Rotherham Titans 19 Cornish Pirates 18: Titans cling on by their fingertips to play-off tilt

AS a winger, Pete Swatkins has scored his share of winning tries, but rarely has he decided a game in as dramatic a fashion as he did at Clifton Lane on Saturday.

With the Cornish Pirates having stormed back from a 19-0 deficit to within a point of Rotherham, courtesy of strong play and questionable refereeing, Rob Cook stepped up to convert a penalty try and edge the top-four side towards a one-point victory.

But from the depths of the muddied goalmouth, Swatkins thrust his 6ft 2in frame into the air, reached skywards with his fingers and blocked the kick.

"People say it won us the game but it was a collective team effort that won us that game," said Swatkins, before adding nonchalently: "I blocked one against London Welsh last year."

It is hard to imagine that finger extension will have meant as much to the Titans as Saturday's did.

Rotherham were on the back of three straight defeats and having seen a hard-earned 19-point lead evaporate, had positioned themselves to suffer another psychologically-damaging loss.

Not only that, but if results elsewhere had conspired against them, they would have dropped out of the Championship's top eight for the first time this season.

"19-18 with ten minutes to go, you've got to get every point you can and with the wind against us it would have been difficult to get the points if they had gone ahead," added Swatkins.

"So we got all the big lads at the front and being a 6ft 2in lad it made sense for me to get up there."

The victory temporarily eases the Titans' fears of spending the end-of-season play-offs fighting for their lives, rather than trading blows with the big boys in the promotion race.

Andre Bester hopes to ensure they maintain their top-eight standing by signing two props this week, one being triallist Gorka Imaz, of Spain, who has experience of playing in France and Italy, and the other an Englishman.

He also anticipates bringing in a 'high-profile back' from the Premiership, with the ability to manage a game wisely, which was the head coach's major criticism of his players after a final 30 minutes spent defending their own line, which was something they accomplished valiantly.

Rotherham had swept into a 12-point lead courtesy of the kicking of Argentinian fly-half Juan Pablo Socino and the error-count of the Pirates, who were made to the walk the plank by director of rugby Chris Stirling at half-time. They were stronger in the second half, though their task was made increasingly more difficult when Socino intercepted Rhodri McAtee's pass and sprinted in from 50 metres.

"It was a bit of luck, I was there in the right moment," said Socino, who scored all of Rotherham's points and dovetailed well with scrum-half Matt Rhodes.

Cook reduced the deficit with two penalties and a touchline conversion to former Doncaster wing Wes Davies's try.

Then came the dubious penalty try awarded against Rotherham's dominant pack, who were harshly penalised for scrum infringements.

Even after Swatkins's intervention, Pirates should still have left Clifton Lane with a four-point bounty but Blair Cowan – their outstanding player – knocked-on when the try-line beckoned and Jonny Bentley sliced a drop goal wide.

For Swatkins, even without the incoming recruits and the Titans' fighting spirit, Rotherham's home ground is enough to ensure they will achieve their top-eight goal.

"A lot of teams struggle against Cornish because they're a top-four team, but we have confidence in our ability and the way we play at Clifton Lane," he said.

"We pride ourselves on how we play at home. From my Sedgley days when I came here and it was freezing cold and the showers weren't working, I know that no-one likes it here.

"We're proud of that fact. They're good fans, like when they were cheering after the charge down, and they don't expect anything less than a win every time we play at home.

"Our ultimate aim is to get the points over the next few weeks in what is busy period to get into that top eight, because if we don't get into it we'll be devastated."

Rotherham's rearranged home league game with London Welsh, scheduled for Wednesday, January 19, is a 2pm kick-off.

Rotherham: Hodgson (Swatkins 40), Welding, Hepworth, Godfrey (Hunt 24), James, Socino, Rhodes (Bedford 64); Kilbane (Steenkamp 64), Loney, Quigley, Sandford, Smidt (Dougall 64), Dickinson (Harris 79), Kettle, Burrows. Unused replacement: McGregor.

Cornish Pirates: Cook, Pointer, Hopper, Winn (Locke 54), Davies, Bentley, Cattle (McAtee 17); Rimmer (Andrew 52), Elloway (Ward 47), Brits (Paver 47), Myerscough (Morgan 47), Gulliver, Cowan, Betty (Holmes 54), McGlone.

Referee: M Tutty.