Play-off profile: Rotherham Titans
Whether they win promotion or not, Titans fans will look back on this season as the club's best in over a decade.
Without decrying the achievements of the 2006/07 side, who came within a whisker of beating arch rivals Leeds to the old National One title on the back of a big pack and the boot of Gareth Steenson, the current crop of players, fashioned expertly together as a team in the truest sense of the word by rookie head coach Lee Blackett, has breathed new life into Clifton Lane with its adventurous approach and never-say-die attitude.
For the first time since the play-offs began the Titans comfortably achieved a top four finish and also reached the knockout stages of the British & Irish Cup, the on-field success – and new-found togetherness off it - bringing about a 24% upturn in attendances.
Abbeydale Park plays host to the West Country side who hold a three-point lead after winning the first leg at the Memorial Stadium, 17-14. Sheffield RUFC's ground may be very similar in size, the difference in width being a mere six inches, but in terms of matchday atmosphere it is hard to beat Clifton Lane's infamous Shed.
Nevertheless, the Titans supporters will no doubt turn out in force to cheer on 'Blackett's Boys' to what they hope will be a famous victory against Bristol. Again they will have to break new ground to do so, having failed to topple a fellow top four side this season, but the underdog tag sits well with folk at Rotherham.
Commenting on the 3-point loss to Bristol Rugby in the 1st play-off leg, head coach Lee Blackett said:
"We are satisfied with the 3-points; that's a penalty difference. We felt we created a couple more opportunities but it was our discipline that let us down.
"Overall we're satisfied. You don't go through to the Final of a two legged affair on just one game. We've given ourselves a chance."
All season Rotherham have excelled thanks to excellent work by head of strength and conditioning Josh Fletcher, whose has helped keep the Titans up to pace with their rivals and, as their strong second half showings have demonstrated, fitness has never been an issue.
Particular highlights of the Titans' most successful 12-team Championship season were victories away from home, of which there were nine. No Titans fan will forget in a hurry Rotherham's first ever away victory (24-23) over close league rivals London Scottish on a Friday evening in late October, while rare away successes over Plymouth Albion, Nottingham Rugby and Cornish Pirates must also be marked down as crucial results in enabling the Titans to qualify for the play-offs.
Performances at Clifton Lane were equally as impressive and memorable. The 79-9 win over new boys Ealing Trailfinders was a fantastic start to the home campaign, with Titans running in 10 tries. The busy Boxing Day fixture against Bedford Blues saw a truly remarkable second half effort as the home side ran in 26 unanswered points. Likewise, the home fixture against Cornish Pirates saw Titans trail 24-3 inside the first half hour. Yet again however, another spirited comeback saw Rotherham ultimately prevail 35-30 in a tense, entertaining encounter.
"It's been a good year, but let's make it a special year that the Rotherham fans will remember for a very long time. Let them remember the players who are leaving who have contributed enormously, players like Charlie Mulchrone, Dan Sanderson, Ben Sowrey, Juan Pablo Socino and Laurence Pearce" commented Blackett.
The Worcester-bound scrum-half has been outstanding in his two seasons at the Titans. Mulchrone's desire to tap-and-go at every opportunity is typical of the way coach Blackett wants the game played – at tempo.
Juan Pablo Socino
'The Buenos Aires Bull' may be diminutive in stature but the centre has stood head and shoulders above his peers in the goal-kicking department with over 300 points. His ability to burst through a gap contributes greatly to Roth's ability to get behind the defensive line. Rotherham's loss will be Newcastle's gain next season.
Greene King IPA Championship play-offs, 2nd leg
Saturday May 17: Rotherham Titans v Bristol Rugby, KO 1805
Sunday May 18: London Welsh v Leeds Carnegie, KO 1245