Rotherham Titans celebrated their first victory of a trying season with victory over Connacht A, much to the relief of the club’s coaching staff and fans.
“I’m delighted to get our first win of the season, but I’m more delighted for the boys,” said head coach Andy Key, after a 28-23 win over the Irishmen.
It was not a victory without its nervous moments, though, as would be customary for a team that has lost six straight games to open the Championship season.
Rotherham trailed 23-22 going into the final 10 minutes and required two nerveless kicks from Caolan Ryan to secure the four points.
Ryan’s accuracy from place-kicks was key to keeping Rotherham in touch as they slumped to a 23-10 half-time deficit by which stage all inside Clifton Lane must have been thinking ‘here we go again’.
Charlie Maddison’s score from the back of a maul, plus a conversion and a penalty was all they had to show for their efforts.
But they came out for the second half with greater urgency and began clawing their way back into the game, first through an unconverted try in the corner by Ben Foley and then via Tom Burns from the back of another determined maul.
Ryan’s conversion pulled them to within a point before Rotherham made the most of Connacht’s increased indiscipline to seal a much-needed win.
“We facilitate the process of actually putting them into positions and we help to make them better players, but at the end of the day they have to prove that to themselves and the main area to do that is on a match day.
“But I thought today our composure and the way we reacted to a poor first-half performance and to come back in the way we did was very good, especially in how we controlled the final 10 minutes.
“Tom Burns had a very good game, he set a good target and he showed a never-say-die attitude. His leg drive into contact to make sure we could get every yard possible was outstanding.
“I was also massively impressed with the two lads from Wasps who came in this week. Both Will Porter and Tom Willis showed there’s some great young talent out there.
“Will controlled things at the base and he kept the tempo high when we needed it to be and he got to the breakdown early and distributed the ball well. Then when Tom came on he only knows one direction and he set a good platform. So I was really pleased with those two boys.”
While Rotherham were celebrating, across South Yorkshire Doncaster Knights were left to lick their wounds as their Irish opponents, Leinster A, opened the British and Irish Cup with a 41-17 win at Castle Park.
Michael Hills’ 100th appearance for the club did not go to plan as two quick-fire tries saw Leinster open up a 20-0 lead from which Doncaster never recovered.
Direct running saw Aaron Carpenter feed Will Owen to race home for the Knights’ first score, converted by Declan Cusack.
When Charlie Foley returned a clearance kick with interest, feeding Tyson Lewis to romp home on the wing, there was a flicker of hope for Clive Griffiths’ side, but after the conversion was missed and the opportunity to pull to within a score squandered, Doncaster never got close again.
Leinster raced through the gears with three more converted scores before defiant Doncaster at least had the last say, with some slick passing creating a score for Hills to at least have some consolation from his landmark game.