Rotherham Titans 17 Bristol 36: Titans set for crucial showdown as they bid to survive
They were never likely to emerge from their increasingly worrying rut when facing Championship leaders Bristol on Saturday, although after scoring back-to-back tries in the first half to trail just 14-10, they could at least dare to dream.
For all their obvious competitiveness, however, too many errors then ensured they went on to suffer a ninth successive loss and attention quickly started turning towards the critical trip to Moseley this weekend.
Rotherham – without a league win since November 8 – are just seven points above their opponents, who sit bottom in the solitary relegation berth, Ealing Trailfinders having secured two points when drawing 17-17 with Doncaster Knights to edge one point above Moseley in the three-way battle.
Theoretically, London Welsh –despite being in the Premiership only last season – could still get dragged into all the nervousness being only nine points clear of the foot of the table but for that to occur there would need to be a spectacular set of results.
Rotherham centre Jordan Davies is solely concerned about his own side and, having played in the top-four play-offs for the last two seasons, knows how serious their current predicament is following this alarming slide.
“We’ve got Moseley Saturday and there’s no denying what situation we are in now,” he said, especially as their next opponents will be cheered, having beaten Titans home and away in the British & Irish Cup before Christmas.
“The reality is it’s a relegation battle. We know it’s the reality. We go into Moseley next week knowing it’s a cup final for us.
“It is a relegation battle and we have got to go with everything we have to win.
“We must go into every game with that type of mentality.
“We need to get every point we can can now and to not get a bonus point out of that match against Bristol was heart-breaking. We had the ball for three or four minutes at the end and one simple mistake meant it was over.”
Davies had scored Rotherham’s third try in the 70th minute following a fine break from Ross Jones, who also kicked the conversion, but despite their constant pressure they could not find a fourth.
Earlier, they had shown courage to avoid being destroyed by the big-spending visitors, who are so intent on finally returning to the Premiership.
Bristol, ignoring the wind and rain, had swept into a 14-0 lead inside just nine minutes with tries from former England winger Tom Varndell and Benjamin Mosses, Rotherham winger Jack Hayes yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle in the build-up to the latter.
Gavin Henson showed his kicking-prowess by slotting conversions from either touchline and the former Wales grand slam hero then slipped Mark Sorenson over, although that was pulled back for a forward pass.
Breathless Rotherham were relieved – they hardly had any ball in the opening 15 minutes – and used the let-off as a catalyst to kick-start their own game, scoring well-executed tries via Tom Calladine and Sean Scanlon.
At that point, Bristol looked out of sorts but they steadied to score through Jack Lam’s robust drive to lead 21-10 at the break and, crucially, scored first at the start of the second period as No8 Mitchell Eadie picked up the first of his brace.
Davies knows it was an opportunity lost. “We went in at half-time thinking this is not the best ground for Bristol to be playing at and we knew we could try match them up front in those conditions; the ball was never going to go past the 12,” said the former Yorkshire Carnegie player.
“But as the coach said, you can’t start a half by not catching the kick-off and that’s what we did. We came out saying we’d take that and bang them down in the corner as we struggled in the first half getting out of there into that wind so we knew how hard it’d be for them.
“But we just gifted them everything. We were positive at half-time thinking we could take the game over but our own mistakes let them in. We’re definitely confident of getting out of this, though.”
Rotherham Titans: Goodwin; J Hayes, L Hayes, Davies, Scanlon; Jones, Carter (White 51); Hislop (Williams 62), Harris (Maddison 68), Tampin (Thiede 54), Holmes, Oram (Sinclair 68), Argyle, Calladine, Ryan (Cree 68). Unused replacement: Gill.
Bristol: Wallace (Amesbury 40); Varndell, Tovey, Mosses, Lemi; Henson (Sheedy 79), Cliff (Roberts 62); O’Connell (Ford-Robinson 62), Jones (McMillan 62), Perenise (O’Connell 71), Glynn, Sorenson (Robinson 68), Koster, Lam, Eadie.
Referee: G McDonald.