Rotherham Titans v Ealing: Pressure-free fixture gives Burnell chance to assess Titans

Will Owen is back for Rotherham today after four months out.
Will Owen is back for Rotherham today after four months out.
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A month ago, when Rotherham Titans were told they would have to play this dead rubber of a fixture in the middle of February, it would doubtless have been the last thing they wanted.

For a start, both themselves and Ealing Trailfinders had already been eliminated from the competition, and the rearranging of this postponed game would have absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the British and Irish Cup.

Now, however, a fixture shoe-horned into the schedule merely to fulfil the competition’s criteria, has all the makings of a bonus game for Rotherham, offering the ailing club the chance to transform their fortunes in a pressure-free environment.

That is because it is the first game of a new era, one they hope lasts into next season and beyond.

For the club that finished fourth the last two seasons in the Championship has been in free-fall this term, losing 10 games straight – seven in the league – and plunging to within seven points of the one and only relegation spot.

On Monday, the board took the decision to try and break that fall. Mark Jones, the novice head coach was sacked, and within 24 hours Justin Burnell, the seasoned former London Welsh and Cardiff Blues chief, was parachuted in.

His task is simple: claim enough points in the final six league games of the season to ensure Rotherham preserve their Championship status and avoid the ignominy of dropping into part-time rugby. And today’s game with Ealing, who sit one place below them in the league, is the perfect opportunity for Burnell to assess the strength of his squad; both physically and mentally.

“The good thing for me is you can see the enthusiasm and the hunger for the next win is there and that’s a massive positive,” said Burnell, who has made six changes, including bringing back Will Owen at centre.

“I’ve already seen they are a good side; the results unfortunately haven’t been there of late, the whys and what fors I can’t answer, but there’s definitely enough ability here to be winning games.

“For me it’s a clean slate across the board; the boys who haven’t played or who were perhaps down the pecking order have got an ideal opportunity to put their hands up and that’s what I’ve told them and you can certainly see that in training.

“Having looked at us, I think we’ve got to get our decision-making better. Our ball retention also needs to improve; the boys tend to get a little bit excited the closer they get to the line.

“That’s really the crucial part where you have to be 100 per cent sure when you’re moving the ball around.

“It’s ideal that we’re at home this week; Clifton Lane has always had the reputation of being a fortress. I know when I came here when I was at London Welsh this was a venue we didn’t look forward to coming to.”