Doncaster Knights (14) vs Rotherham Titans (15) - Championship
Bester: We expect a war at Doncaster!
Ahead of the clash Titans have made eight changes to their starting 15, with four of those being positional. In the backs Dave McCall returns to the outside centre berth, Shane Cahill has recovered from injury and reclaims the loose head shirt, whilst Ted Stagg is given an opportunity to shine in the number 2 jersey. Titans top try scorer Robin Copeland has shook off a virus which affected his training schedule last week and will start at blind side.
Positional changes see Stephen Hamilton going to full back, meaning Tom Foden switches to the wing and Shane Monahan returns to the wing having played in the centres last time out. Club captain Sam Dickinson moves from back row to second row in what looks like a very competitive pack of forwards.
Rotherham have never beaten Doncaster away in 8 previous attempts and the overall head to head in all competitions sees Rotherham with just 4 victories from the 17 previous encounters. No doubt in front of the Sky Sports cameras and the anticipated large crowd, Doncaster will have targeted Rotherham as a must win game. Therefore there can be little doubt, if Titans are going to gain their first victory at Castle Park; they will need to be at their best.
Titans head coach Andre Bester is aware of the challenge that lies ahead, as he acknowledged, “Doncaster is a big game and it is an important game, it’s a South Yorkshire derby. We want to win every game we play in but we know that they are a very good side and at home they are exceptional, they will feel they have a lot to prove after their defeat at Nottingham on Wednesday.
“They will provide us with another tough assignment and that will provide us with another opportunity to shake off the cobwebs and allow us to get focused on the business end of the season.
“We are expecting a war against Doncaster; it’s always a war against them! Any derby and specifically a South Yorkshire derby is tribal. You read about tribal wars back in historical times, but this match is like a car crash with lots of collisions. But at the end of the day I want the game to be played in a good spirit, because rugby is a special game.
“It is also a great opportunity for South Yorkshire to have a window through Sky Sports, to show the rest of the UK the standard of rugby in the Championship, the competitive nature of rugby in Yorkshire and what a brilliant place it is to come to.
“In the context of the Doncaster match being a derby, it is an important game. In the context of the bigger picture and how we go on in the play-offs, it’s not. The Doncaster game will not have any bearing on what is going to happen in the play-offs. I can’t accentuate it more, what happens in the play-offs is all important to us.
“Our ambition is to be very competitive come play-off time. I won’t take my eye of the bigger picture and that is, who is going to have a say in the semi-finals and final. We will not get carried away or distracted by anything else.
“I was happy with our run out against Pirates, we were very rusty and you could see the cobwebs. The players had not played for over a month and it showed, but this week we will be better for the outing.
“Our preparation has been low key physically and mentally for the past 8 weeks. That’s because no player in the world can be mentally tuned in for an entire season. I believe that ten to twelve weeks is the most that players can be tuned in for, at such a high intensity. Then you go through a cycle and hit the wall.
“All teams go through that cycle and it’s our job to manage and control that cycle the best we can. Then, our aim of peaking at just the right time of the season, will give us the best opportunity to achieve what we want to achieve.”
Rotherham Titans: 15 Stephen Hamilton, 14 Tom Foden, 13 Dave McCall, 12 Pale Nonu, 11 Shane Monahan, 10 Garry Law, 9 Jimmy Williams, 1 Shane Cahill, 2 Ted Stagg, 3 Rob O’Donnell, 4 Sam Dickinson (Capt.), 5 Barney Maddison, 6 Robin Copeland, 7 Sean Dougall, 8 Semisi Taulava.
Replacements: 16 Dan Baines, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Ben Hooper, 19 Neale Patrick, 20 Carl Kirwan, 21 Ed Tellwright, 22 Cliffie Hodgson.
Titans earn bragging rights
Rotherham Titans snatched victory over fierce local rivals Doncaster Knights 15-14 with the very last kick of the match, in front of the Sky Sports cameras at Castle Park.
Titans’ Scottish fly half Garry Law teed the ball up from 45 metres in the 88th minutes knowing his crucial kick would be the last action of a keenly fought South Yorkshire derby and to Law’s credit he held his nerve to send it over and give Rotherham their first ever win at Doncaster.
Just after Law came of the pitch he explained how difficult his kick was due to the swirling wind at Castle Park, “I wasn’t really sure what the wind was doing, I was standing there and it was coming from right to left and then I saw the big flag in the corner and it was shooting left to right. So I thought I’d set it out left and when I’d kicked it my initial thoughts were I’d set it off too much to the left hand side, but that wind got hold of it like it had in the first half and carried it over.
“My initial reaction was one of relief having missed a couple of kicks in the first half which I struck sweetly enough but the wind just pushed them away and then the conversion where the ball toppled off the tee. So all in all I was very relieved and very happy for the boys who had worked so hard throughout the match.”
Indeed they did and it was Titans who took the early initiative as Shane Monahan used his pace to run onto Law’s chip over the top in the 7th minute to touch down for his eighth try of the season. Law converted to ease Titans into a 7-0 lead.
As the half wore on the visitors scrum came under mounting pressure from the home pack and Titans loose head Ben Harris was yellow carded on 27 minutes for his side’s persistent infringements at the set piece. A man short up front gave Knights an extra edge and following another scrum close to Titans line that disintegrated, referee Lee awarded Doncaster a penalty try. Dougie Flockhart converted to level matters.
Five minutes before the break and matters got worse for Rotherham as Shane Cahill was yellow carded for throwing a punch, leaving Titans with 13 men on the park. Knights wasted little time in taking advantage of their numerical superiority as open side flanker Zack Farivarz breezed through Rotherham’s depleted defence to score near the sticks. Flockhart converted to make it 14-7 to the hosts.
On the stroke of half time Garry Law struck a sweet penalty, only to see the strong wind push it across the face of the posts and the Titans went in at the break trailing by 7, knowing Knights had not scored a point against them while they had 15 men on the park.
Rotherham had the lion’s share of territory and possession in the second half and one huge scrum on 45 minutes by the reformed Rotherham pack sent out a strong message to both sides.
On 52 minutes and with Rotherham pressing deep into Knights 22, Jimmy Williams (Sky Sports Man of the Match) fed Dave McCall who in turn floated a perfect pass onto Monahan who glided in for his 2nd try of the match. As Law ran up to take the conversion, again the wind played its part by blowing the ball of its tee. Law attempted to take a drop goal but his effort was charged down to the leave titans trailing by 2.
Titans had further opportunities to score when deep inside their opponents 22, but handling errors cost them on more than one occasion. Then as the clock ticked down and the final play of the match took place a neat Monahan break took play into the Knights half. There the hosts conceded a penalty and Law’s successful kick sent the huge Rotherham contingent into raptures.
Titans coach Andre Bester reflected on his side’s victory, “We always knew it was going to be a tough South Yorkshire derby, but I thought we played most of the rugby. In the second half I thought we had a huge positional and territorial advantage. Effectively, we just had a 20 minute period where we struggled in the match around the scrum, that’s why I made the changes. It’s horses for courses, usually those guys are outstanding, but they just struggled a little bit today.
“I thought our execution in their 22 wasn’t great, we lost the ball three or four times there when in fact we really should have scored more tries.
“As we have been in low key preparation of late in anticipation of the play-offs, the main thing I was looking for today was an improvement on our display against the Pirates. We got that and I was pleased about that. However, we are almost in a pre-season phase at the moment as we build up to the promotion play-offs.
“We are three weeks away from the most crucial stage of the season and we are trying to gear everything up for that next stage. If we hadn’t planned carefully throughout, we would have been burned-out by now. We have a lot of self belief going into the play-offs and that is important to us.
“We know we can win at home, we know we can go to most places in this league and get a win, but what is important about this result today is the feel good factor. When the boys turn up for training on Monday, they will have a spring in their step and a smile on their face. As a result, I can get more out of the players in our preparation and that’s the key thing about beating Doncaster for me.”
Referee: Steve Lee
Titans: Monahan (2T), Law (1C, 1P).
Doncaster: Penalty Try, Farivarz (T), Flockhart (2C).
Yellow Card: Harris, Cahill.
Rotherham Titans: 15 Stephen Hamilton, 14 Tom Foden, 13 Dave McCall, 12 Pale Nonu, 11 Shane Monahan, 10 Garry Law, 9 Jimmy Williams, 1 Ben Harris (Shane Cahill 27), 2 Ted Stagg (Dan Baines 35), 3 Rob O’Donnell (Ben Hooper 35), 4 Sam Dickinson (Capt.) (Carl Kirwan 65), 5 Neale Patrick (Barney Maddison 45), 6 Robin Copeland, 7 Sean Dougall, 8 Semisi Taulava.
Replacements: 16 Dan Baines, 17 Shane Cahill, 18 Ben Hooper, 19 Barney Maddison, 20 Carl Kirwan, 21 Ed Tellwright, 22 Cliffie Hodgson.
Doncaster Knights: 15 Dougie Flockhart, 14 Oli Goss, 13 Fred Burdon, 12 PJ Gidlow, 11 Michael Keating, 10 Gareth Quinn-McDonogh, 9 Chris Hallam, 1 Tom Davies, 2 Steve Boden (Jack Yeandle 60), 3 Alex Brown, 4 Matt Challinor, 5 Dominic Parsons, 6 Andy Boyde (Latu Makaafi 46), 7 Zack Farivarz (Chris Planchant 64), 8 Michael Noone (Adam Kettle 57).
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Stuart Corsar, 18 Adam Kettle, 19 Latu Makaafi, 20 Chris Planchant, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Toby Hewley-Berridge.