Rotherham Titans showed at times glimpses of their quality during what was a hard-fought and competitive match, before ultimately going down 27-18 to Hartpury RFC.
The defeat leaves Rotherham still searching for their first league win of the season and 22 points adrift of eleventh placed Jersey in the Championship table, with nine games remaining.
New head coach, Nic Rouse, would have been pleased with his side’s first half efforts, as playing into a severe head wind Titans contained the home side for the majority of the half and went in at the break trailing by just 10 points to 3, which to be fair flattered the hosts somewhat.
Titans had actually taken the lead on 4 minutes after a bright start to the game saw Caolan Ryan knock over a penalty in very blustery conditions.
However, on 7 minutes the hosts made good use of the elements to work the ball downfield, before a series of pick and goes from the Hartpury pack culminated with loose head prop Dan Murphy crashing over next to the posts for the first try of the game. Fly half James Williams added the straightforward extras to give the home side a 7-3 lead.
Undeterred, Rotherham continued to enjoy lots of success in terms of possession and field position. This led to a frustrating time for Hartpury and as a result the penalty count against them began to rise.
From 2 of those misdemeanours, two angled penalty attempts from Caolan Ryan, who in normal weather conditions would have comfortably knocked over, saw his efforts forced across the face of the posts by the strong, ever-increasing wind.
Just before the break Hartpury made a rare foray up to the edge of the Titans 22; ill discipline from the visitors gifted them an easy 3-pointer which was tagged over by James Williams to bring the half to a close.
On the back of their first 40 minutes performance Rotherham would have been confident at the break of overturning their arrears, particularly with the elements now in the favour in the second period.
However, a sloppy and somewhat lacklustre start to the half saw the Titans punished. First James Williams added a second penalty to his tally, before replacement hooker Will Tanner dotted down from the tail of a Hartpury driving maul. Williams’ conversion extended the hosts lead to 20-3.
Rotherham eventually found a spark and showed some good quality with ball in hand just after the hour mark. From a scrum on the edge of the Hartpury 22 the ball was worked nicely across the field through the backs. The ball eventually came out wide to Joe Barker who threw a neat inside pass to the charging Ben Foley who crashed over the line at pace. Ryan missed the difficult conversion from out wide.
However, any hopes Titans had of mounting a comeback were scuppered 10 minutes from time when Hartpury’s Tanner was on hand again from the back of a driving maul for his second try. Williams added the extras to make it 27-8.
There was still time for some late drama as Rotherham scored two tries in the final four minutes. Firstly, following some powerful work by the forwards the ball came out to the backs and arrived with Joe Barker; his long pass was perfectly weighted for Drew Cheshire to collect in his stride enabling him to gallop over for a try in the corner. Ryan’s conversion narrowly missed the target.
From the restart Titans collected and with a renewed urgency kept the ball alive with some neat offloading in the tackle. The ball eventually arrived with Charlie Maddison who made a good break on the edge of his own 22 and proceeded to charge downfield. Dan Grange then took over possession and on halfway found Rhodri Davies with a perfectly timed pass which allowed the flying Welshman to race home from 50 metres for a superb try in the corner. Ryan’s conversion narrowly missed the target.
Unfortunately for the Titans the clock ticked down and with it went any hopes of a bonus point.
Commenting post-match Nic Rouse explained, “I think in the first half we applied ourselves and stuck to the game plan and played in the right areas. In the second half with the wind in our favour I thought we should have given a better account of ourselves. We lost a bit of line speed and we allowed them to get on the front foot and I was disappointed with our second half effort.
“I thought overall our set piece was good and we dominated in the early stages, but then they brought on some old heads after 20 minutes which is unheard of really, but because of our dominance they had to do something, but fair play to them for making the changes and it enabled them to swing a couple of scrum their way later on.
“We tried to tweak the way we wanted to play; we wanted to be a bit more pragmatic in our approach, we wanted to play in the right areas through our kicking game and we wanted to be a bit more direct off first phase. We did that on occasions, but we’ve only had 3 days to implement the changes and although there were some promising signs we’ve got a bit more work to do.
“There were some good individual performances today where a number of the boys stuck up their hands and carried all the time, unfortunately it seems to be the same boys doing the same work all the time and unfortunately we didn’t share the workload.”
Referee: John Meredith
Yellow Card: None
Titans: Foley (T), Cheshire (T), Davies (T), Ryan (P)
Hartpury: Tanner (2T), Murphy (T), Williams (3C, 2P)
Titans: 15 Will Thomas, 14 Jake Henry, 13 Paolo Odogwa, 12 Joe Barker, 11 Ben Foley (Cheshire 73), 10 Caolan Ryan, 9 Rhodri Davies 1 Toby Williams, 2 Jonny Murphy (Cole 51), 3 Sam Nixon (Foster 73), 4 Rob Louw, 5 Matt Postlethwaite (Burns 62), 6 Adam Peters, 7 Charlie Maddison, 8 Tom Calladine (Capt.) (Grange 73).
Replacements: 16 Luke Cole, 17 Andrew Foster, 18 Brandon Palmer, 19 Dan Grange, 20 Tom Burns, 21 Lee Millar, 22 Drew Cheshire.
Hartpury: 15 Mike Wilcox, 14 Maliq Holden, 13 Nick Carpenter, 12 Luke Eves, 11 Ed Sheldon, 10 James Williams (Perry 78), 9 Harry Cochrane (Chapman 72), 1 Dan Murphy (Flook 75), 2 Luke Stratford (Tanner 41), 3 Mike Daniels (Harden 25), 4 BJ Edwards (Chan 70), 5 Rhys Oakley (Capt.), 6 Joe Dancer, 7 Mat Gilbert (Hinkley 64), 8 Darrel Dyer.
Replacements: 16 Will Tanner, 17 Mike Flook, 18 Rupert Harden, 19 Ben So’oialo-Chan, 20 Aaron Hinkley, 21 Charlie Chapman, 22 Jacob Perry.