Any suggestions that the crisis caused by the resignation of coach Andre Bester would induce a collapse in morale and form of Rotherham’s players proved to be totally inaccurate as they triumphed in the South Yorkshire derby at Clifton Lane by five tries to three.
Doncaster, who drop to the bottom of the Championship following a sixth defeat in eight games combined with Jersey’s narrow win against Plymouth, were much more competitive than the outcome of a close battle indicated.
Considering that Rotherham’s preparations for the most important home game of the season took place against a chaotic background and a serious injury crisis, to go on and beat their closest rivals was an outstanding effort, particularly as they earned a maximum five points.
The club’s directors instantly praised the professionalism of the players and the leadership role in stressful circumstances provided by the senior players, notably Lee Blackett, Mike Whitehead and Garry Law.
As regards a successor to Bester, Rotherham’s directors Martin Jenkinson and Nick Cragg are hopeful of appointing a new coach before this Sunday’s league game at Cornish Pirates.
They are looking at several applications from coaches with pedigrees but the favourite seems to be Alex Codling, currently teaching in Croydon.
It remains to be seen whether the former London Welsh, London Scottish and Barking coach will leave his southern roots; however, he appears keen on the Titans job, and with his international and Premiership experience as a player, plus solid connections, Codling may well possess the qualities to build on Bester’s legacy.
The other major issue which has to be settled is the signing of three or four forwards to bring the squad up to strength.
Going in to the Doncaster match, Rotherham had only 22 fit players, so officials are trying hard to recruit and are understood to have been in contact with clubs in the Midlands who may be able to supply replacements.
Doncaster were the sharper side in the first half but could not make better use of their possession. Trailing only 13-8, they remained competitive and exploited Rotherham’s weaknesses at lineouts near their line.
Certainly, two of Doncaster’s three tries, two by flanker Jethro Rawling and one by winger Tyson Lewis, came from forward rushes towards Rotherham’s line following lineouts.
With the conversion of the second try, Doncaster were back in the contest and behind by only 18-15, but Rotherham’s improved second-half display, which produced four tries, turned the contest firmly in their direction. The Mulchrone brothers, scrum-half Charlie and full-back Fergus, both excelled and scored their first tries in the Championship.
A significant contribution was also made by right winger Peter Homan. Growing in confidence; Homan’s pace broke through twice on 54 and 72 minutes to stretch Rotherham’s lead to 31-15.
Another highlight was a long- distance penalty from 50 metres by Law whose expertise as a goal-kicker helped to undermine Doncaster’s ability to rub salt into Rotherham’s recent wounds. The Knights’ forceful pack deservedly scored a third try on 77 minutes when Rawling drove over again, but Rotherham finished the stronger as full-back Mulchrone completed an attack involving centre Palepoi Nonu and Law which increased the lead to 18 points on 80 minutes.
After the week’s disarray, Blackett, the Titans’ temporary head coach, was understandably delighted with the win, Rotherham’s fourth, which moved them up to fifth.
“It’s been a difficult week but the boys didn’t allow things to affect them. I am really proud of the team and I can’t respect them enough. We’ve had some horrific injuries and it was difficult to select a side and some of those who played weren’t fit.”
Doncaster, now preparing to confront Bedford at Castle Park on Friday evening, will regret turning the ball over too often and failing to make more productive use of their ball against a Rotherham side that defended effectively in midfield.
“We played quite well in patches but there were some passages in the game where we didn’t concentrate long enough,” explained coach Brett Davey.
“We made errors at key moments and the ball was ripped off us in contact too often.”
Given Doncaster’s weak league position, they will need to show much more urgency against Bedford, and with a competitive pack potentially they can overcome their present predicament.
Rotherham Titans: F Mulchrone, Homan, Blackett (Gill 40), Nonu, Doneghan (Styles 80), Law, C Mulchrone, Kilbane (Gadd 45), Stagg, Denman (Davies 45), Freeman, Sanderson, Ellyatt (Dacres 80), Rieder.
Doncaster Knights: Lennard, Flockhart, Mama, Tincknell (Simpson 73), Lewis, Luke, Hallam (Munro 73), Davies (Bermanas 73), Buckley (Sowrey 68), McGovern (Francis 55), Challinor, Parsons, Boyde (Hoy 55), Rawling, Planchant.
Referee: S Lee (RFU).