Andy Key gets locked out as desperate Rotherham Titans make coaching change

IT IS PERHAPS fitting, certainly in Rotherham Titans' case, that it is Christmas and the time of miracles and magic.

Rotherham Titans parted company with head coach Andy Key

They will undoubtedly need one or both if they are to avoid relegation from the Championship into the third tier for the first time since 1996.

In all honesty, however, it seems many at the beleaguered club are already resigned to that fate – and long before they officially parted company with head coach Andy Key on Saturday following this derby defeat to Doncaster Knights.

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After a disastrous run of 12 consecutive losses, the former Leeds Carnegie director of rugby became the third coach in succession to leave Clifton Lane without managing to see out a complete season, following on from Mark Jones and Justin Burnell.

Doncaster's Paul Jarvis breaks through the Rotherham ranks (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Nic Rouse – the forwards coach who arrived at Rotherham with Key in March – will take over and “look after team affairs moving forward” but you worry if the Titans really can ever start heading in the right direction this term.

The club’s board will hope a change of voice, at least, will cause some sort of positive reaction, even if it is only short-term, but surely that call should have been made far earlier than now?

In fact, it has been reported that Key had already been told last month his contract would be terminated – after the heartbreaking injury-time loss to London Scottish – yet, bizarrely, that Doncaster would be his last game at the helm.

It all must be rather difficult for Rouse to contend with as he starts preparing Rotherham – still without a league win this term – for Saturday’s trip to Hartpury who are next on the ladder in 11th but fully 19 points in front.

Doncaster's Paul Jarvis breaks through the Rotherham ranks (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Similarly, legendary former players like Simon Bunting – who played during both of Rotherham’s brief stints in the Premiership and was at Clifton Lane with other old boys on Saturday – must wonder how it has all come to such a sorry state of affairs.

Certainly, at the weekend, Titans looked capable of finally garnering that first league victory of the season, especially when they went into the break 16-14 ahead.

But it was an all-too familiar tale of errors, inaccuracies and ill-discipline in the second period as, slowly but surely, Doncaster picked away at their brittle confidence and eventually delivered the predictable defeat.

Rebuilding that confidence will be key if Rouse is going to turn things around but, like Jones before, he is tackling his first head coach appointment.

The former London Irish lock, who had Championship experience playing with Nottingham before joining Sale Sharks, is still just 36 and only retired from playing last year after a succession of injuries.

It is well-publicised that Rotherham have the lowest playing budget of all the sides in the Championship and he will have to simply work with what he has got.

Nevertheless, the squad has undoubted potential illustrated by the way in which they caused Doncaster no little problems in that first period.

Centre Drew Cheshire finished off a handsome handling passage in the 16th minute in response to a try from former Rotherham captain Will Owen.

Thereafter, Doncaster were sloppy when in possession, conceding a raft of penalties which saw Caolan Ryan duly capitalise.

The Titans fly-half kicked three to add to his earlier conversion and the visitors were thankful that Ben Hunter kept them in touching distance with a rolling maul try just before the break.

Simon Humberstone and Ryan swapped penalties at the start of the second period and Rotherham still led 19-17 heading into the 56th minute. However, Irish scrum-half Michael Heaney then got over for Doncaster after Owen had again caused problems in the home side’s midfield and Key’s side soon began to implode.

A series of needless mistakes ruined any chance of them finding a way back into the contest and Humberstone ruthlessly exploited them with three penalties in quick succession.

To rub salt into the wound, ex-Rotherham winger Curtis Wilson finished well in the final seconds to see Doncaster earn a try bonus point, Titans left broken once more.

It meant that 58-year-old Key had a record of just one win – a B&I Cup success against Connacht in October – from his 16 games in charge. The club subsequently made a statement around an hour after the final whistle.

It read: “Rotherham Rugby Club has today announced the departure of head coach Andy Key.

“The club would like to put on record its thanks to Andy for his commitment and hard work during his time at Clifton Lane and wish him all the best. Forwards coach, Nic Rouse, will look after team affairs moving forward.”

Rotherham Titans: Thomas; B Foley, Cheshire (Odogwa 63), Barker, Henry; Ryan, Davies; Toby Williams (Tom Williams 73), Murphy (Cole 63), Nixon (Palmer 70), Postlethwaite (Burns 74), Louw, Peters, Maddison, Calladine.

Doncaster Knights: Jarvis; Wilson, Clark (C Foley 80), Owen, Lewis; Humberstone (James 79), Heaney; List (Bergmanas 54), Hunter (Nelson 61), Quigley (Sproston 71), Challinor (Eames 61), Civetta, Ram, Hills, Shaw (Batt 80).

Referee: Tim Wigglesworth (RFU).