Rotherham Titans 20 Llanelli 15: Titans in the right position to make progress

Rotherham Titans’ encouraging form in the Championship – which has put them in second place – has given Lee Blackett’s side the momentum to perform successfully in the British and Irish Cup.

Titans Ben Sowrey in the thick of the action
Titans Ben Sowrey in the thick of the action

This narrow win, their third in four matches in Pool 3, has increased Rotherham’s chances of reaching the quarter finals, and with two games remaining next month against Connacht and Bedford, Rotherham can be optimistic of making it through to the knock-out stage for the first time.

In a highly competitive contest at Clifton Lane against a strong Llanelli team which had been strengthened significantly following the Titans’ win in Wales last weekend, tries by prop Colin Quigley and winger Curtis Wilson set up the narrow victory.

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Lloyd Hayes, normally a centre but appearing at fly-half in the absence of the injured Dallan Murphy and Garry Law, also made an important contribution, kicking two conversions and two penalties.

Rotherham did not produce regularly the fluency which has been a feature of their play so far this season and they let slip a half-time lead of 13-3.

The Welsh Premiership team recovered strongly, so much so that three penalties in the second half on 42, 45 and 49 minutes by centre Steve Shingler slashed the Titans’ advantage to only one point, and with Rotherham struggling to make progress in the Llanelli 22, the 13-12 lead was too close for comfort.

However, totally against the run of play, Rotherham at last were able to make use of decent possession and, on 55 minutes, delivered a swift counter-attack which ruined the Llanelli defence.

A fine move by the backs created space for Wilson to show genuine pace and his try, coming just at the right time for the side, turned the game.

Rotherham now led 18-12 and with Hayes adding the conversion, the eight points’ lead was beginning to look healthy.

The Titans then played with much more vigour and confidence.

Their opponents, though, continued to make in-roads into Rotherham territory and threatened dangerously.

But Llanelli’s assaults were repelled by top-class defending; replacement forward Jack Preece stood out as his tackling and skills turned the ball over to prevent the Welsh converting their possession and promising attacks into match-winning points.

Nevertheless, Llanelli’s pressure was rewarded with a penalty on 76 minutes.

The kick by full-back Dion Jones cut Rotherham’s lead to only 
20-15 and with several minutes left, the outcome remained uncertain.

In the third minute of injury time, Llanelli were provided with a final chance to break through, but lost control of the ball to reprieve Rotherham whose win keeps them top of Pool 3, two points clear of fellow Championship club Bedford.

Indeed, the East Midlands club are the next visitors to Clifton Lane on Boxing Day in a Championship clash that is already the focus of attention as prop Quigley, Rotherham’s opening try scorer, explained:

“Given our league position, this is a massive match,” he said.

“Bedford got off to a bad start, but have turned the corner.

“They have quality in the side, but we must look at ourselves and not worry about Bedford.

“If we turn up right and finish our chances, we’ll be fine.

“But we have to be much more clinical. We are creating loads of scoring opportunities and maybe we are not finishing them off, so that’s what we must do.

“Since I have come back to Rotherham after spells at Moseley and London Scottish, I’ve noticed the good buzz here.

“It’s a pleasure to be around the club, we have a good squad and our defence has been excellent.

“Rotherham fight for each other and that’s a big thing.”

As Blackett begins his preparations for the Boxing Day game, he is confident that two major players, Australian fly-half Murphy and Argentinean centre Juan Pablo Socino, the Championship’s leading points’ scorer, will have recovered from injury and will be fit to play.

Two other influential players, forwards’ coach Ed Williamson and full-back Sean Scanlon, who have also been absent with injuries, are also making good progress and they, too, may be available.

Blackett is also keen to see Newcastle Falcons’ fly-half, Joel Hodgson, who has played twice impressively in the Championship for Rotherham against Bristol and Plymouth, return to Clifton Lane.

The Newcastle coach, Dean Richards, has been happy to send Hodgson out on loan, an arrangement which Rotherham would like to continue as they seek to consolidate their promising form in the Championship and the B and I Cup.

Rotherham Titans: Keating, Broadley, Gill, Roberts, Wilson, Hayes, White (Mulchrone 40), Hislop (Williams 67), Sowrey (Cruse 45),Quigley (Tampin 49), Maddison, Thomas, Rieder, Birch (Freeman 61), To’oala (Preece 50).

Llanelli: D Jones, Poole, I Evans, Shingler (Adams 55), K Evans,Lewis (Hughes 33), Davies (Lloyd 75), Hopkins (GThomas 75), Myhill (Harris 67), Pungea (Leung71), C Jones, Rawlins, Price (Leach 65), D Thomas, Price.

Referee: Lloyd Linton (SRFU).