Rotherham Titans can thank their pack of forwards for delivering an outstanding 10-7 victory over second placed side Blackheath at a freezing-cold Clifton Lane.
The top-of-the-table encounter wasn’t a game for the purists as the conditions didn’t allow for a free-flowing game, but both sides can be proud of their efforts as they gritted it out across the full 80 minutes.
Blackheath enjoyed the better of the first half, with Titans storming back in the second period to fully deserve their hard-earned victory in what was always going to be a low-scoring affair.
Rotherham actually started the game brightest, but were unable to convert their territorial advantage as ‘Club’ showed great determination in defence.
The visitors however gradually worked their way into the game and enjoyed some good moments through their pack as they arguably just had the edge at scrum-time and at the breakdown. Titans’ faltering lineout also helped the visitors to relieve pressure at crucial times.
However, just before the half hour mark Titans fly half Joe Barker was shown a yellow card for foul play. Before his return on 35 minutes Blackheath manoeuvred the ball from a scrum inside the Titans’ 22 to back rower Andrew Daish, who showed good strength to dot down under pressure near the posts. Joe Tarrant’s conversion gave ‘Club’ a 7-0 lead which they would hold going into the half time break.
The early action in the second period saw the visitors maintain their edge; Rotherham did work their way into good field positions, but all too often hurt themselves with silly errors at critical moments.
Arguably the turning point in the game for Rotherham came on 58 minutes. A five metre lineout to Blackheath saw their big pack of forwards set-up a driving maul, which was joined by their backs as they drove towards the Titans line.
Somehow, through sheer grit and determination the South Yorkshire side managed to repel the charge and turn over the ball. Had Blackheath scored at this point it would have been difficult to see a way back for the home team.
Conversely, this tremendous defensive moment seemed to inspire Rotherham and possibly at the same time cast doubt in the away sides mind. Either way 8 minutes later Titans levelled matters when their heroic pack of 8 marched their counterparts backwards at scrum time to force referee Harry Walbaum to award a penalty try.
With the momentum now strongly in Rotherham favour it almost seemed inevitable that they would score next; and this they did 3 minutes from time when another powerful scrum on Blackheath’s ball forced yet another penalty at the set-piece.
From inside the 22 up stepped Alex Dolly to knock over the 3-pointer which sent Titans into the lead for the first time in the game. Blackheath tried to rally late on but never threatened to add to their tally and Rotherham comfortably held on for a tremendous win.
Post-match an elated Joe Barker said, “The win was very satisfying; we knew beforehand what a good side they were and they showed that all afternoon. However, the lads showed pure grit to get us over the line and they just never gave up.
“We have to say a massive thanks to our front row boys and up front I thought we were outstanding. Once our lads started to have some success at scrum time, they smelt the blood and really took them on, and they won us the game today.
“As did our defensive sets; the lads showed terrific togetherness and pure character of what they are about; the dog they showed was exemplary, we’ve had that each week, but today we saw that in full force.”
Referee: Harry Walbaum
Yellow Card: Barker (Titans), Stradwick & Daish (Blackheath)
Titans: Penalty Try, Dolly (1P)
Blackheath: Daish (T), Tarrant (1C)
Titans: 15 Callum Irvine (Dolly 35), 14 Dan Leake, 13 Harry Dunne, 12 Ellis Abrahams, 11 Connor Field, 10 Joe Barker, 9 Connor Dever, 1 Dan Richardson, 2 Ali Thomson, 3 Rikki Stout (Dennis 52), 4 Conor Keys, 5 Luis Ball, 6 Eru Smith-Wano, 7 Zak Poole, 8 Seb Nagle-Taylor (Capt.).
Replacements: 16 Jack Bergmanas, 17 Jessie Williams, 18 Will Dennis, 19 Alex Dolly, 20 Jamie Cooke.
Blackheath: 15 Joe Tarrant, 14 Jake Lloyd, 13 Alex Pickersgill, 12 Markus Burcham (Capt.), 11 Craig Dowsett (Ackuaku 73), 10 Mark Cooke, 9 Stef Liebenberg (Daly 68), 1 Tom Williams (Young 35) (Dowsett 75), 2 Mike Perks (Fry 68), 3 Danny Herriott, 4 Tom Stradwick, 5 Josh Peters, 6 Andrew Daish, 7 Freddie Owen, 8 Anders Nilsson.
Replacements: 16 Harry Fry, 17 Phil Ackuaku, 18 Billy Young, 19 Jack Daly, 20 Elliott Clements-Hill.