 15 Fergus Mulchrone, 14 Peter Homan, 13 Joel Gill, 12 Pale Nonu, 11 Mike Doneghan, 10 Garry Law (Capt.), 9 Charlie Mulchrone, 1 Jamie Kilbane, 2 Dan Baines, 3 Gareth Denman, 4 Ben Thomas, 5 Dan Sanderson, 6 Toby Freeman, 7 Joe Ellyatt, 8 Rory Pitman.
Replacements: 16 Ted Stagg, 17 Marshall Gadd, 18 Nile Dacres, 19 Latu Makaafi, 20 George Oliver, 21 James McKinney, 22 Ed Styles.
The setting at the Brickfields Recreation Ground was bleak, as the temperature dropped and the driving wind and rain gathered momentum. However, Rotherham’s performance in contrast was warm and cheerful throughout. From the off Titans pressed and put the home side under immense pressure, forcing them to defend desperately to keep out their rampant pack.
Inside the first 10 minutes a storming break by Titans prop Gareth Denman had the home side scrambling back with some urgency. On 13 minutes some Titans in-your-face defending forced Plymouth to concede a penalty inside their own 22. A quick tap penalty by Charlie Mulchrone force the hosts backwards and following a series of driving mauls Dan Baines bullied his way over the line for the first try of the match. Garry Law superbly converted against the strong win and rain.
Despite Plymouth having the weather conditions in their favour they struggled to get out of their half as Rotherham pressed them in attack and defence. The pressure told on 18 minutes when referee Tom Foley sent Albion flanker Wayne Sprangle to the bin for his side’s persistent infringements at the breakdown.
The Titans scrum and line out was functioning well and from the former around half way on 25 minutes, the ball was fed out to Peter Homan who broke the Albion line and made huge yards forward before being brought down inside the hosts 22.
Disaster struck just after the half hour mark when Titans hooker Dan Baines suffered a knee injury. Both sets of players stopped the game and urged medical staff to come onto the field to treat Baines. The game was held-up for 7 minutes whilst the medics dealt with the injury. The Albion players warmly applauded as Baines was carried from the field of play.
Stunned by the injury, Titans were a little knocked back after the resumption of play. As half time drew near Albion got on the scoreboard when fly half Paul Roberts knocked over a penalty from 40 metres plus. Into injury time and Albion ventured into Titans 22 for the first time when blind side flanker Harrison Tovey made a terrific break taking the ball up to the line. However, Albion knocked on and the whistle blew for the break.
The second period continued in much the same manner as the first, as Rotherham dominated proceedings. Breaks from Latu Makaafi and Ted Stagg ensured Plymouth stayed trapped inside their own 22 for long periods. On 48 minutes Rotherham thought they had scored a 2nd try, but referee Foley consulted with his assistant before deeming the ball had been knocked-on and therefore denied the outstanding Dan Sanderson a try.
Fifteen minutes into the second period and the hosts for the first time in the match enjoyed a period of possession. From a line out on their 10 metre line, Albion set-up a driving maul and rumbled almost 30 metres downfield, before eventually losing possession.
Rotherham soon became the dominant force again and set-up camp inside the Albion 22. Ten minutes from time under huge pressure from the Titans, Albion dropped the ball and Garry Law was on hand to hack on and touch down for the crucial try. Law converted his own try to extend the visitors advantage.
Just 2 minutes later more good work by the Titans pack; this time by Joe Ellyatt forcing a turnover, which allowed the ball to be spread wide to Ted Stagg who showed impressive speed to gallop over in the corner for a touch down. Law’s brilliant conversion from the touchline in atrocious conditions sealed the victory and maintained the visitor’s interest in the competition.
Post match a delighted Titans Head Coach Alex Codling enthused, “I am immensely proud and thrilled by both the result and the performance. We had really tough conditions underfoot and overhead and I thought our first half display against a strong wind and driving rain was outstanding. We controlled the game and deservedly went in at the break ahead.
“Obviously, I think the Dan Baines injury knocked us back a little bit. The initial prognosis is Dan has suffered a serious knee injury and that’s devastating for the team and obviously for Dan. He’s been outstanding and we’ll do everything we can to make sure he makes a full recovery.
“Then in the second half we scored a couple of great tries in tough conditions. This is such a tough place to come and we are absolutely thrilled to get the result.
“I was really pleased with all aspects of our game; Lee Blackett has done some work on our attack this week as we were a little lateral last week. We thought we needed to be a bit more direct and the weather made that even more important today.
“We looked after the ball very well and we went through countless phases in the first half and maintained great control. Defensively when called upon I thought we were outstanding and to keep them try-less down here is some achievement. We spoke before the game and we’ve had different elements of our game that have been excellent at certain periods of a game, but today I thought we came pretty close to an all round complete team performance.
“So, we are thrilled with the performance, effort and result, but we know we still have plenty to work on. We are not getting carried away and we will be back at work on Monday to prepare for Aberavon on Saturday.”
Referee: Tom Foley
Titans: Dan Baines (T), Ted Stagg (T), Garry Law (T, 3C).
Plymouth Albion: Paul Roberts (1P).
Titans: 15 Fergus Mulchrone, 14 Peter Homan, 13 Joel Gill, 12 Pale Nonu, 11 Mike Doneghan, 10 Garry Law (Capt.), 9 Charlie Mulchrone (Ed Styles 61), 1 Jamie Kilbane (Marshall Gadd 60), 2 Dan Baines (Ted Stagg 34), 3 Gareth Denman, 4 Ben Thomas, 5 Dan Sanderson, 6 Toby Freeman, 7 Joe Ellyatt (George Oliver 75), 8 Rory Pitman (Latu Makaafi 40).
Replacements: 16 Ted Stagg, 17 Marshall Gadd, 18 Nile Dacres, 19 Latu Makaafi, 20 George Oliver, 21 Ed Styles, 22 James McKinney.
Albion: 15 Paul Bailey, 14 Rhodri McAtee, 13 Toby Howley-Berridge, 12 Bevon Armitage, 11 Jack Arnott, 10 Paul Roberts (Ruairi Cushion 60), 9 Paul Rowley, 1 Jack Andrew (Ben Rogers 67), 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie (Tom Cowan-Dickie 75), 3 Lloyd Fairbrother (Alex Brown 56), 4 Brett Beukeboom, 5 Will Carrick-Smith, 6 Harrison Tovey (Sam Matavesi 76), 7 Wayne Sprangle (Sam Hocking, 64), 8 Sean Michael-Stephen.
Replacements: 16 Ruairi Cushion, 17 Keni Fisilau, 18 Ben Rogers, 19 Alex Brown, 20 Tom Cowan-Dickie, 21 Sam Hocking, 22 Sam Matavesi.