Leaders Rotherham happy as underdogs

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WHEN the dogmatic Stuart Barnes is waxing lyrical about your club, you really know you have arrived.

Rotherham Titans featured in a seven-minute segment on celebrated Sky Sports magazine programme The Rugby Club earlier this week, with the ex-England 
No 10-turned-pundit showing his appreciation of the surprise Championship leaders.

They have not always attracted much attention from the game’s more traditional hierarchy but Rotherham are certainly making people sit up and take notice now.

Undoubtedly, they are the story of this Championship season so far given Lee Blackett’s unfancied side – always expected to fall away after an early charge – sit in top spot with the campaign now into February.

The acid test will come tomorrow, though, when they visit long-time leaders London Welsh, last season’s relegated side who still remain favourites to go straight back up into the Premiership.

Rotherham know a remarkable 11th successive win (their last defeat was at Bristol on November 17) would put further distance between them and their hosts who trail by just three points.

However, the South Yorkshire club have yet to defeat any of their prime rivals in Welsh, Leeds Carnegie and Bristol.

“We are actually relishing the prospect of going down there as massive underdogs,” said Blackett.

“We need to try and show we are top-four material, but if you look at the top four currently we have lost against the other three sides this season.

“So, the challenge is now to try and get a win against one of the big boys in the division.”

He refuses, though, to be caught up in any hype about the trip to Oxford being pivotal.

“People have said this game is the biggest one we’ve had in years; I don’t see it like that,” said the young coach who has had such a vibrant effect on the club in his first season in charge.

“Obviously we want to go down there and try and get the win, but it’s not a do-or-die situation.

“However, if we have ambitions to try and make the top four, then we need to have the ambition to go there and try and get a result.

“I think it hurt us the last time we played them as we were in control for 65 minutes and then one loose pass and an intercept changed the game in one moment.”

Rotherham lost 32-27 in October, one of only three Championship defeats all season.

Blackett has made changes to the side that fought out a 16-6 victory over Moseley last week, a success that, importantly, showed the most prolific team in the Championship can win not just flamboyantly but in a gritty style too.

Jamie Broadley returns on the wing and Dan White gets the nod at scrum-half while, up front, Ben Sowrey gets another chance to impress at hooker, Colin Quigley is in at tighthead prop and there is a whole new back-row with Alex Rieder, Ali Birch and Alfie To’oala all coming in.