Rotherham’s new coach Alex Codling takes charge today at Clifton Lane where he has the formidable challenge of turning a group of talented individuals into a highly competitive side which urgently needs to start winning after consecutive league defeats.
Codling’s knowledge, particularly of forwards’ play, will have told him that Rotherham possess a strong pack that should have produced far more in the Yorkshire derby in which the Titans lost their unbeaten record at home in the Championship.
Leeds deserved their win by two tries to one and can prepare confidently for this Sunday’s game at Otley against Bedford having won three successive league matches.
Rotherham’s defeats by Cornish Pirates and now Leeds mean that Saturday’s contest at Moseley has become a must-win affair.
Leeds, who created tries in the first half for centre Oli Goss and then No 8 Ryan Burrows, relishing scoring against his former club, were the sharper side and until late in the second half dominated the battle of the packs.
Rotherham certainly had their fair share of ball but made far too many handling errors and failed to take advantage of a threatening position on the Leeds line after 20 minutes.
The Titans’ forwards should have scored then, and as Leeds built a gradual lead of 21-6 at the interval and one of 24-6 following a fourth penalty by fly-half Joe Ford, Rotherham were suffering the indignity of being outplayed at home.
Their new coach will provide stability and passion and while Codling knows his squad are fully committed in terms of effort, he needs to relight the spark which is not as evident in the pack as was seen earlier in the season.
Leeds were, therefore, able to contain any Rotherham pressure which did not begin to threaten seriously until the last 10 minutes of normal time.
Chasing the game, Rotherham’s forwards won decent ball and created several promising positions near the Leeds line. Initially, the Leeds pack, in which Burrows and prop Sam Lockwood were outstanding, were able to resist effectively.
However, following a productive scrum by Rotherham, the ball was quickly moved to fly-half James McKinney whose intelligent cross-kick was caught by centre Eamonn Sheridan.
The Irishman, like McKinney returning from injury, smashed his way through the Leeds defence and with his colleague in the centre, Garry Law, converting expertly from the touchline, Rotherham had cut the deficit to 24-13 on 70 minutes.
So time remained for the Titans to claim a late win; but mistakes continued. Another knock-on, this time by replacement back Palepoi Nonu, spoilt an optimistic attack and with Leeds organising their defence sensibly, Rotherham could not break through again.
The Titans did finish the stronger of the sides and a yellow card against Goss on 80 minutes suggested they could exploit Leeds being under strength to claim a losing bonus point.
However, the pattern repeated itself in stoppage time. Rotherham’s forwards were strongly placed to score but confronted by a domineering pack, Leeds survived and earned their sixth win in 10 Championship games.
“It was tough because Rotherham never gave up fighting. They played for 80 minutes,” said a relieved Burrows.
“Our pack has come in for a bit of stick from our coach for not really putting a performance in, but we did here having worked hard coming into this game.
“We are a good team but our biggest problem is performing. Sometimes we let ourselves down by not playing, so our biggest focus is to make sure we perform consistently week in week out.”
Sheridan, Rotherham’s try scorer, acknowledged that mistakes had ruined the chance to maintain their unbeaten record at Clifton Lane.
“Both sides were evenly matched, but one or two knock-ons and a few small mistakes made a big difference,” said Sheridan.
“I am disappointed with the result because we felt we should have been closer to them and we take to heart losing at home for the first time.”
Rotherham Titans: F Mulchrone, Homan (Gill 18), Sheridan, Law, Doneghan (Nonu 60), McKinney, C Mulchrone, Gadd (Cahill 47/Kilbane 55), Stagg, Denman (Davies 52), Freeman, Sanderson, Rieder, Ellyatt, Kirwan.
Leeds Carnegie: McColl, Goss, Griffin, Burdon, D Doherty (Hampson 67), Ford, J.Doherty, Lockwood, Nilsen, Tussac (Hooper 67), Green, Hemingway (Smith 14), Beck (Baldwin 37), Rowan, Burrows.
Referee: D Gamage.