Rotherham Titans 22 Moseley 26: Home comforts slip from Titans’s grasp to leave Blackett frustrated

losing ground: Rotherham Titans's Michael Keating tries to make a break through the Moseley line but it was to prove a frustrating afternoon for the home side at Clifton Lane as the visitors came from behind to take victory back to the West Midlands. Pictrure: Scott Merrylees.
losing ground: Rotherham Titans's Michael Keating tries to make a break through the Moseley line but it was to prove a frustrating afternoon for the home side at Clifton Lane as the visitors came from behind to take victory back to the West Midlands. Pictrure: Scott Merrylees.
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The lights are fading on Rotherham’s top-four chances.

In the gathering gloom at Clifton Lane, the Titans came up against obdurate, streetwise opponents and a referee who showed no consistency in his decisions.

In the aftermath, a seething head coach Lee Blackett commendably refused to blame official Craig Maxwell-Keys for his second-half decision-making which saw three Titans players sent to the sin-bin and no penalty try awarded despite repeated infringements by Moseley as they desperately defended their line.

Instead, Blackett acknowledged that Rotherham’s indiscipline cost them, along with their failure to prevent Moseley’s rolling maul which earned the visitors three tries.

Most worryingly for Rotherham, teams appear to be working out how to beat them. They took opponents by surprise last season en route to a top-four finish that exceeded expectations.

And although they sit fifth this morning, four points adrift of the top four who at the end of the season contest the promotion play-offs for the right to play in the Premiership, they have never looked further away under Blackett from being a team capable of fighting for that honour.

To cast further shade onto the bigger picture, the fact that this game, and any fixture played in the depths of winter at Clifton Lane, nearly finished in darkness, begs further questions about their claims for progression.

Surely a fixture played at a ground with no floodlights could kick-off earlier than 2pm?

But a lack of light was not the reason for Blackett’s dark mood at full-time.

“Our discipline cost us and they scored three driving mauls against us,” said an angered Blackett. “We’ve got to have a long, hard look at ourselves.

“In the modern-day game every team is scoring from driving mauls. We’ve got to look at how to cut that out.

“There’s no point talking about the officials, it’s about how we played. We have got to look at how we were in a comfortable position and ended up losing.

“A lot of credit goes to Moseley. We’re just frustrated with that first 15 minutes of the second half.”

Those 15 minutes were where the game turned with three Titans players in the sin-bin.

Curtis Wilson was yellow-carded for tackling the receiver early before Tom Holmes followed for repeated infringements and Marshall Gadd for a high tackle were sent to the sidelines.

All three looked on as Moseley hooker Adam Caves scored from the back of a maul.

The home faithful, enraged at the harsh penalising of their own players, were left further bemused when referee Maxwell-Keys refused to award a late penalty try despite persistent scrum infringements by the Moseley pack inside their own five-metre line.

Given Maxwell-Keys had earlier awarded a penalty try to the hosts for fewer penalties, Titans fans had a point.

That was Rotherham’s second try after just 12 minutes, by which stage the Titans looked well set for a comfortable victory.

The way Lloyd Hayes brushed off two powder-puff tackles with the merest extension of an arm en route to the whitewash, and the manner in which the pack forced that penalty try, suggested a comfortable stroll in the Boxing Day chill.

A brace of conversions by James McKinney gave them a 14-0 lead, but it was an advantage Blackett’s boys did not build on.

Moseley pulled a score back with a maul in the corner which resulted in a try for prop Stefan Thorp.

Then shortly before the break, after forcing the indisciplined Titans into repeated infringements, Moseley’s ambition in kicking to touch was rewarded with an almost carbon copy try in the corner; Chris Brightwell the man emerging with the ball from the bottom of the pile.

Sam Olver converted both from the touchline, and although McKinney kicked a long-range penalty on the cusp of half-time to give Rotherham a three-point interval advantage, Moseley had made their presence felt.

And they achieved what Rotherham failed to in the first half by building on that with the first score of the second half as three players watched from the sin-bin. An ill-tempered second half erupted into a brawl when Rotherham hooker Tom Cruse and Moseley prop Craig Voisey were sent off for their involvement in a fracas.

Rotherham were reeling like a beaten boxer, and conceded a fourth try – again down their left flank – through Brightwell.

They needed dragging off the canvas, and their backs rose to the task. First Wilson cut a line into the 22 and when the ball was sent from right to left, full-back Sean Scanlon darted over.

Tom Barrett struck the upright with his conversion and with a try needed, they were forced to push for the line, only to be held up the Moseley pack and the referee’s whistle.

Rotherham Titans: Scanlon, Keating, Hayes, J Davies, Wilson, McKinney (Barrett 68), A Davies (White 78); Hislop (Gadd 49), Cruse, Tampin (Thiede 49), Holmes, Maddison (Parker 69), Argyle (Rieder 53), Birch, Ryan (Preece 64).

Moseley: Penn (Day 80), Armstrong (Carter 80), Owen, King, Cheshire, Olver, Brown (Thomas 79); Thorp, Caves (Marshall 80), Voisey, Dacres (Powell 69), Charlton, Mason (Gardiner 64), Siggery (Skelcy 71), Brightwell.

Referee: C Maxwell-Keys (RFU).