New White Rose mantle sitting easy with Premiership chasers

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Leeds Carnegie showed on Saturday that there is substance to their name change.

The club that from the summer onwards will be known as Yorkshire Carnegie backed up that bold proclamation with a dominant display against the team closest to them, and most irked by the perceived pretension.

Leeds's Ryan Burrows against his former club. (Picture: Scott Merrylees SM1002/92)

Leeds's Ryan Burrows against his former club. (Picture: Scott Merrylees SM1002/92)

Leeds looked every bit the county’s leading club: powerful in the pack, ruthless with ball in hand and superior in fitness.

In front of the television cameras, they proved they are equipped to make life very uncomfortable for London Welsh and Bristol in the promotion play-offs.

Rotherham Titans, for all the joy and pride they have brought their supporters this season, may have finally found one too many brick walls through which to run.

Mid-table would have represented progress so the play-offs and the merest whiff of Premiership rugby is a marvellous achievement.

But the limitations in budget and stature have caught up with them.

This White Rose derby had to be taken away from their home at Clifton Lane, a ground on the tops of Rotherham that is worth a try or two for the home team no matter the opposition.

As well as the club did in making Abbeydale Stadium in affluent south Sheffield feel like ‘home’, it was always going to be a neutral venue.

They will have to find another ground, perhaps back at Abbeydale, for their play-off semi-final – likely to be against first-place Bristol – because under the terms of the Rotherham Athletic Club agreement, Clifton Lane is a cricket venue in the summer.

Their resources have also been stretched. A decimated pack was weakest at hooker with both Tom Cruse and Ben Sowery absent, meaning the summer signing of Jonny Matthews from National Two North side Sedgley Park had to be fast-tracked through on Thursday night.

Matthews fought hard but was never going to be up to speed. Contrast that with Leeds, who, with a return to the Premiership becoming ever more possible, have raided the England Sevens, Northampton and Bath in recent weeks to bolster their options.

One of those, Bath flanker David Sisi, was one of five frighteningly powerful ball carriers in the Leeds pack who bludgeoned the Titans in the first half.

Lock Mike Mysercough and No 8 Ryan Burrows in particular took three men to stop them each time they charged forward as the white shirts of Leeds swarmed over Rotherham in the early evening sunshine.

Such was their dominance, Leeds had won the game by the interval, Glyn Hughes kicking four penalties for repeated offences at the breakdown, before backs Fred Burdon and Christian Georgiou crossed the whitewash, the second try a slick move begun in their own half by hooker Joe Graham and fashioned by a break from Stevie McColl.

“We try to play fast like that every week and luckily it came off,” said Burrows, a former 
Titans favourite who has developed into one of the most robust flankers in the Championship at Leeds.

“The two tries we got before half-time blew Rotherham away.”

The Titans – who had turned in one of their best halves of attacking rugby in winning at Cornish Pirates the previous week – were rewarded for a brighter start to the second half engineered by replacement scrum-half Charlie Mulchrone with a try by their own bulldozing flanker Ali Birch.

But just as they got on top – Birch having a ‘try’ ruled out for Juan Socino’s forward pass – Leeds’ pack squeezed the life out of them.

Three tries were traded in the final 10 minutes, Rotherham’s Jamie Broadley scoring on either wing, the second a peach after a break by Sean Scanlon.

But they were kept at arms length by a rolling maul that drew a penalty try between the posts with Burrows at the heart of it.

“It was a good victory but just another on the road to the play-off semi-finals and final,” said Burrows.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got another tough game against Cornish Pirates on Friday and that now becomes the target.

“We take a lot into the play-offs, but it all depends on the final game on Friday. We take things in blocks of four and this is just the third week of that.”

The victory means that barring a defeat to Pirates, Leeds will meet London Welsh in the play-offs, which get underway on the weekend of March 10 and 11.

“It’s great that both Yorkshire clubs are there,” said Burrows, a sentiment echoed by the large crowd. “I spoke to Lee Blackett in pre-season and he was really coy about where he thought Rotherham would finish, but you just look at some of the lads they’ve got in there and rightfully so, they’re up there among the top four teams in this league.”

Rotherham Titans: Scanlon, Broadley, Roberts (Davies 70), Socino, Keating, Murphy (Law 40), White (Mulchrone 40); Hislop (Williams 40), Matthews (Morris 65), Quigley (Tampin 65), Thomas (To’oala 40), Holmes, Birch, Preece, Rieder.

Leeds Carnegie: McColl, Holmes, Vickerman, Burdon, Georgiou, Hughes (Bentley 69), Hampson; Beech (Imiolek 57), Graham (Nilsen 50), Tussac (Hooper 64), Beck (Green 71), Myerscough, Sisi (Walker 71), Rowan, Burrows. Unused replacement: Lozowski.

Referee: M Fox.