Rotherham Titans (11) vs Bristol (22) - Championship Play Off 2nd Leg
Last weeks clash between the two sides was billed as Titans biggest game in a decade; seven days later they face their biggest game in a decade and a week.
The Titans have enjoyed a wonderful season, playing the game with enterprise and courage which has attracted new admirers of the club and increased crowds at Clifton Lane. To reach the Championship final would be an extraordinary achievement for the South Yorkshire side, particularly so when considering their resources in comparison to some of their counterparts within the division.
But Rotherham realise to achieve that feat, they must first overcome the best side in the league. Their opponents Bristol won the division by a clear eight points and were worthy champions, demonstrating an entertaining and powerful brand of rugby along the way.
Ahead of the clash Titans have made just one change to the 15 that ran out at the Memorial Stadium; with loosehead prop Toby Williams coming in for Robin Hislop.
Looking ahead to the game Lee Blackett explained, “We know it’s going to take a massive effort from the boys to get the result, but there are loads of positives we can take from last week and there’s real belief within the group. The boys had a measure of confidence going to Bristol, but on the back of that performance I think that has now turned to belief.
“We went down there knowing we faced the best team in the league and the league table will tell you that’s just what they are, but the boys came off the park fully believing they can cause a major upset at Abbeydale. But having said that I don’t expect Bristol to play as poorly as they did last week, I expect a big improvement from them and we’re going to have to improve too, because we weren’t good enough at times in attack.”
Titans: 15 Sean Scanlon, 14 Jamie Broadley, 13 Joel Gill, 12 Jack Roberts, 11 Michael Keating, 10 Juan Pablo Socino, 9 Charlie Mulchrone (Capt.), 1 Toby Williams, 2 Tom Cruse, 3 Colin Quigley, 4 Tom Holmes, 5 Josh Thomas-Brown, 6 Alex Rieder, 7 Jack Preece, 8 Alfie To’oala.
Replacements: 16 Ali Birch, 17 Robin Hislop, 18 Mark Tampin, 19 Dan Sanderson, 20 Jordan Davies, 21 Dan White, 22 Dallan Murphy.
At half time in Rotherham’s most important game for a decade, there was a real possibility the Titans would cause the biggest shock in the Championship this term, perhaps even in its history, as they went in 11-3 up and a place in the final just a tantalising 40 minutes away.
Under the early evening hot and humid conditions Bristol started much the brighter and nudged ahead with an early Nicky Robinson penalty. But Rotherham soon established a foothold in the game and looked dangerous with ball in hand as their backs played with skill and tempo.
Juan Pablo Socino levelled matters with a penalty effort on 15 minutes as the South Yorkshire side pressured the visitors at the breakdown. Five minutes before the break a sweeping backs move culminated with flanker Jack Preece feeding winger Michael Keating who touched down smartly in the corner. Socino missed the tricky conversion, but Rotherham led the tie on aggregate.
Titans stretched that lead on half time after Bristol flanker Marco Mama was yellow carded and Socino nailed the penalty from in front of the posts. Titans dream of making the final were alive and kicking!
However, credit must go to Bristol as they came out for the second period under enormous pressure and performed outstandingly well. A possible turning point came on 48 minutes when off the back of a scrum Bristol centre Ben Mosses charged through to score and with Robinson’s conversion the visitors were back ahead on aggregate.
Titans never gave up in their efforts of achieving a first-ever Championship Final, but Bristol managed to control much of what followed. They slowly squeezed the hosts and through a domination of territory and possession forced a number of penalties. Four of which Robinson converted as the visitors ran out worthy 22-11 victors.
So it wasn’t to be for the Titans, but all involved at the club, including the supporters can be very proud of what’s happened at the Titans this term and the experiences of this season will surely stand the club in good stead for another top-end challenge next term.
Titans Lee Blackett, reflecting on the game and season explained, “We were really disappointed after the game; we put ourselves in a great position at half time but we just ran out of steam. In the end we ended up just carrying too many knocks; losing Jack Preece at half time was a hard one to take and then losing Alfie meant we had to move boys around. Tom Cruse was struggling, Ali Birch got knocked out and before we knew it we were carrying a lot of individuals and as a result it became a bit too much for us. You have to give credit to Bristol because they were outstanding in the second half and we didn’t really see much of the ball from thereon in.
“However, we are satisfied with how the year has gone and we are happy that we made the top four. We are the first Rotherham team to make the Championship semi final, we’re the first Titans side who have made the last 8 of the British & Irish Cup and all the credit must go to these players for that achievement.
“But it’s not just been about on the field; the way the boys have embraced the club and taken on the Titan Tuesday has been very special. The way supporters and players mix is the key ingredient in why this place is so special and we look forward to continuing that moving forward.”
Referee: Matthew Carley
Yellow Card: Mama (Bristol)
Titans: Keating (T), Socino (2P)
Bristol: Mosses (T), Robinson (5P, 1C)
Titans: Sean Scanlon; Jamie Broadley, Joel Gill, Jack Roberts, Michael Keating; Juan Pablo Socino, Charlie Mulchrone (Capt.); Toby Williams, Tom Cruse, Colin Quigley, Tom Holmes, Josh Thomas-Brown, Alex Rieder, Jack Preece, Alfie To'oala.
Replacements: Ali Birch (for Jack Preece, 40 mins), Robin Hislop (for Toby Williams, 58 mins), Mark Tampin (for Colin Quigley, 58 mins), Dan Sanderson (for Alfie To’oala, 61 mins), Jordan Davies (for Jamie Broadley, 74 mins) Dan White (for Charlie Mulchrone, 69 mins), Dallan Murphy (for Joel Gill, 61 mins).
Bristol: Jack Wallace; George Watkins, Jack Tovey, Ben Mosses, Andy Short; Nicky Robinson, Ruki Tipuna (c); Kyle Traynor, Rhys Lawrence, James Hall, Ben Glynn, Glen Townson, Marco Mama, Ross Rennie, Ryan Jones.
Replacements: Ross Johnston (for Rhys Lawrence, 40 mins), Jason Hobson (for James Hall, 50 mins), Nick Koster (for Marco Mama, 50 mins), Mitch Eadie (for Ross Rennie, 56 mins), Luke Baldwin (for Ruki Tipuna, 40 mins) Adrian Jarvis (for Nicky Robinson, 80 mins), Adam Hughes (for Ben Mosses, 70 mins).