Ealing 45 Rotherham 12: Burnell is quick to build for brighter future

Rotherham Titans v Ealing. Try scorer Will Owen.
Rotherham Titans v Ealing. Try scorer Will Owen.
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With a huge sigh of relief, almost as audible as the planes from nearby Heathrow, Rotherham Titans waved goodbye to a stressful and painful season during which they came perilously close to being relegated.

Now the emphasis is very much on the future which will become clearer in the next few days as coach Justin Burnell announces more than 20 new signings for next season.

The scale of the rebuilding is far-reaching because it is expected that just six players from the present squad will be remaining at Clifton Lane: backs Will Owen, Joe Barker, Will Robinson and Will Goodwin, and forwards Toby Williams and Toby Salmon.

Burnell, whose tough approach and hard edge saved Rotherham from relegation, will have strengthened the pack substantially so that they will once again be seriously competitive and, at least, finish the league a year from now in mid-table.

This campaign ended with an embarrassing defeat and performance at Vallis Way against opponents who won by seven tries to two.

While both clubs were safe and completed the season two places above relegated Moseley, there can be no excuse for Rotherham’s half-hearted display which saw them lose their 14th league match.

The Titans, conceding three tries in the first half and then another four in the second, allowed Ealing to dominate.

They let down themselves, the coach and their loyal travelling supporters, who had the right to expect a fighting display and not one which gave the west London club an easy victory.

Indeed, Ealing, who will be coached next season by Alex Codling, briefly the Rotherham coach, have signed four Titans: winger Curtis Wilson, scrum-half Luke Carter and forwards Willie Ryan and Lewis Thiede.

The size of Codling’s budget for the 2016-17 campaign is £1.2m and highlights the challenge Burnell faced in attracting recruits to Clifton Lane.

Other Championship clubs also have far bigger sums to spend but the Welshman has assured supporters they will watch a squad that will deliver the much-needed improvement that he and they desire.

A poor return of eight wins and 38 points compared to South Yorkshire rivals Doncaster’s fine season – a place in the play-offs and finishing the Championship in second position on 79 points and 15 victories – illustrates clearly Rotherham’s decline during this season.

It is a slump that is surprising considering the achievements of the previous two years – consecutive top four places-under coach Lee Blackett.

However, despite the Ealing result and the weak season overall, two of the players who have signed new contracts for next season, are optimistic.

“From the sound of it, it looks as if we’ll have a strong outfit and we will be competitive,” said Owen.

“Although I was injured for four-and-a-half months, I’ve really loved it at Rotherham. I learned a lot from Mark Jones during his period as coach but when Justin Burnell came in he made things a lot simpler and cracked the whip. It’s worked.

“This result is not the way we wanted to end the season and Justin says we’ll learn from this. It was emotional before the kick-off because there were tears in the changing room from the boys who are leaving.”

Just as Owen regained his place in the side after serious injury, so did fellow centre Barker, who has already set out his goals for next season.

“My aim is to take Rotherham back to where they belong which is much higher up the Championship table. We have a lot of good players coming in and I will face competition for my starting spot.

“I am glad some of the boys are staying because we can continue the passion we have for the club. We’ve now got six weeks off before pre-season training starts and we’ll be raring to go.”

Having saved Rotherham from humiliation, Burnell’s next job is to restore their reputation.

Rotherham Titans: Jones, Keating, J Hayes, Owen, L Hayes, Robinson( Barker 6), Carter (White 59), Williams (Cromie 59), Harris (Edgson 47), Thide (Elliot 42), Sinclair (Redfern 40), Maddison, Argyle(Preece 51), Birch, Ryan.

Ealing Trailfinders: Daniels, Crane (Kinloch 60), Howley-Berridge, Munro, Love, Ward (Wheatcroft 65), Trotter, Davis (Kilbane 47), Walker (Lawrence 63), Penny (Redman 47), Spivey, Preocanin, Jones, Ellis, York (Orr 49).

Referee: F Kirby (RFU).