Rotherham Titans ended their British & Irish Cup involvement with an impressive 27-3 win over Connacht Eagles on a heavy pitch at Galway Corinthians to secure runners-up spot in pool 4.
The victory saw Titans record back-to-back wins for the first time since February 2016 as they outscored their Irish hosts by 4 tries to nil.
From the off Rotherham looked bright and energetic and quickly gained field position as their pack dominated with some fierce tackling to lay a positive foundation.
Titans’ hard work was rewarded on 7 minutes, when from a catch and drive close to the line hooker Jonny Murphy crashed over from the tail of a maul. Lee Millar narrowly missed the conversion from out wide and unfortunately had to leave the field shortly after due to a chest injury.
Nevertheless Rotherham continued to impress, especially in defence when required to do so. Terrific line speed combined with aggressive and physical tackling often forced the home side into making errors.
Good line speed enabled Rotherham to add a second try on 26 minutes when Will Thomas quickly closed the gap to charge down a clearance kick which allowed centre Jamie Cooke to race through to dot down. Caolan Ryan added the extras.
Within 3 minutes however Eagles made headway into Rotherham’s half and enjoyed a short period of front-foot ball which forced the Titans on to the back foot and into giving away a penalty. Fly half Luke Carty stepped up to confidently knock over the 3-pointer to reduce his sides arrears to 12-3.
Undeterred Rotherham roared forward once again as their pack re-established control, which in turn led to a line out inside the Eagles 22 on 34 minutes. From there Rotherham rumbled forward before releasing the ball down the blind side to Drew Cheshire who raced through for his fifth try in as many games. On this occasion Ryan missed the extras. However, with the last kick of the half he knocked over a penalty to send Titans in at the break with a healthy 20-3 advantage.
The second half saw both sides make changes throughout which led to the game losing some of its shape and although Titans created some scoring opportunities, as they chased the bonus point try, all too often things broke down at the crucial moment.
However, in the final play of the game Rotherham did secure the bonus point, when replacement winger Jake Henry scored a fine individual try. From around 30 metres out Henry danced his way through a number of challenges before he crashed over the line. Ryan’s conversion put the cherry on top of the Titans cake.
Speaking after the match Titans Nic Rouse reflected, “It probably wasn’t a classic but it was great for our fans that made the trip, I think we had over 50 make the journey and I’m really pleased we gave them something to shout about. We’ve been slowly getting better over the last few weeks; we are trying to implement a few things and I can see the improvement in the boys.
“It wasn’t pretty at times but I thought we were clinical in the first half as we went 20-3 up at the break and I was delighted we got the bonus point try right at the end. I’m happy for the boys because it’s our first back-to-back wins for a long time.
“I think more importantly we didn’t concede a try; we knew they were a dangerous side and they can play from anywhere on the park. So I was pleased with the pressure we put on them which led to them making mistakes and then we capitalised on them.
“The forwards put in a great shift on a very heavy pitch; they imposed themselves and got dominance from very early on in the game.
“We had a long day travelling across and the Captain, Tom Calladine, did a great job with the boys in terms of keeping everyone together, focused and up for the game. It can be easy to drift off with all the travelling, but credit to the boys for going out there right from the off to put in a really good performance.
“Our fans were amazing and the lads really appreciate their passion and support and I’m sure they’ll enjoy a few beers together tonight.”
Referee: Chris Busby
Yellow Card: Masterson (Connacht)
Titans: Murphy (T), Cooke (T), Cheshire (T), Henry (T), Ryan (2C, P)
Connacht: Carty (P)
Titans: 15 Caolan Ryan, 14 Drew Cheshire (Henry 55), 13 Jamie Cooke, 12 Joe Barker, 11 Will Thomas, 10 Lee Millar (Foley 20), 9 Rhodri Davies, 1 Toby Williams (Tom Williams 51), 2 Jonny Murphy (Cole 51), 3 Andrew Foster, 4 Rob Louw, 5 James Lasis, 6 Tom Burns (Grange 59), 7 Charlie Maddison (Peters 46), 8 Tom Calladine (Capt.) (Dolly 61).
Replacements: 16 Luke Cole, 17 Tom Williams, 18 Adam Peters, 19 Nic Dolly, 20 Dan Grange, 21 Ben Foley, 22 Jake Henry.
Connacht Eagles: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Rory Scholes, 13 Kieran Joyce, 12 Andrew Deegan, 11 Matt Byrne, 10 Luke Carty, 9 Ryan Feehily, 1 Matt Burke, 2 Tom McCartney, 3 Conor Kenny, 4 Peter Claffey, 5 Niall Murray, 6 Cillian Gallagher, 7 Sean Masterson, 8 Paul Boyle (Capt.).
Replacements: 16 Callum Torpey, 17 Conan O’Donnell, 18 Dylan Tierney, 19 Dan Law, 20 James Mitchell, 21 Conor McKeon, 22 Michael O’Reilly.