Rotherham Titans started their British & Irish Cup campaign in winning fashion as they beat Connacht Eagles 28-23 in an entertaining encounter at Clifton Lane.
Following an indifferent first half from the Titans which saw them trail at the break 23-10, they stormed back in impressive style to nil the Eagles in the second half to run out worthy winners.
In a lively opening 10 minutes there was little to choose between the sides as Connacht’s Luke Carty and Titans’ Caolan Ryan traded penalties.
However, as the first quarter elapsed the visitors scored the first try of the game; good work at the line out saw the ball arrive with Connacht’s big number 6 Naulia Dawai who crashed over menacingly. Carty tagged over the extras.
Back came Rotherham though as they tried to put some intensity into their performance. From a line out close to the visitors’ line, the Titans pack collaborated to drive forward with real urgency. Charlie Maddison was on hand from the tail of the maul to dive over for a good pack try. Ryan levelled the game at 10 apiece with a neatly taken conversion.
Rotherham then appeared to ‘switch-off’ which allowed the Eagles to take advantage and following some forward pressure close to the titans line, the ball was fed out wide for hooker Dave Heffernan to dive over in the corner. Carty stuck a marvellous conversion from the touchline to put the visitors 17-10 ahead.
As the first half drew to a close Connacht began to enjoy some dominance which forced Rotherham into conceding a number of penalties. From two such misdemeanours in injury time fly half Carty slotted over two further successful kicks to draw the half to an end.
Rotherham however came out for the second period with an urgency scarcely seen in the first 40. Titans raised the tempo of their work which saw the visitors repeatedly forced onto the back foot.
Eventually on 54 minutes and following a dominant period from the home pack, the ball arrived with winger Ben Foley who somehow managed to leap over a number of Connacht defenders to dot down in the corner for an unconverted try.
The momentum had now shifted massively in Rotherham’s favour as they continued to power forward. Titans’ work-rate was rewarded on the hour mark when man-of-the-match candidate Tom Burns powered over following some great mauling from his pack-mates. Ryan’s conversion drew the host’s to within a point at 22-23.
Spurred on Rotherham went in search of their first win of the season. Now it was the visitors turn to start racking up the penalty count. From such a penalty Titans nosed ahead for the first time in the game when Caolan Ryan calmly slotted over on 71 minutes.
Rotherham impressed during the latter stages as they managed the game well without panicking as Connacht attempted to run the ball whenever possible.
The game was sealed in the eight minute of injury time when Ryan stepped up to knock over his third successful penalty of the match and when referee Elgan Williams blew for time there was huge joy and relief all around Clifton Lane.
Commenting post-match Titans Andy Key explained, “I’m delighted to get our first win of the season, but I’m more delighted for the boys. We facilitate the process of actually putting them into positions and we help to make them better players, but at the end of the day they have to prove that to themselves and the main area to do that is on a match day.
“But I thought today our composure and the way we reacted to a poor first half performance and to come back in the way we did was very good, especially in how we controlled the final 10 minutes.
“Tom Burns had a very good game, he set a good target and he showed a never-say-die attitude. His leg drive into contact to make sure we could get every yard possible was outstanding.
“I was also massively impressed with the two lads from Wasps who came in this week. Both Will Porter and Tom Willis showed there’s some great young talent out there.
“Will controlled things at the base and he kept the tempo high when we needed it to be and he got to the breakdown early and distributed the ball well. Then when Tom came on he only knows one direction and he set a good platform. So I was really pleased with those two boys.”
Referee: Elgan Williams
Yellow Card: None
Titans: Maddison (T), Foley (T), Burns (T), Ryan (2C, 3P),
Connacht: Dawai (T), Heffernan (T), Carty (2C, 3P)
Titans: 15 Ben Foley (Cooke 70), 14 Wesley Hamilton, 13 Yiannis Loizias, 12 Luke Peters, 11 Drew Cheshire, 10 Caolan Ryan, 9 Francisco Vieira (Porter h-t), 1 Tom Williams (Opedo 68), 2 Charlie Maddison (Capt.) (Murphy 70), 3 Andrew Foster (Palmer h-t), 4 Rob Louw, 5 Guy Borrowdale (Willis 52), 6 Matt Postlethwaite, 7 Adam Peters, 8 Tom Burns.
Replacements: 16 Jonny Murphy, 17 Brandon Palmer, 18 Nathaniel Opedo, 19 Tom Willis, 20 Will Porter, 21 Lee Millar 22 Jamie Cooke.
Connacht Eagles: 15 Matthew Byrne, 14 Niyi Adeolokun (Leavy h-t), 13 Stacey Ili, 12 Kieran Joyce, 11 Colm de Buitléar, 10 Luke Carty, 9 Conor McKeon (Kerins 70), 1 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 2 Dave Heffernan, 3 JP Cooney (Kenny 51), 4 Gavin Thornbury (Murray 68), 5 Peter Claffey, 6 Naulia Dawai (O’Toole 70), 7 Paul Boyle, 8 Harley Fox (Huxford 65).
Replacements: 16 Pat O’Toole, 17 Conor Kenny, 18 Niall Murray, 19 Cian Huxford, 20 Stephen Kerins, 21 Morgan Codyre, 22 Adam Leavy.