Relaxed Titans feel playing with no fear will serve them well

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Having spent much of this remarkable season playing down their chances and their achievements, Rotherham Titans are finally ready to blow their own trumpet.

The Titans official website hails their Championship play-off semi-final first leg with Bristol as the club’s “biggest game for a decade”.

Juan Pablo Socino prepares for the conversion

Juan Pablo Socino prepares for the conversion

And even Lee Blackett, a first-year head coach who is young enough to still be playing, finally bought into the rhetoric when he proclaimed: “There’s no hiding from the fact – this is a massive game for the club.”

The sea change in attitude derives from the satisfaction that finishing in the top four and reaching the promotion play-offs has brought the perennial mid-table water-treaders.

This relaxed nature could be seen as contentment, but now they have got this far, Blackett wants his players to express themselves.

“The boys deserve their opportunity to show what they can do at this stage of the season,” said Blackett, 31, whose strong forward pack and explosive back division have racked up 725 points and 17 wins from the 23-game regular season.

“This is what we have worked for all season.

“We will try and play with no fear and have no regrets.

“We’ll go down there with no pressure on us whatsoever from the outside.”

There is pressure, though –privately – to continue defying the odds in this groundbreaking campaign.

“We put pressure on ourselves because we believe that on our day we are good enough to win this game,” said Blackett.

“We know it’s a two-legged affair, but we’ll not be thinking about that, we’ll be going there to try and win the game.

“The pressure that is on us is if we’re not at our best then this Bristol side is capable of embarrassing us.

“We know we’ll have to be at our best if we are going to compete with them, there’s no doubt about that. They are the best team in the division; the stats don’t lie and you only have to look at the league table to see that.

“It’s going to take a massive effort but we feel they are beatable.

“As such we are optimistic going into the game and that’s based on the number of opportunities we’ve created against them.

“We do however have to concentrate on our defence because we’ve conceded some simple tries to them this year.”

Rotherham lost every game against their top-four rivals this season, with all-but one of those defeats coming as a result of a slow start.

To ensure they are at the very least still in the tie for the return leg at Sheffield’s Abbeydale Stadium next Saturday evening, they need to ensure they start fast at the Memorial Ground.

“We know they’ll race out of the blocks because that’s what they do and it’s been a successful ploy for them all year,” continued Blackett, who has named Juan Pablo Socino as his starting fly-half with Joel Gill coming in at outside centre.

“We will obviously put a big emphasis on our start and we’ll be aiming to come through that period in good shape.

“There’s an intensity about the boys – you can tell something different is about to happen.”