Newcastle Falcons (21) vs Rotherham Titans (22) - Pre Season Friendly
Titans Head Coach Lee Blackett is taking a squad of 24 players for the game, but unlike last week at Northampton, not all players will necessarily get game time.
As Blackett begins to hone his side ready for the start of the Championship campaign, he’s looking to create a match-day environment for the clash, as he explained, “We’ve got a squad of 24 going up this week and it will have more of a match-day feel about it; we won’t be making as many changes as we did last week at Northampton.
“We are just trying to balance our game time between the Newcastle and Blaydon games. We want to try and give everyone an equal amount of game time.
“We know playing Newcastle will be a massive test and we expect them to field pretty much their first team. Last week Northampton had a mix of young lads alongside some experienced boys, but this week the Newcastle side we’ll be facing will be a step up.
“As a result I would expect the game to be more physical and it will test us and no doubt we’ll learn some valuable lessons from this game.”
Blackett went on to explain how the next two pre-season games are so important for players to impress, “If any coach says they don’t know what their best starting 15 is, then they’re probably lying. I certainly have a good idea what ours is. Having said that there are still several places up for grabs and the Newcastle and Blaydon games will give boys on the fringes the opportunity to stake a claim.
“I’ll guarantee there’s someone right now who in my mind is just not quite in the starting 15, but after the next two games will be. So these next two games are really important for all the boys and it’s up them to show me that they should be starting against London Scottish.”
Titans Squad v Newcastle Falcons
In the first game played on Falcons new synthetic pitch, periods of torrential rain made skilful ball-handling a test in itself. However, just 5 minutes in the Titans demonstrated they were up to the task as an 80 metre break, following turnover ball inside their own 22, culminated with Curtis Wilson scoring a terrific try after clever work in the build up from Jack Roberts and Sean Scanlon.
Just after the half hour mark and a sweeping move across the Titans backline resulted in Jamie Broadley dibbing down in the right hand corner, following important touches along the way from Sean Scanlon and James McKinney; the latter sealing an impressive conversion from the touchline to send Rotherham 14-0 up against their Premiership opponents.
As half time approached the hosts manoeuvred themselves in to good field position and pressed hard close to the visitor’s line. A 5-metre catch and drive followed which culminated with Scotland hooker Scott Lawson scoring Falcons first try. Clegg nailed a decent conversion from out wide to reduce the arrears to 14-7 at the break.
Fifteen minutes into the second period Titans deservedly increased their advantage. A scrum close to the Falcons line was held up just short, the ball was then fed out by scrum half Dan White to James McKinney; the impressive fly half picked a perfect pass to find the onrushing Sean Scanlon and the full back glided through for Titans third try of the game. McKinney hit the left upright with his conversion attempt as the visitors now led 19-7.
As expected however, the home side injected some urgency into their play and hit back shortly after when Falcons replacement Will Welsh was driven over from close range. Former Titans favourite Juan Pablo Socino tagged on the extras.
Titans continued to press when the opportunities arose and when referee John Meredith awarded them a penalty from around 35 metres out, McKinney stepped up to impressively convert, stretching the visitors advantage to 22-14.
It was almost inevitable that Titans leading points scorer from last season, Juan Pablo Socino, would have a say at some point and 10 minutes from the end he did just that. A crisp pass from Warren Fury found the diminutive Argentinean and in trademark fashion skipped through to score near the posts. Socino converted his own try to reduce Falcons arrears to a single point and set-up a nail biting finale.
Despite some late pressure from the hosts, Rotherham managed to hold out for an impressive and deserved victory.
Post match a delighted Lee Blackett commented, “What I am most thrilled about is how hard the boys worked for each other. There were some aspects of our performance that we’re not happy with, but we are really proud of the effort and commitment that the boys put in. There were clear signs of individuals putting everything in for the team and working very hard for each other and that’s pleasing to see.
“We made some mistakes and we didn’t have a great deal of the ball, but we still scored three tries against a Premiership side and they were all good tries. We do look dangerous when we have ball in hand and I hope when the season starts we can have a bit more possession because we look capable of scoring tries when we go forward.”
Titans: S Scanlon, J Broadley, J Roberts, C Harris, C Wilson, J McKinney, D White; R Hislop, T Cruse, M Tampin, P Parker, T Holmes (Capt.), B Morris, J Preece, A Reider.
Replacements: A Birch, T Williams, A Macklin, S Robinson, W Ryan, J Gill, L Hayes, Z McGaffin, T Barrett.
Sin-bin: B Morris (38 mins).
Titans Scorers: Tries: C Wilson, J Broadley, S Scanlon. Conversions: J McKinney 2. Penalties: J McKinney.
Newcastle: S Hammersley, N Cato, D Barnes, JP Socino, S Sinoti, R Clegg, R Tipuna; E Fry, S Lawson, K Brookes, C Green, J Furno, U Kolo'ofai, A Saull, A Hogg (Capt.).
Replacements: R Hawkins, R Vickers, O Tomaszczyk, S MacLeod, M Wilson, W Welch, W Fury, P Godman, C Willis.
Sin-bin: C Green (30 mins).
Falcons Scorers: Tries: S Lawson, W Welch, JP Socino. Conversions: R Clegg, JP Socino 2.
Referee: J Meredith.