Rotherham Titans rounded off their season at home with a thrilling 41-35 victory over a very competitive and free-flowing Bishop’s Stortford side.
Each side scored five tries each and the result ensures Titans cannot finish outside the top 6 in their first season back in National 1, which, when all things considered has to be viewed as an outstanding achievement.
In a first half where the visitors undoubtedly had the better of things it took them just 9 minutes to get the scoreboard moving. From a line out close to the Titans line, the ball was fed back inside to winger Chris Smith who darted through a gap to score. Tom Banks added the extras.
Pre-match there was a suggestion the game was going to be a high-scoring affair and Titans played their part in supporting that viewpoint. On 19 minutes Callum Irvine put in a superb clearance kick which winger Dan Leake collected spectacularly on the Bishop’s 10 metre line before he outpaced the defence to score in the corner. Dolly’s impressive conversion from the touchline levelled the game at 7 apiece.
With a reputation for scoring tries and playing an exciting brand of rugby, Stortford confirmed their reputation was a deserved one when 2 further tries were added mid-way through the half from centre Reuben Bird-Tulloch and scrum half Tom Banks, with the latter converting both to stretch the visitors lead to 21-7.
It was important Rotherham scored next if they were to keep within touching distance and this they did just before half time. Following a period of forward pressure which saw them nose towards the line, flanker Zak Poole collected to crash over near the posts. Dolly added the extras to send his side in at the break trailing 21-14.
Over the half time oranges wise words must have been spoken as within 4 minutes of the restart Titans scored two converted tries!
The first one came after 18 seconds when Dan Leake collected the high ball and took play up to the Bishop’s line, before Dolly dug the ball out and sent hooker Jack Bergmanas in for a fine score.
Three minutes later Luis Ball made a barnstorming break deep inside the Bishop’s 22, before the ball was fed to Joe Barker who threw a terrific long miss-pass to Dan Leake who charged in for his second try of the game in the corner.
Dolly added a penalty on 50 minutes to give Rotherham a 10 point advantage at 31-21.
Not surprisingly however Stortford responded and secured their bonus-point try on 66 minutes. The surprise came when referee Jack Lewars awarded Bishop’s a penalty try at the first penalty Rotherham conceded at a scrum 5 metres from their own line to draw the visitors to within 3 points.
How Titans would have wished all referees in the division did this upon the first penalty at scrum-time, as surely penalty try would be their leading try scorer of the season!
Nevertheless Titans responded 7 minutes from time when lock forward Dan Preston-Routledge popped up on the right wing to barge his way over to cap an outstanding personal performance. Dolly again impressed with the boot from the touchline to re-establish a 10-point buffer.
One minute from time Bishop’s work rate and persistence paid off when centre Reuben Bird-Tulloch showed good pace and strength to run in for his second try of the match. Banks added the extras to make it a 3 point game and set up a nervy finale.
However deep into injury time Dolly added a penalty to see out the game for the home side and send the Titans faithful into the bar happy!
A delighted Joe Barker commenting after the game said, “The boys responded really well in the second half; we knew both in attack and defence we could take control of the game and we knew we needed to speed up the breakdown and to test them either side, rather than just going the same way all the time.
“So we made a few small changes at the break and these lads acted on it; but what I’m most proud of is that I questioned them on Tuesday on how we’d performed at Cinderford because that wasn’t us and they’ve gone out and rewarded me and everyone connected with the club with what they’ve gone out and done today.
“You just can’t fault their effort and how they’ve gone about it today, because they’ve played some outstanding rugby and there’s been some outstanding individual stuff as well as what we’ve achieved as a team.
So I am very proud of these lads and what they’ve achieved for the club this year.”
Referee: Jack Lewars
Yellow Card: Richardson (Titans), Duff (Bishop's Stortford)
Titans: Leake (2T), Poole (T), Bergmanas, (T), Preston-Routledge (T), Dolly (5C, 2P)
Bishop's Stortford: Bird-Tulloch (2T), Smith (T), Penalty Try, Banks (1T, 4C)
Titans: 15 Sam Allan (Dever 70), 14 Dan Leake, 13 Jamie Cooke, 12 Joe Barker (Dunne 69), 11 Connor Field, 10 Callum Irvine, 9 Alex Dolly, 1 Dan Richardson, 2 Jack Bergmanas (Thomson 54), 3 Will Dennis (Stout 56), 4 Dan Preston-Routledge, 5 Kieran Frost (Keys 58), 6 Luis Ball, 7 Zak Poole, 8 Seb Nagle-Taylor (Capt.).
Replacements: 16 Ali Thomson, 17 Rikki Stout, 18 Conor Keys, 19 Connor Dever, 20 Harry Dunne.
Bishop's Stortford: 15 Nicholas Hankin, 14 Rob Duff, 13 Reuben Bird-Tulloch, 12 Jack Scantlebury (Hitchcock 60), 11 Chris Smith, 10 Sam Cappaert (Coleman 49), 9 Tom Banks, 1 Seb Brownhill (Harrison-Price 64), 2 Harrison King (Caulfield 44) (King 64), 3 Benjamin Harrison-Price (McCrone 54), 4 Mark McCraith (Jones 49), 5 Matt Tomlinson (Capt.), 6 James Apperley, 7 Rory Banks, 8 Steve Ball.
Replacements: 16 Declan Caulfield, 17 Tom McCrone, 18 Ollie Jones, 19 Tom Hitchcock, 20 Tom Coleman.