Rotherham (20) v Bristol (32): Shortlist ready as Blackett plots final hurrah

FINAL ACT: Rotherham coach Lee Blackett will join Wasps next season, but hopes to extend his stay in South Yorkshire by beating Bristol tomorrow in the Championship play-off semi-finals. Picture: Scott Merrylees

FINAL ACT: Rotherham coach Lee Blackett will join Wasps next season, but hopes to extend his stay in South Yorkshire by beating Bristol tomorrow in the Championship play-off semi-finals. Picture: Scott Merrylees

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IT is hoped the real work of appointing a successor will be delayed a little longer but, if it is not, Rotherham Titans know they have 10 “high-calibre” potential candidates to replace departing head coach Lee Blackett.

He will bid to make sure his tenure continues until nearer the end of the month by inspiring a shock tomorrow lunchtime and seeing his side overturn a 12-point deficit to defeat promotion favourites Bristol in their finely-balanced Championship semi-final second-leg.

But if Blackett – who joins Wasps as backs coach for 2015-16 – cannot mastermind one last hurrah in Rotherham colours at Abbeydale, then the South Yorkshire club are well-placed to ensure the young man’s work is smoothly continued.

Talking to The Yorkshire Post last night, Titans chairman Nick Cragg said: “I’m having a meeting right now with (director of rugby) Martin Jenkinson and Lee is about to join us to assist us in going through the 10 CVs we have.

“We always said we wouldn’t do anything until after the last game but we have decided to just have a little look.

“There are some high-calibre candidates from Australia, New Zealand and all over the game.

“I think I’d prefer someone in the same mould as Lee – up-and-coming rather than someone who has been there, done it all and is maybe on his way down.

“We’ll have someone in place for the start of pre-season but first we are very excited by the prospect of Sunday.”

Rotherham, who finished in fourth fully 42 points behind leaders Bristol, are admittedly in an invidious position given the experience, class and quality of the opponents who arrive in Sheffield tomorrow.

Overcoming a dozen points will not be easy against Andy Robinson’s big-spending side who are desperate to return to the Premiership following some spectacular fails in recent seasons.

But Cragg insists all the pressure is on Bristol and added: “I have it on good authority – senior people in the Bristol club – that they simply do not like playing Rotherham.

“We are different to other sides. And the way we play doesn’t suit how they want to.

“We’ve not won recently against them but the scorelines have often been very, very close.

“We are looking forward to it very much.

“We’d sooner not be 12 points down but you don’t know with sport do you? If we score first and it’s a converted try then it’s a five point game.”

Rotherham will curse themselves, though, if they do not spring a surprise and reach a maiden play-offs final.

They led last week’s first leg by nine points going into the final quarter and having missed another 12 points with failed attempts at goal.

Blackett, the 32-year-old who guided Rotherham to this stage in his debut campaign in charge last season, admitted: “It was disappointing because we got ourselves into a real good position.

“After the first 60 minutes I couldn’t see us losing; we were nine points up, things were going our way and I thought we’d go on to close the game out.

“However, you have to give Bristol a lot of credit for the way they turned the game around and how they performed during the last 20 minutes.

“Going into the game on Sunday we need to focus on how we played in that first hour and the positives from that period and aim to replicate that.

“If we can do that again and be nine points ahead going into the last 20, then it becomes a massive ball game. Bristol finished the season top of the league and that proves they are undoubtedly the best team in the division.

“But we all know, because we’ve seen it so many times in the past, the best team does not always get promoted.”

He makes only one change to his squad and that is on the bench where Leicester Tigers duel-registered Jack Roberts comes in for Curtis Wilson.

For the visitors, it is no shock that Nicky Robinson starts at fly-half having made such an impact off the bench in the first leg. Also, Marco Mama comes into the back-row in place of Mitch Eadie who has a shoulder injury.

Cragg, meanwhile, says Titans are “no further on” with the tricky situation at traditional home Clifton Lane and knowing whether to stay there in 2015-16 under a new, difficult lease.

As expected, Worcester secured their place in the Championship final last night with a 38-15 win over London Scottish, handing the home side an aggregate victory of 60-42.

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