IT IS still only November but Rotherham Titans chairman Nick Cragg admits the club is “living in hope” that it will avoid relegation from the Championship.
Slumped at the foot of the table without a single victory so far and nine straight defeats, today’s home encounter with second-bottom London Scottish has already reached must-win status for Andy Key’s side.
Rotherham, only saved from demotion last term after the financial collapse of London Welsh, could be as many as 18 points adrift if they wilt again at Clifton Lane this afternoon.
They hoped that elusive first win would could at home to fellow strugglers Jersey Reds a week ago only for an alarming collapse and morale-sapping 45-14 defeat.
It is surely inconceivable to suffer the same sort of anti-climax again today. Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Cragg conceded: “It is a huge game. We live in hope.
“But you’d have thought that was the case last Saturday so we were bitterly disappointed when comprehensively beaten.
I hope we’re not going to be relegated. I hope even at this late hour we’ll get through.Titans chairman Nick Cragg
“It must be said, they (Jersey) scored two breakaway tries when we were chasing – the game had already gone – but still it was hugely disappointing and we have got it all to do.
“I hope we’re not going to be relegated. I hope even at this late hour we’ll get through.
“We are going through a bit of a transitional period. There’s been a couple of problems like ground issues and people saying they’d support us and then in the end they haven’t. But we’re also positive.
“We’ve done amazingly well to keep on for 14 years in Rotherham which is not exactly the epicentre of rugby union while not a wealthy town, either.
“We’re quite proud of what we’ve achieved, particularly under Lee Blackett, when we reached the top-four in both of his years here.
“But we’ve not had a coach since that time who’s been able to do what’s required. We hope Andy and his coaching staff are the people to do that but certainly the two coaches before have been found wanting. And that’s nothing against them.”
Blackett, indeed, did create some alchemy for Rotherham, despite taking over aged just 30, inspiring back-to-back fourth- place finishes before departing to take up a role as Wasps backs coach in the summer of 2015.
His replacement Mark Jones, the former Wales winger, lasted only eight months before being sacked in February 2016 after a 10-game winless run, including seven successive league defeats.
He was replaced by ex-London Welsh coach Justin Burrell who steadied the ship and, crucially, helped them avoid the drop with two wins in their last six outings.
However, despite overhauling the squad, he, too, hit problems last season and was sacked in March after just one win in 14 matches; Titans only escaping relegation after his former club’s demise into liquidation.
A month later, Rotherham announced former Leeds Carnegie director of rugby Key would take over in 2017-18 but the experienced former Leicester Tigers man has also found life in South Yorkshire problematic.
Cragg admitted: “He’s under pressure, obviously. Much of it is by himself. He’s a proud man. He doesn’t relish the position he’s in.
“He’s also a very decent bloke and has many good qualities.”
The long-serving Rotherham chairman would not be drawn on whether the 58-year-old has to win today to save his job and, in fairness, that decision would fall to chief executive Martin Jenkinson. But Cragg said: “I don’t know. It’s too early to say but we must see something on Saturday.
“We must see an improvement. What does that look like? It looks like competing and hopefully winning.
“It becomes a mountain to climb otherwise. We’re under no illusions where we sit.
“We’re the poorest team in the league by some way; when you look at the figures we’re just not at the races. But we hope we can get through this as a collective.”
When citing reasons for their recent travails, Cragg suggested: “I think it’s because we’ve had an influx of lots of new players which has not helped and a new coaching staff who are finding their way.
“Obviously, other clubs, Jersey amongst them, have had a big change around in staff also but they have performed better than us. We thought we’d turned a bit of a corner when we put up a very good fist of it at Ealing but then went down to Bristol and were comprehensively beaten.”
Titans are without Jake Henry (shoulder), Luke Peters (ankle) and Ifereimi Boladau (broken arm).
Key said: “Some things aren’t going our way at the moment. Everybody needs that in sport.”