Watched approvingly by Sir Ian McGeechan, the club chairman and the former British Lions’ coach, Yorkshire Carnegie’s confident start to the season gathered momentum at Clifton Lane where they overcame a combative Rotherham side in an entertaining derby.
Carnegie, who have won five consecutive matches, should reach the promotion play-offs and although the new league campaign is still in its infancy, to be in second place in the Championship and only one point behind London Irish, the favourites, indicates progress.
Directed intelligently by fly-half Joe Ford, who produced a match-winning performance of 17 points – four conversions, two penalties and a drop goal – Carnegie’s strong second-half display settled matters as they scored four tries.
Rotherham, badly understrength because of a long injury list, competed far more effectively than had been predicted, and while they scored three tries, they lacked the force to create decisive scoring opportunities deep in the Carnegie 22.
Instead, their opponents’ powerful pack, moved forward by Ford’s clever tactical kicking, set up tries on 44, 50, 68 and 75 minutes.
Rotherham, who have fallen to ninth, enjoyed a decent first-half and led 7-6 at the interval following solid work by the forwards laying on a try for centre Joe Barker. If fly-half Will Robinson had not missed a kickable penalty, the Titans would have strengthened their position.
However, this promise quickly disintegrated. A try by full-back Stevie McColl and the first of two for prop Rob O’Donnell, against his old club, provided Carnegie with a lead of 23-7 just 10 minutes into the second period.
Rotherham never fully recovered from these blows, but did upset Carnegie’s authority in the 55th minute when they lost control of the ball allowing 18-year-old replacement flanker James Sanderson, on his Championship debut, to dash 40 metres to the line to score a thrilling try.
The Leeds University student, who is from Wath and who has been playing Sevens for Rotherham, grabbed his opportunity instantly and maturely. His converted try cut the deficit to 23-14.
Titans then spoiled their chances by not being able to threaten Carnegie’s weak points.
The visitors’ forwards established a promising position near Rotherham’s line which resulted in centre Alex Gray, a former England Sevens player, touching down, and with Ford adding his third conversion, they led 30-14.
Two minutes later, Titans responded with the try of the game. From a line-out, Robinson fed Welsh winger Will Thomas, whose pace down the middle sliced through the defence.
Thomas timed his pass perfectly to full-back Will Goodwin, who broke a touchline tackle to score in the corner.
The conversion by Robinson made it 30-21 with 10 minutes remaining and Rotherham had a chance to avoid a successive home defeat. The Headingley side, though, continued to manage events sensibly, and from another productive line-out, the pack again drove over O’Donnell and with Ford kicking his fourth conversion, a fifth successive league win was guaranteed.
“I’m delighted and I thought our set-piece and game-management were the difference. Ford had a great game,” said Carnegie coach Bryan Redpath. “We know we need to be better to compete with London Irish and next up is a nine-hour journey to Cornish Pirates who are going well.”
Rotherham’s next game is at Bedford on Friday evening where’ coach Justin Burnell will again be forced to put out a weakened team. “Against Carnegie we did much that was right in the first-half but let ourselves down in the second by making too many mistakes. It’s very frustrating.”
Rotherham Titans: Goodwin, Hayes, Owen, Barker (Foley 67) Thomas, Robinson, Dudman, Williams, Graham (Maddison 56), Herriott (Rees 60), Salmon, Hicks, Grange, Oliver (Sanderson 48) MacDonald.
Yorkshire Carnegie: McColl, Holmes, Gray, Lucock (Seals 65), Stegman, Ford, Davies (Green 65), Boyce, Nilsen(Graham 67), O’Donnell (Imiolek 78), Scofield (Whetton 65), Smith, Beck, Saull, Burrows.
Referee: S Lee (RFU).