Doncaster kept alive their ambition of reaching the semi-finals of the promotion play-offs, and by earning a winning bonus point they made up for their failure to leave Cornish Pirates without anything positive in the previous match.
Provided they can be persuaded to realise it is self-defeating to commit rugby’s equivalent of suicide, if Doncaster can beat Bedford at Castle Park this Saturday, a future place in the semi-finals may be the reward.
However, any further success cannot be guaranteed if match-winning positions are so carelessly thrown away as was the case against Rotherham.
The Titans have lost both their opening games in the play-offs, having conceded almost 100 points and 14 tries.
Any progress in the competition seems hard to predict, but Rotherham’s much-improved performance in the second half at Castle Park, which they won 21-10, should provide encouragement.
Unfortunately, before their thrilling recovery which produced tries on 41, 48 and 70 minutes from second-row Louis McGowan, fly-half half Juan Pablo Socino and No 8 Ryan Burrows, Rotherham had been so weak and uncompetitive that Doncaster easily and quickly built a commanding lead of 31-0 in little more than 30 minutes.
The tone was set by winger Matt Williams, scoring in the first minute, and then his effort was rapidly followed by others as Rotherham’s so-called defence was smashed on four more occasions. They were fortunate that Doncaster did not inflict even more punishment.
Inaccurate passes in try-scoring opportunities reprieved Rotherham, who, nevertheless, were sinking fast. The award of a penalty try and then scores by forward Matt Challinor, centre Andy Wright and hooker Steve Lawrie showed how ruthless Doncaster can be when their forwards dominate possession and territory.
By contrast, Rotherham were facing another heavy defeat, but towards the end of the first half blitz, their forwards capitalised on a promising position deep in Doncaster’s 22.
A glimpse of the extraordinary fightback to come was provided by flanker Sean Dougall, whose try cut Doncaster’s lead to 31-5.From then on, Rotherham, astonishingly so considering their earlier mediocre display, improved beyond recognition.
Doncaster, almost fatally, switched off. Concentration disappeared, urgency evaporated as did possession and their complacency allowed Rotherham to take charge to the extent that with 10 minutes remaining, the Titans, behind by only 34-26, were, unbelievably and potentially, in a match-winning position.
Fluency, aggression and decent ball, and a promising debut by former Leeds Rhinos forward Simon Worrall, put Rotherham in control.
Although they continued to dictate, Rotherham’s defence and pack could not prevent a rare Doncaster attack setting up a sixth try on 77 minutes.
Centre Wright used his strength to drive over for his second, and with Stephen McColl adding his side’s fourth conversion, a lead of 41-26 was defended effectively deep into stoppage time.
However, Rotherham’s forwards, not least Burrows, who will be joining Leeds Carnegie, sustained their commitment, but could not convert late pressure into another try.
Bearing in mind that Rotherham could not have possibly imagined any reward at all at the interval, the fact that they earned a bonus point by scoring four tries was not only surprising but commendable, too.
“We were a shambles in the first half, and Doncaster were strong, and then in the second, they were a shambles and we were strong,” said Rotherham captain and scrum-half Matt Rhodes.
“It goes to show how important first phase ball is and having fire in your belly. In the second half, we we had some spark, we got on the front foot and Doncaster were shocked.
“We were going forward and when you win scrums and line-outs, you score points. We scored three tries, the like of which we haven’t scored throughout the season,” added Rhodes.
After surving Rotherham’s recovery, Doncaster’s director of rugby, Lynn Howells, expressed his relief but warned: “We went 30 points up. The good sides take it to another level. We sat back and paid a price.
“We’ve got a side of young players who like to play expansive rugby. The next stage for these youngsters is to learn how to see a game off. We certainly didn’t do that against Rotherham.”
Doncaster Knights: McColl, Flockhart, Goss, Wright, Williams, Roberts (Briers 64), Jones (Hampson 80), Frazier (Lewis 54), Lawrie (Boden 67), Cusack, Challinor, Kenworthy (Craig 79), Makaafi (Rowan 78), Cochrane, Jackson.
Rotherham Titans: Hodgson, Hampsey, Hepworth (Bedford 57), Godfrey (McMahon 1), Swatkins, Socino, Rhodes, Harris, McGregor (Loney 33), George (Aikman 33), McGowan, Smidt (Worrall 57), Baines, Dougall, Burrows.
Referee: M Tutty.