Rotherham Titans 18 Exeter Chiefs 24: Titans' spirit surfaces to help secure bonus point

A SPIRITED second-half performance from rusty Rotherham Titans earned the struggling club an unlikely bonus point against promotion-chasing Exeter yesterday.

In the club's first game since the weekend before Christmas, Rotherham found themselves 24-3 down at half-time and facing a morale-sapping hammering.

However, they responded in typically defiant fashion to keep Exeter at bay in the second half and scored two tries of their own.

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Replacement Matt Farmer crashed over four minutes into stoppage time and Jonny West kicked the conversion that gave Rotherham what could prove a vital point in their quest to scramble out of the bottom four of the Championship.

If West had been more accurate earlier in the game – he missed three penalties and a conversion – Rotherham might even have been celebrating victory over a side who up until the start of December were unbeaten.

Rotherham also squandered a number of try-scoring chances in the second half through handling errors and their set-piece, but their late rally will restore belief that they can still climb into the top eight and challenge for promotion at the end of the season, rather than battle against relegation.

"It was all too little, too late," admitted hooker Ross Batty. "We're not good enough to take 65, 70 minutes before we get going.

"But we did well to stay in touch with Exeter, we were just a bit soft in the first half.

"That's why they're at the top of the table and we're down near the bottom.

"I don't think though that we're a bottom-four side.

"We have got the personnel to be in the top half and that's where we aspire to be."

Rotherham actually took the lead in balmy temperatures of five degrees which made a welcome change from the big freeze.

Volunteers who cleared the Clifton Lane pitch of snow on Thursday and Friday were rewarded by heavy rain which finished the job on Saturday and allowed the game to go ahead yesterday.

West kicked a penalty after missing one moments earlier as Rotherham appeared to make light of their recent inactivity.

However, Exeter took charge when Phil Dollman shook off a weak attempted tackle from PJ Gidlow and released Matt Jess to score.

Fly-half Gareth Steenson was Rotherham's top points scorer in his one season stay at Clifton Lane in 2006-07, and on his return with Exeter he proved just as accurate, converting all three of Exeter's tries and a penalty.

Jess turned try-saver moments later when, on a rare foray into the visiting 22, Ben Coulbeck fed Brad Hunt, but the winger forced him out of play.

Exeter sped away from Rotherham towards the end of the half as first Sean Marsden was forced over after sustained pressure and then Clive Stuart-Smith picked up from the base of a scrum and crossed easily.

Kevin Maggs was sin-binned for the Titans between the second and third scores but by the time he returned Rotherham were a different proposition.

They started the second half as they would have hoped to play the first, and spent much of the 40 minutes in Exeter territory.

Andrew Henderson could have scored after an opportune interception, and then Gidlow knocked on in a good position.

Maggs eventually crossed after a flowing move involving Neil Chivers, Sam Dickinson, Gidlow and Gregor Hayter.

And when Andy Miller was sin-binned for Exeter late on, Rotherham took advantage of the extra man to score through Farmer after determined running from Steve Swindall.

Batty, who joined from Newcastle last summer, had a hand in Farmer's try and said: "Rustiness probably had a bearing on us today. The snow has meant we've not been able to train outside. Indoor training is fine for conditioning, but you can't do any teamwork drills.

"Exeter are one of the best teams in the league and that second half shows we can compete with the top teams in this division.

"We should have had them today, and we aspire to be better than we are."

There is no rest for the Titans who will be back in action on Wednesday night (7.30).

Bottom-club Birmingham Solihull are the visitors in the first of three rearranged games following a month of postponements.

The second home game to fall foul of the weather, against Nottingham, has been rearranged for Tuesday, February 16.

The away trip to Bedford will now be played on Saturday, March 13, when the entire programme of Championship fixtures postponed on the weekend of January 9-11 will be staged.

Rotherham: Coulbeck (Farmer 64), Henderson, Maggs, Gidlow, Hunt, West, Chivers (Rhodes 70); Voisey (Kilbane 40), Conroy (Batty 54), Prescott (O'Donnell 70), Challinor (Hayter 40), Barnes (Swindall 60), Kleeberger, Du Plessis, Dickinson.

Exeter: Marsden, Jess, Dollman, Rennie (Sestaret 62), Foster, Steenson, Stuart-Smith (Thomas 49); Sturgess, Clark (Blythe 75), Budgen (Tui 47), Hayes, Hanks (Bentley 62), Slade, Miller, Baxter. Unused replacements: Gannon, Gray.

Referee: M Tutty.