Titans are continuing to punch above their weight

Nathan Hannay looks for support as James Mitchell closes in in last week's derby.
Nathan Hannay looks for support as James Mitchell closes in in last week's derby.
Have your say

rotherham Titans are putting on a united front this season.

The message from on high is that while last season’s run to the top four was not as surprising as many opponents and pundits viewed it, a repeat accomplishment this campaign would be even more creditable.

In fact, mere mention of the top four is as good as banned around Clifton Lane.

Lee Blackett and his side are very much of the mantra that it is one game at a time, and if they play to their maximum ability each week, that is all they can ask.

It may not scream a team bashful in its confidence, however, mindful of their budget being at the lower end of the Championship’s sliding scale, Rotherham’s management, coaching staff and players are perhaps wise to keep a lid on external and internal expectations.

And yet, there they are again, in the top four of English rugby union’s second tier with over a quarter of the season already in the books.

Blackett’s boys continue to punch above their weight, no matter the insistence that they are mere lightweights in a middleweight division.

They have had to roll with the punches already this season.

A 40-point hammering at home to Worcester in late September left them chastened.

Then just a fortnight ago, they lost one of their shining lights, centre Jack Roberts, to Premiership sluggers Leicester Tigers.

Rotherham are one of the most prolific clubs in turning Championship players into top-flight talents, but that is usually at the end of the season, not in the early rounds of the contest.

Those two body blows were used to fuel last week’s gritty 6-0 win over county rivals Yorkshire Carnegie at Headingley.

It was not a game for the faint-hearted, devoid as it was of any attacking ingenuity, but in terms of defensive structures and desire, it was a masterpiece from Rotherham.

“Our game-management by the half-backs and our centres and full-back won us that game, along with the fact that we played in the right areas,” claimed Blackett.

It was a victory built on their approach to the block of British and Irish Cup fixtures, a tranche of games used by many clubs to give squad players a run out, but one used by the Titans to begin the healing process after the humbling by promotion favourites Worcester.

“The way we’ve used our squad and taken the British and Irish Cup seriously has really helped us moving forward,” said Blackett, whose team won all three of their fixtures – including another away win over Carnegie – to seize the initiative in Pool 2.

“All those boys who played last Friday night played at least two games in the B&I Cup.

“The aim for us in that block of fixtures was to improve week on week. Because there’s no doubt about it, going back five weeks against Worcester, we got embarrassed physically.

“But at Leeds last Friday night we fronted up, we got over the line and we were really physical.”

Going forward, Blackett believes that the fact that they kept Carnegie scoreless – the first team to do so at Headingley since Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup more than a decade ago – will fill his side with confidence.

“It’s got to be right up there as a defensive performance,” reflected Blackett.

“To go there and nill Yorkshire Carnegie is massive for the side, it’s massive for our confidence.

“It just shows the hard work done over the last four weeks to sort our defence out is bearing out on the field in big, big games.”

Throughout the Blackett revolution, in which he has transformed a lower mid-table team into promotion prospects, an inability to beat the biggest teams has been his side’s Achilles heel.

Their run to fourth place last season produced a perfect symmetary. They beat all eight teams below them home and away, but lost all six games to the three teams above them.

Already this year they have been hammered by Worcester and also lost to London Scottish, a club that have thrown money at trying to reach the Premiership this season. Last Friday night, they finally beat a team that for all their current travails, should still challenge for the top four this season.

It prompted Blackett to momentarily go off script.

“Yes it was a big win, yes it was over one of the supposed top four and it is nice to get it off our backs, but, more importantly, last week was about getting a result against one of our biggest rivals and putting ourselves in the top four,” said Blackett.

“As long as the guys give us 100 per cent effort that’s all we can ask. We’re happy to be in the top four, obviously, but we’re still going game by game and Saturday against Cornish Pirates is now massive. We cannot afford to lose that game.

“We’re delighted with how we played last week, the character we showed and the result we got, but we cannot get carried away.

“We’ve got to move on. It’s pointless winning last week and not beating Cornish Pirates today, we know how tough that game will be.”