Rotherham Titans started their National League 1 campaign with a heart-breaking 34-33 defeat to a much-fancied Old Elthamians side.
Titans out-scored their counterparts by 5 tries to 4 and collected 2 well-deserved bonus points for their efforts; however, poor starts to each half ultimately cost them dearly.
With just one player from last seasons’ Titans squad involved, it was always going to be a challenge to beat one of the divisions’ anticipated top sides, but they almost did and they can be content with their first competitive game together.
In particular Seb Nagle-Taylor who scored a hat trick, Tom Allott who chipped in with a brace of dot downs and fly half Callum Irvine who bossed the game effectively, all can be pleased with their first shift on the Clifton Lane pitch.
However, when the Titans trailed 10-0 after the opening 20 minutes, following a try from Dom McGeekie and a penalty and conversion from Tom White, the signs looked ominous for the home side.
Alleviating the distress, Titans eventually established a foothold in the game on 24 minutes when Captain Seb Nagle-Taylor barged over from close range for Ellis Abrahams to convert, which cut the deficit to 10-7.
Sloppy work at the set piece by Rotherham followed, which enabled the visitors to reinstate their 10 point advantage as winger Dom Lespierre breezed in for a dot down, with White added the extras.
On a balmy afternoon at the Lane Rotherham finally sprang in action and it was fly half Callum Irvine who proved to be the catalyst for 2 quick-fire tries just before half time.
A clever grubber kick from the former Carnegie man allowed Nagle-Taylor to collect nicely to dive over, before an outstanding 60 metre break downfield saw Irvine find Tom Allott in support to touch down under the sticks. Abrahams converted to send the home side in at the break 19-17 to the good.
The restart would be important and again Rotherham came up second best, just as they had done in the opening half. This time the visitors only needed 75 seconds to cross the whitewash as Hamish Barton finished under the posts a counter attack from Elthamians. White knocked over his third conversion from in front to give OE’s a 24-19 lead.
That lead was extended on 63 minutes when White knocked over a penalty and it was stretched further when back rower Harry Ledger secured a bonus point when he dotted down following a powerful maul close to the Titans line. White’s conversion widened the gap to 34-19.
What would have pleased the hierarchy at Clifton Lane was the resilience and character shown by the players to quickly come back with two converted tries of their own.
Full back Tom Allott collected nicely his own kick-through to score and that man Nagle-Taylor barged through to score his third try under the posts. Irvine successfully drop-kicked the conversion to get the game restarted.
If any team was going to score in the final moments of this thrilling encounter it was going to be the home side. However, a knock-on at the death signalled time and the home side had to be content with 2 points for their opening day efforts.
Post-game Titans head coach, Joe Barker, explained, “As a squad we are pretty new, we’ve only been together for 8 weeks and everyone knows in team sports it takes time for things to gel, especially in rugby union when you’ve got to get use to so many things from a technical standpoint.
“I think what we have achieved today makes me really proud of the lads and proud of Rotherham Rugby Club and what we have achieved over the summer in a very short space of time makes me happy that we could produce that kind of display in front of our own fans.
“Elthamians are a very good National 1 outfit and they have high ambitions for this season. They’ve been together for a long time and their aim is to get out of this league. On the back of our display I think we should be excited about where this group of players can take this club.
“I think as a group the lads put in a great shift, but I have to give a special mention to Seb Nagle-Taylor who put in a very destructive and powerful performance and Callum Irvine, who I thought bossed the game very well at 10 and who I thought showed his Championship experience.
“But overall as a team I thought we showed amazing character as we came back on numerous occasions in both halves. As a young group of lads I thought they showed great resilience and that gives us great confidence moving forward this season.”
Referee: Neil Chivers
Yellow Card: Ure (Titans)
Titans: Nagle-Taylor (3T), Allott (2T), Abrahams (3C), Irvine 1C)
Old Elthamians: McGeekie (T), Lespierre (T), Barton (T), Ledger (T), White (2P, 4C)
Titans: 15 Tom Allott, 14 Henry Roberts, 13 Ellis Abrahams, 12 Joe Barker, 11 Connor Field, 10 Callum Irvine, 9 Josh Nott (Dolly 64), 1 Jack Bergmanas, 2 Ali Thomson, 3 Rikki Stout (Dickinson 74), 4 Dan Preston-Routledge (Ure 60), 5 Conor Keys, 6 Luis Ball, 7 Zak Poole (Petrowitsch 66), 8 Seb Nagle-Taylor (Capt.).
Replacements: 16 Dan Richardson, 17 Antony Dickinson, 18 Jamie Ure, 19 Anton Petrowitsch, 20 Alex Dolly.
Old Elthamians: 15 Ben Howard, 14 Dom Lespierre (McGeekie 74), 13 Kieran Moffat (Claxton 74), 12 Max Wilkins (Surman 35), 11 Alan Hotston (Morris 74), 10 Tom White, 9 Oliver Claxton (Morgan 60), 1 Alex Rogers (Scutt 67), 2 Nathan Morris (Rudland-Thomas 60), 3 Kieron Scutt (Brown 52), 4 Fred Hosking, 5 Dom McGeekie (Ledger 67), 6 Harry Ledger (Messum 54), 7 Hamish Barton, 8 Ben King.
Replacements: 16 Lewis Brown, 17 Jay Rudland-Thomas, 18 George Messum, 19 Rhys Morgan, 20 Chris Surman.