London Scottish (26) vs Rotherham Titans (20) - Championship
After a long summer break the new Championship season is finally upon us and for the Titans it’s Déjà vu, as once again their opening fixture takes them to London Scottish. Last time around Titans collected a losing bonus point in their narrow 16-11 opening-day defeat, but they will be hoping to go one step better this weekend.
Titans Head Coach Andre Bester has not been able to select from a full squad as a number of players are currently injured. Garry Law (ankle) and Laurence Pearce (Knee) are expected to be out for 2 weeks; Fergus Mulchrone (foot) is out for 3 weeks, whilst Shane Cahill (ankle) is anticipated to be out for around 4 weeks.
Of the starting 15 there are 5 players making their Titans debut. Winger Eamonn Sheridan (Leinster) and fly half James McKinney (Ulster) start in the backline, whilst tight head prop Ross Davies (Ampthill), blind side flanker Toby Freeman (Ampo Ordizia) and number 8 Alex Rieder (Leeds Carnegie) debut in the pack.
Returning to the club for a second stint under Andre Bester is experienced duo Mike Whitehead and Lee Blackett, both of whom start in the backline. Blackett deputises as Skipper in the absence of the injured Garry Law.
A quick glance at the Bookmakers odds sees the Titans as joint no-hopers at 150/1 to win the RFU Championship, alongside Moseley and Plymouth Albion. This underdog tag is something Andre Bester is not only used to, but relishes, as he goes about his business of gelling a Titans side together.
Commenting on the bookies odds Bester remarked, “They always have us as no-hopers, we are used to people writing us off and we relish the opportunity of proving people wrong. We are very comfortable with the underdog tag. I believe in this group of players strongly and we know what we are capable of achieving.
“We know it is going to be very tough down at London Scottish, they beat us twice last season and they will fancy turning us over once again. They will threaten us from all over the paddock and no quarter will be given. However, if we perform to our abilities and get our processes right, we should be in good shape.”
Titans: 15 Mike Whitehead, 14 Eamonn Sheridan, 13 Lee Blackett (Capt.), 12 Pale Nonu, 11 Peter Homan, 10 James McKinney, 9 Jimmy Williams, 1 Jamie Kilbane, 2 Dan Baines, 3 Ross Davies, 4 Barney Maddison, 5 Neale Patrick, 6 Toby Freeman, 7 Carl Kirwan, 8 Alex Rieder.
Replacements: 16 Ted Stagg, 17 Marshall Gadd, 18 Gareth Denman or Latu Makaafi, 19 Dan Sanderson, 20 Rory Pitman, 21 Joel Gill, 22 Charlie Mulchrone or Mike Doneghan.
Once again it was déjà vu as the Titans lost their opening day fixture away to London Scottish, collecting the bonus point along the way. This time however the South Yorkshire side put in a much better shift; they looked bright in the backs, defended well when required and just about dominated in the scrums.
The difference on the day was a demonstration of superb kicking ability from London Scottish’s James Love. Love nailed seven penalties, four of which were 40 metre plus kicks that sailed through the sticks. The conceding of penalties in their own half must be a concern for the Titans and no doubt head coach Andre Bester will review that this week.
After taking the lead in the 2nd minute through a James Love penalty, London Scottish were pinned close to their own line for a full 10 minutes as the Titans applied lots of early pressure. During that spell Scottish Prop Mark Irish was sin binned for his sides repeated infringements at the scrum. Unfortunately for Titans, they were unable to convert that period of dominance into points and the pressure was relieved when referee Darren Gamage awarded the hosts a penalty.
Around the half way mark of the first period Love and James McKinney exchanged penalties, which left Scottish 6-3 ahead. However, just before the half hour Jimmy Williams fed the onrushing Peter Homan who used his pace and power to crash through the home defence and touch down near the sticks. McKinney converted as Titans went 10-6 ahead.
Titans continued to edge matters throughout the first half, but all too often referee Gamage punctuated Titans progress with a series of penalties to Scottish. Two more Love penalties before the break, one from 50 metres, sent the host’s in at the break 12-10 to the good. Titans must have wondered how they were losing to a side that had not been in their 22 the whole half!
Scottish improved in the second period and on 48 minutes they finally managed to enter the Titans 22. Three further Love penalties in the space of 9 minutes opened up a gap. Titans responded and took play deep into Scottish territory, forcing them to infringe at the breakdown. From the resulting penalty McKinney slotted home from in front of the sticks.
Matters then took a turn for the worse for the Titans when open side flanker Carl Kirwan was sin binned for killing the ball. Three minutes later whilst a man short Titans conceded a try down their left flank to man of the match James Love. Surprisingly Love missed the conversion!
Titans rallied late on and had the lion’s share of possession. Lee Blackett broke through and found Pale Nonu who drew the defence for Ted Stagg to steal in near the left corner. McKinney nailed a superb conversion from the touchline to reduce the arrears to 6 points.
As Titans went in search of the winning score referee Gamage brought the contest to an end, leaving the Titans with another frustrating opening day defeat.
Post match Titans Andre Bester revealed, “We were looking for effort and a performance and we got both. I thought we were desperately unlucky. We controlled the game well, but we made some game management errors and that cost us dearly. They never entered our 22 in the first half and only managed to do so 2 or 3 times in the second half and from one of those they scored.
“We had ample opportunities, but you have to remember we are new side and it will take a little time for them to get to grips with each other and to get in sync with each other.
“I thought our scrimmaging was excellent, our line out wasn’t as good as I would have liked, but it was still a massive improvement on 12 months ago. If I look through our team I can’t fault one player, I think we were desperately unlucky with certain things that happened in the game. We did gain one point from the game though and that is important we don’t come away empty-handed.
“We are very happy of where we are right now; we know we need to keep on working. However, if we keep on working as we have today the results will take care of themselves and we will get some big results this year.
“As I’ve said, it’s a process that we have to go through with this new squad. We’ve been here before and it’s very similar to last season. However, when we went to London Scottish last year it was an extremely disappointing performance from us. Whilst today was a very good workman like performance, which was very satisfactory in that regard. I asked the boys for a performance and they delivered.
“I am extremely happy with the players we have and I’m extremely happy with the players individually and collectively and they will go from strength to strength.”
Referee: Darren Gamage
Yellow Cards: Mark Irish (London Scottish 12), Carl Kirwan (Titans 65).
Titans: Peter Homan (T), Ted Stagg (T), James McKinney (2C, 2P).
London Scottish: James Love (7P, 1T).
Titans: 15 Mike Whitehead, 14 Peter Homan, 13 Lee Blackett (Capt.), 12 Pale Nonu, 11 Eamonn Sheridan, 10 James McKinney, 9 Jimmy Williams (Joel Gill 50), 1 Jamie Kilbane (Marshall Gadd H/T), 2 Dan Baines (Ted Stagg 74), 3 Ross Davies (Simon Gardiner 68), 4 Neale Patrick (Dan Sanderson 68), 5 Barney Maddison, 6 Toby Freeman (Rory Pitman 50), 7 Carl Kirwan, 8 Alex Rieder.
Replacements: 16 Ted Stagg, 17 Simon Gardiner, 18 Marshall Gadd, 19 Rory Pitman, 20 Dan Sanderson, 21 Joel Gill, 22 Charlie Mulchrone.
London Scottish: 15 Jim Thompson, 14 James Love, 13 Dave McCall, 12 PJ Gidlow, 11 Miles Mantella, 10 Daniel Mugford, 9 Ross Samson, 1 Mark Irish (Nicholas Auterac 73), 2 Adam Kwasnicki, 3 Aaron Liffchak (Alexander Mackenzie 61), 4 Tyler Hotson, 5 Paul Spivey (Josh Brown 73), 6 Joe Trayfoot, Chevvy Pennycook, Mark Bright.
Replacements: 16 Nicholas Auterac, 17 Marcus Bloomberg, 18 Alexander Mackenzie, 19 Josh Brown, 20 Benjamin Lonergan, 21 Richard Bolt, 22 Oliver Grove.