Rotherham Titans 33 London Welsh 32 - Debutant Charlie Foley strikes late to ensure Welsh pay the penalty
The victory was so impressive because Justin Burnell’s side – who head to derby rivals Doncaster Knights this Saturday – were not only 32-18 down with just six minutes of normal time to play but utterly out-played.
Such was Welsh’s dominance in the second period that the hosts – looking like a squad that fielded 16 debutants in its ranks – did not have the ball in their ‘22 until as late as the 71th minute.
It mattered little, however, as, crucially, they were then ruthless when chances finally came.
Dan Grange, recruited from Yorkshire Carnegie, supported fellow replacement Charlie Maddison’s charge beneath the posts on 74 minutes for Foley to improve and instigate the thrilling resurgence against the British & Irish Cup holders.
Five minutes later, Foley – another to come off the bench with a positive impact – stretched out a leg to block a Welsh kick on halfway and then hacked on to the corner before brilliantly flicking the ball back inside for captain Will Owen to score.
Foley, signed from relegated Moseley, could not convert from the touchline but he had one more chance to steal it for his new side and did not fail.
Full-back Will Goodwin brought the ball back with a thrilling run to get his side in position so that, when Welsh’s Heath Stevens foolishly came in from an offside position in the 83rd minute, Foley had no trouble from 30m out.
Burnell, who led Welsh to the Premiership two years ago, admitted: “It’s good for him as, if we’re all going to be honest, the poor guy missed some kicks going through pre-season.
“He perhaps missed out on selection today because of his kicking. Moments like that, though, that’s where good people step up.
“We showed a lot of character and we’re not daft; we were under the cosh. We didn’t have the ball for 25 minutes. But when we did we made the most of it.
“It’s a great win; London Welsh are a good side who will be going for promotion and spending a lot of money.
“They were in control – but our bench made a great difference.”
Rotherham actually led 18-17 at the break after scoring their second try with the best move of the match. Scrum-half George Treisdder picked up at a ruck and flung a long pass to Miles Normnadale, the lock who put Cameron Hudson clear.
The young centre – debuting after joining from Wharfedale – showed great composure to unleash winger Jack Hayes who finished with aplomb.
Welsh caused the hosts countless problems in the scrum, though, forcing them into conceding a number of penalties and free-kicks.
Things got so bad for Rotherham there that Burnell took the unusual step of replacing loosehead Toby Williams with namesake Tom after just 33 minutes.
It paid instant dividends; they won a penalty themselves at the next scrum – only, ironically, for Joe Graham to then fail to find his jumper at the line-out, the first time that had gone awry all afternoon.
Rotherham’s other try was a fine individual effort from Will Robinson, who kicked long downfield, chased and then saw the ball take a wicked bounce back to him to leave opposing full-back Chris Elder perplexed.
He improved the 23rd-minute effort, adding to his two earlier penalties, but soon after, Welsh’s pack once more caused Rotherham to infringe from a 5m scrum and referee Christopher Ridley awarded a penalty try that Joe Carlisle improved.
He had opened the scoring with a fifth-minute penalty and also converted when Nick Reynolds, their outside centre, had sliced Titans open from 30m out.
Welsh struck first in the second period, however, through winger Kristian Phillips on 48 minutes, Carlisle improving.
He dropped a drop goal, too, and, as Rotherham persisted to self-implode – Buster Lawrence illegally tackled Phillips in the air, then threw an aimless pass into touch, the line-out was a mess – it looked like there would only be one winner.
That was especially so when Aaron Carpenter secured Welsh’s bonus point try.
However, then came that rally which will be long remembered at Clifton Lane.
Rotherham Titans: Goodwin; hayes, Hudson, Owen, Henry; Robinson, Tresidder (Dudman 60); Williams Toby (Williams Tom 33), Graham (51), Rees (Herriott 53), Normandale, Hicks, Curry (Ramshaw 51), Tyas, Lawrence.
London Welsh: Elder (Stevens 75); Phillips, Reynolds, Jewell, Lewis; Carlisle, Lewis (Glynn 68); Hallam, Kwasnicki (Morris 68), Cooper, McNally, West (Thomas-Brown 57), Maddison B, Hodson, Pienaar (Carpenter 57).