Rotherham Titans (27) vs London Welsh (32) - Championship
The two sides are the only remaining unbeaten teams in the division and a healthy crowd is expected at Clifton Lane, for the Greene King IPA Championship showpiece match of the weekend.
Ahead of the much anticipated encounter Lee Blackett has made three changes to the side. In the backline Joel Gill gets the nod in his battle with Jack Roberts for the number 13 jersey. Whilst in the pack Titans former London Welsh back rower Ed Williamson returns to the side at blind side for Alex Rieder and completing the changes, Ali Birch comes back in on the open side for Jack Preece.
Tomorrow’s match will be the 25th occasion the two sides have met in league rugby and all of them have been at this level (Tier 2). And although Rotherham hold an overall 15-9 advantage, recent form has seen London Welsh victorious on seven of the last ten meetings.
Speaking ahead of the clash Lee Blackett said, “Most people seem to have London Welsh as their favourites to win the division this year and you can include me in that group. Welsh have a very strong group of players and we know they will present us with by far our sternest challenge to date.
“We’ve had a satisfactory start to our campaign and I have been delighted with the way our boys have applied themselves. However, we know when London Welsh hit town we are going to have to be at our very best if we are to give ourselves an opportunity to do well.
"We are back at home which is great and hopefully once again our terrific supporters will get right behind the boys; I know our boys will be giving everything to try and get them the result they crave.”
Titans: 15 Michael Keating, 14 Jamie Broadley, 13 Joel Gill, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Curtis Wilson, 10 Dallan Murphy, 9 Charlie Mulchrone (Capt.), 1 Marshall Gadd, 2 Tom Cruse, 3 Colin Quigley, 4 Ben Thomas, 5 Dan Sanderson, 6 Ed Williamson, 7 Ali Birch, 8 Alfie To’oala.
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Mark Tampin, 18 Barney Maddison, 19 Laurence Pearce, 20 Jack Preece, 21 Dan White, 22 Jack Roberts.
Despite the set back of losing their powerhouse number 8 Alfie To’oala in the warm up to a hamstring injury, Titans raced out of the blocks and stunned Welsh with three tries inside the opening 11 minutes!
Flying winger Curtis Wilson got the ball rolling after 2 minutes as he charged in from 40 metres to dot down, following a neat offload from Jamie Broadley. Juan Pablo Socino then picked off an interception and raced home from around halfway as he showed good pace and great awareness. Then finally, flanker Ali Birch showed great strength and power as he came on at pace to receive a Broadley pass to touch down near the corner.
In that period Welsh scored a try of their own when former Titan Carl Kirwan dabbed down from a 5 metres catch and drive. Nonetheless, a packed Clifton Lane was in raptures as they saw their side go 17-7 up in an entertaining opening salvo.
The game began to settle into a pattern where Titans were looking at every opportunity to keep the tempo high and put the visitors under pressure in open play. Whereas Welsh were content to play a tighter game in the main and let their forwards do their fair share of graft.
The remaining scores in the first half came via the two kickers; Titans Socino slotted over a single penalty, whilst Welsh’s Gordon Ross contributed with a trio; two of which came after Welsh secured penalties at scrum-time.
Just 3 minutes into the second period Rotherham suffered a set-back when tight head prop Colin Quigley was yellow carded for an infringement at a scrum close to the Titans line. Ross knocked over his kick to reduce the visitor’s deficit to a solitary point.
Despite being a man down the Titans showed great character and courage as their willingness to attack showed little sign of abatement. This bravery was duly rewarded just 2 minutes later when a fantastic break by Socino led to Michael Keating collecting and scoring Titans fourth try of the game; securing the bonus point. Socino’s conversion opened up an 8-point lead.
With just over 15 minutes remaining and perhaps the turning point of the match, Welsh’s James Lewis intercepted a Rotherham pass and he fed Tom May who raced clear to score; Ross converted to make it a 1-point game.
In the last ten minutes London Welsh secured two long range penalties. Both penalties were out of range for regular kicker Ross. However, replacement Alex Davies had taken to the field and his huge boot was just enough on both occasions to add the extras. His kicks secured a hard earned 27-32 victory for his side.
A disappointed Lee Blackett said afterwards, “I feel disappointed because for me the game was there for us to take. I thought our game management in the final quarter let us down a little, but the positive is we scored 4 tries against one of the best teams in the league and we gave ourselves a chance of winning. Our supporters were awesome and we’ll now go away and prepare for Bedford Blues next week.”
London Welsh head coach Justin Burnell commented afterwards, “They’ve got a lot of physicality. But you’ve got to maintain it for 80 minutes. I never thought we were going to lose the game.”
Referee: Tom Foley
Yellow Card: Quigley (Titans)
Titans: Wilson (T), Birch (T), Keating (T), Socino (T, 2C, P)
London Welsh: Kirwan (T), May (T), Ross (2C, 4P), Davies (2P).
Titans: 15 Michael Keating, 14 Jamie Broadley, 13 Joel Gill (Roberts 68), 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Curtis Wilson, 10 Dallan Murphy, 9 Charlie Mulchrone (Capt.) (White 60), 1 Marshall Gadd (Dias 74), 2 Tom Cruse (Sowrey 74), 3 Colin Quigley (Tampin 47), 4 Ben Thomas (Maddison 58), 5 Dan Sanderson, 6 Ed Williamson (Preece 74), 7 Ali Birch, 8 Laurence Pearce.
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Mark Tampin, 18 Mike Dias, 19 Barney Maddison, 20 Jack Preece, 21 Dan White, 22 Jack Roberts.
London Welsh: 15 Seb Jewell, 14 Seb Stegmann, 13 James Lewis (Davies 56), 12 Tom May (Capt.), 11 Nick Scott, 10 Gordon Ross, 9 Rob Lewis, 1 Nathan Trevett (Hepburn 52), 2 Andy Titterrell (Davis 73), 3 Peter Edwards (Tideswell 52), 4 Matt Corker, 5 Peter Browne, 6 Mitch Lees (Denbee 57), 7 Carl Kirwan, 8 Ollie Stedman (Pienaar 45).
Replacements: 16 Kevin Davis, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 James Tideswell, 19 Ben Pienaar, 20 Mike Denbee, 21 Alex Davies, 22 Dante Mama.