Rotherham Titans 20 Doncaster Knights 42: Knights aiming to repel Pirates after derby hat-trick over Titans

DONCASTER’S third success in a South Yorkshire Championship derby this season has put them in a strong position to gain a place in the semi-finals of the promotion play-offs.

Doncaster’s third success in a South Yorkshire Championship derby this season has put them in a strong position to gain a place in the semi-finals of the promotion play-offs.

The Knights’ comfortable win by six tries to three at Clifton Lane in what was a more competitive match than the final score suggests, served as solid preparation for Saturday’s encounter against Cornish Pirates at Castle Park where a Doncaster victory could take them through to the last four.

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If Doncaster are to achieve such a distinction, it will be at the expense of Bedford, who play Rotherham at Goldington Road on the same day.

On current form, it would be unlikely that the Titans, who lost their fifth consecutive game in the play-offs, will be strong enough to prevent Bedford winning and claiming a bonus point.

Rotherham’s campaign since the play-offs began has been memorable for the wrong reasons: heavy defeats during which 32 tries have been conceded; the intended departure of significant players, such as Joe Bedford and Juan Pablo Socino, and internal discontent which should be swept away once the new signings, at least 20, have been made by coach Andre Bester.

He has already strengthened the pack for next season, but as with other areas of his squad, such as the need for a new scrum-half, goal-kicker and centres, Bester’s recruitment is continuing.

As he watched Doncaster recover strongly from an indifferent first-half effort which Rotherham dominated to lead 15-14 following tries by hooker Dan Baines and lock Louis McGowan, Bester may be wondering if he made the right decision earlier in the season to dispatch McGowan on loan to Sedgley Park.

Since his return from exile to appear in the British and Irish Cup and now the play-offs, McGowan has been in outstanding form, scoring five tries in the last five games, enabling Rotherham to raise their standards.

His second try on 60 minutes cut Doncaster’s lead to 35-20, but Rotherham’s weak opening to the second period turned the contest.

Tries on 43 and 46 minutes by Doncaster forwards Steve Boden and Ed Jackson, assisted by poor organisation in the Titans defence, established firm control, strengthened later during thrilling counter-attacks which were completed by winger Douglas Flockhart and full-back Steve McColl.

With fly-half Tristan Roberts continuing his accurate goal-kicking, all six tries were converted, Doncaster’s enterprise and more skilful use of possession ensuring they left with a maximum of five points.

Earlier, two howlers by Rotherham winger Jonny Hampsey, who twice dropped high balls in defence, set up consecutive tries for Doncaster centre Oli Goss on 10 and 28 minutes.

An impressive performer, Goss, 23, said beating Rotherham had increased the team’s self-belief as they prepared for Saturday’s challenge against the Pirates.

“These are good times for the club and we are extremely confident. A lot of people have talked us down and, as a side, we weren’t given a chance in the play-offs, but that has built resilience in the squad,” said Goss.

“We’ve already had two close games against the Pirates which we were unlucky to lose.

“At half-time here, we were given a talking to after we stuttered in the first half. That fired us up and we then played to our strengths and found the holes.”

A defeat in Rotherham’s last home match of the season, particularly in a derby, was a sad way for scrum-half Bedford, a former captain, to end his career at Clifton Lane.

His next challenge, at Newport Gwent Dragons, is to prove that he is good enough to be picked as his new club’s first-choice scrum-half in the Magners League.

Bedford starts pre-season training at Rodney Parade on June 20, but as he moves to South Wales, he has mixed feelings.

“Rotherham is close to my heart and I’m definitely sad to be leaving and it’s a shame that things have not worked out,” he said.

“We had a good first half, looked sharp and moved the ball. But by giving Doncaster the ball in good field positions, we made ourselves do a lot of defensive work in the second.

“It was disappointing but sometimes the bounce of the ball doesn’t go your way. We didn’t have anything to play for other than pride and it’ll be the same at Bedford.”

Rotherham Titans: M James, Hampsey (McMahon 61), Swatkins (Du Randt 66), S James, Rhodes, Hodgson, Bedford, Kilbane, Baines, O’Donnell, Harris, McGowan, Doneghan, Dougall,Burrows.

Doncaster Knights: McColl, Flockhart, Goss (Briers 75), Wright (Gates 75), Williams, Roberts, Hampson, Frazier, Boden (Corsar 74), Thiede, Parsons, Craig, Makaafi (Faviriaz 40), Cochrane (Lawrie 70), Jackson (Rowan 65).

Referee: S Lee.