Nottingham (16) vs Rotherham Titans (27) - Championship
The one change in the back line sees the impressive Joel Gill make his first Championship start; replacing Jimmy Williams at scrum half. In the front row Shane Cahill returns from injury and replaces Jamie Kilbane at loose head prop, whilst Ted Stagg is given the number 2 jersey, sending Dan Baines to the bench.
Rory Pitman also makes his first start for the Titans at number 8, a move that sees Alex Rieder shuffle across to blind side flank. In turn Barney Maddison drops back into the second row, replacing Dan Sanderson.
Looking ahead to what will be a difficult challenge, Titans Head Coach Andre Bester said, “We need to be bold in our approach, particularly in away matches. We’ve made no secret that I believe we have a better all round squad this year and that we’ve got a brilliant attitude. We have a very good blend of senior players alongside some very good younger players.
“Going to Nottingham this year is not going to be completely new territory for most of the players. Most of our guys have either played there before of have played at this or a higher level.
“We know we are a work in progress and that’s how it is when you are a new group. We’re aware that we are one of the relegation favourites and we keep that at the back of our mind, because we don’t like to have that tag. But it was the same as the start of last season, so we are getting used to people writing us off.
“It’s true we have lost a number of our star men, but give this set of boy’s time to develop and understand what it’s all about and stars will be born out of this group. As an all round side I believe this is a better side than we had last year and the main ingredient right now is our brilliant attitude. The boys have right attitude to working very, very hard and paying attention to the small details.
“We know we are going to make mistakes, but as long as we don’t keep on making those same mistakes then we will be fine. We have spent a certain amount of time in training this week on certain areas of our game that wasn’t up to scratch against Bedford.
“Individually we have to ensure that we don’t make any silly errors and it’s that which makes you a good player. It’s not the fancy stuff that makes you a Premiership player; it is doing the basics very well and making your tackles etc… that gives you the platform to build a solid season on.
“Martin Haag has come in at Nottingham and he’s a very experienced coach, he’s been at Premiership level for a long time. He will have a very sound philosophy based on the values that he had at Bath and Nottingham have showed already this season they are a very good side, with their victories over Leeds and Moseley. The building blocks are in place at Nottingham for them to have another good season in the Championship.
“Nottingham has always been a very tough side and they’ve always been hard nosed and with Martin Haag coming in, he will add value to what they do. We expect nothing other than a well coached side when we take them on at the weekend.”
Titans: 15 Mike Whitehead, 14 Eamonn Sheridan, 13 Lee Blackett (Capt.), 12 Pale Nonu, 11 Peter Homan, 10 James McKinney, 9 Joel Gill, 1 Shane Cahill, 2 Ted Stagg, 3 Ross Davies, 4 Neale Patrick, 5 Barney Maddison, 6 Alex Rieder, 7 Carl Kirwan, 8 Rory Pitman.
Replacements: 16 Dan Baines, 17 & 18 Marshall Gadd/Jamie Kilbane/Simon Gardiner, 19 Dan Sanderson, 20 Latu Makaafi, 21 Garry Law, 22 Jimmy Williams.
Having not beaten Nottingham away in the league since March 2007, Titans expected a tough early season examination of their progress so far with a new squad. Moreover, the Clifton Lane based outfit responded magnificently, putting to one side any anxieties as they passed their exam with distinction!
Titans took the lead as early as the 4th minute as early pressure forced the Green & Whites to concede a penalty, which James McKinney tagged over to nudge the visitors ahead. There then followed a period of home pressure, culminating in James Arlidge levelling matters after a long-range penalty effort.
Titans then began to settle to their task with the pack performing exceptionally well, forcing Nottingham to repeatedly infringe at the breakdown. Two further penalties were forced and McKinney nailed both to extend Rotherham’s advantage.
Just after the half hour mark Mike Whitehead broke down the left flank with Peter Homan in support. As Whitehead drew the last defender, a breakdown in communication between the pair saw a gilt-edged try scoring opportunity pass them by.
McKinney, who was having a fine game and pulling the strings for Rotherham, chipped through nicely on 37 minutes for Homan to chase. Homan pressured the Nottingham full back into carrying the ball over the try line for a Titans 5-metre scrum. Despite huge pressure from the Rotherham pack, Nottingham defended manfully and shepherded them in to touch to alleviate the danger. An Arlidge penalty into first half injury time narrowly missed and Titans went in at the break 9-3 ahead.
For the second week running Rotherham started the second period slightly sluggish and Arlidge reduced the home deficit to 3 points with his 25 metre penalty. However, shortly after Lee Blackett made a fantastic break and fed to Whitehead and Stagg who took possession deep into home territory.
Just before the hour mark Arlidge levelled matters with his accurate kicking following an eager Titan being penalised for being off side. The match was now delicately poised with 20 minutes to go, although the Titans were just edging matters overall.
On 62 minutes Whitehead’s neat kick through saw the home defence carry the ball over the line, resulting in a 5-metre scrum for Rotherham. The superiority of the Titans pack led to their second penalty try in as many games, McKinney converted to give Titans a 16-9 lead. Two minutes later following a terrific break from Carl Kirwan, McKinney nailed another penalty after Nottingham had tried illegally to slow down the rampant Rotherham pack.
Titans were now fully on top of the match and running Nottingham ragged and once again in desperation the home side conceded another penalty as they tried once again to slow Rotherham quick ball. McKinney slotted his 5th successful penalty to extend Titans lead to 22-9.
It got even better for the Titans on 70 minutes following another brilliantly timed chip through from Whitehead for Eamonn Sheridan to chase. Nottingham’s Arlidge should have done better in defence, but under pressure from the marauding Sheridan, he lost possession and the big Irishman was on hand to capitalise and touched down for the game breaker.
Nottingham rallied late on as they chased the game and on 79 minutes were rewarded when Rhys Crane touched down for a consolation try for the hosts. Rory Lynn converted to make the final score 27-16 to the Titans.
Post match Andre Bester commented, “In patches we played well and in other patches we weren’t too bad. We have the ability to play a tight game, a kicking game and a wide game, but we appear to be a bit hesitant of playing a wide game whenever the opportunity arises.
“In the second half we decided to take the ball a little bit wider and go into the wider channels and there was no doubt that we made huge yards when we did that and we looked very good. It’s self belief that has to come to the players in this period, because they are a new team together.
“Nottingham is a very good side and it is a tough place to come, they have a very good set-up, a good coaching staff and good players. So to come here and get a result like we have is very pleasing. But the important thing for us is to keep focusing on our performances and if we do that and do it well, there are not a lot of teams that will beat us.”
Referee: Steve Lee
Titans: Penalty Try, Eamonn Sheridan (T), James McKinney (1C, 5P).
Nottingham: Rhys Crane (T), James Arlidge (3P), Rory Lynn (1C).
Titans: 15 Mike Whitehead, 14 Peter Homan, 13 Lee Blackett (Capt.) (Garry Law 46), 12 Pale Nonu, 11 Eamonn Sheridan, 10 James McKinney, 9 Joel Gill (Jimmy Williams 56), 1 Shane Cahill (Jamie Kilbane 48), 2 Ted Stagg (Dan Baines 48), 3 Ross Davies, 4 Neale Patrick (Dan Sanderson 69), 5 Barney Maddison, 6 Alex Rieder, 7 Carl Kirwan, 8 Rory Pitman (Latu Makaafi 69).
Replacements: 16 Dan Baines, 17 Marshall Gadd, 18 Jamie Kilbane, 19 Dan Sanderson, 20 Latu Makaafi, 21 Garry Law, 22 Jimmy Williams.
Nottingham: 15 Andrew Savage, 14 David Jackson, 13 Tim Streather, 12 Joe Munro, 11 Rhys Crane, 10 James Arlidge (Rory Lynn 72), 9 Sean Romans (Finlay Barnham 72), 1 Michael Holford, 2 Joe Duffey (Jimmy Stevens 72), 3 Ryan Bower (Jonny Harris 69), 4 Dan Montagu (Joe Quinn 69), 5 Nic Rouse, 6 Rupert Cooper, 7 Brent Wilson, 8 Alex Shaw (Tom Calladine 65).
Replacements: 16 Jimmy Stevens, 17 Jonny Harris, 18 Matt Shields, 19 Joe Quinn, 20 Tom Calladine, 21 Finlay Barnham, 22 Rory Lynn.