Rotherham Titans 22 Yorkshire Carnegie 28: Carnegie rebuild reputation on the platform of McGee’s defence

The rejuvenation of Yorkshire Carnegie continues.

Rotherham's Curtis Wilson is tripped up as he attempts to race through against Carnegie.
Rotherham's Curtis Wilson is tripped up as he attempts to race through against Carnegie.

Four weeks ago they were on their knees, needing a try deep into stoppage time to salvage a draw against the worst team in the Championship.

Not even that could prevent an uncomfortable divorce from head coach Gary Mercer.

Two weeks prior, they had been nilled at home by Rotherham Titans as they continued digging themselves deeper into a hole.

Rotherham's Curtis Wilson is tripped up as he attempts to race through against Carnegie.

Morale was shattered, players’ voices were being heard over the coaches’, and attendances were falling.

Fast forward six weeks to the gathering gloom at Clifton Lane and the scene could not have been more different.

Everyone from captain Ryan Burrows to the chief tea masher assembled in the customary post-match huddle to beat chests and slap backs before they broke to the beat of Burrows’s command.

“One, two three...Yorkshire”.

Never has a club that has so divided opinion this season looked so unified.

The man trying to bring it all together is Tommy McGee, the stand-in head coach, who was asked by a board that is searching for new investment to steady the ship in the wake of Mercer’s departure by taking the controls for the three British and Irish Cup games.

The first two of those brought anticipated victories, but this win was by far the best – built on resolute defence and clinical finishing – and comfortably the sweetest.

“We’re delighted with the win,” said McGee, the former Leeds Tykes player who returned to the club two years ago as forwards coach.

“I asked for full-blooded commitment from the guys to show to people that we care about what we do and we’ve seen that in bucketloads.

“Even towards the end the players were still throwing themselves in to tackles. With that sort of approach and commitment we’ll be fine.”

The bigger picture for both is the Championship, no matter how desperate Rotherham were to secure a losing bonus point to clinch a home quarter-final in this competition, which they managed by scoring 17 unanswered points in the last 10 minutes. Carnegie head to Jersey on Saturday in the league before hosting Worcester the following week – fixtures McGee will be in charge of after being told before the short trip south that he has the job for the foreseeable future.

He said: “I’m pleased and I’m proud. I’ll just do the best I can and work really hard and honestly and get the boys playing the style we know they can play.”

Asked if an indefinite timeframe concerned him, McGee responded: “No, not at all. In life you take the opportunities you deserve and I’ll certainly work hard to make the most of this one and we’ll see what happens.

“If we can keep putting in performances like that things will take care of themselves.”

That performance was arguably their best of the season.

Against a Rotherham team that on its day can score tries at will, Carnegie absorbed everything the hosts could throw at them save for the final 10 minutes when the Titans chucked the kitchen sink in as well.

A breakaway try by Jonah Holmes and an opportunist lunge by scrum-half Chris Pilgrim, both converted by Harry Leonard, gave Carnegie a 14-0 interval lead that owed much to their stout defence.

McGee’s defensive lineout put the Titans’ pack on the back foot while the visitors were indebted to try-saving tackles by Charlie Beech on Michael Keating and Ryan Burrows on James Mitchell.

For all their territory, though, Rotherham should have scored.

Flanker Max Argyle finally penetrated the white shirts 10 minutes after the restart but further scores by replacement hooker Phil Nilsen and a second for Holmes after a sumptuous kick to the corner by Leonard decided the score.

Rotherham were still chasing a losing bonus point and Titans head coach Lee Blackett emptied his bench in pursuit of a home quarter-final. Tries by Mitchell and Willie Ryan and seven points from former Wharfedale fly-half Tom Barrett achieved that goal.

Blackett said: “If there are positives it’s the way we came back into the game and managed it with our kicking, combined with the impact of the replacements.

“Carnegie were excellent in defence for 70 minutes. They were very tough to break down, but we have to look at ourselves as to why we didn’t take the opportunities.”

Rotherham Titans: Scanlon, Keating, Gill, Davies, Wilson (Dowsett 68), MacKinney (Barrett 58), Mitchell; Gadd (Hislop 44), Preece (Matthews 68), Tampin (Thiede 54), Parker (Thomas 62), Maddison, Argyle (Ryan 54), Birch, Rieder.

Yorkshire Carnegie: Georgiou, McIlwaine (Peters 58), Goss, Lucock, Holmes, Leonard, Pilgrim (Dudman 68), Beech (Harris 55), Graham (Nilsen 11), Imiolek (Hill 62), Hannay (Casson 62), Smith, Walker (Ramshaw 79), Bainbridge, Burrows.

Referee: D Procter (RFU).