Rotherhan Titans face their toughest home test of the Championship season so far when they welcome promotion favourites Bristol to Clifton Lane tomorrow.
The Ashton Gate side – beaten only twice in the league this season by Bedford and Doncaster Knights – are in top form with 12 wins in 14 games and are 30 points clear of Rotherham, who slipped to tenth in the standings last week.
Titans’ coach Mark Jones is expected to name more or less the same squad which showed improved form against Doncaster last Sunday, but still lost, an eighth consecutive defeat in all competitions.
When Jones’ squad train today, the Welshman will be stressing the importance of the team being disciplined against Bristol so as to avoid conceding penalties which lead to tries from line outs and rolling mauls – a Rotherham weakness that will be punished by Bristol’s powerful pack if they do not show self-control.
Against a side in which no expense is spared, Rotherham must restrict the scoring opportunities of the back row of Mitch Eadie, Jack Lam and Nick Koster.
The Bristol backs are threatening too, so the Titans defence must mark closely winger Tom Varndell, who has scored eight tries in the Championship, and centre Jack Tovey.
These are stressful and anxious times at Clifton Lane, but some of the gloom has been lifted now that centre Will Owen, who has not played since injuring his knee in October, has been given the all-clear.
Owen – in his first season at Rotherham – has played in just four Championship games, but seems certain to resume playing again in two weeks when the Titans play their re-arranged game in the British and Irish Cup against Ealing Trailfinders at Clifton Lane.
Meanwhile, Rotherham’s most experienced forward, second row Barney Maddison, has had an operation on his knee and expects to be playing again in three weeks.
The Titans will also be without Canadian international Kyle Gilmour for up to four weeks as the back row forward is training with Canada who are preparing to play Uruguay, USA, Brazil, Chile and Argentina in the inaugural Americas Championship.
Rotherham Titans to face Bristol, from: Scanlon, Keating, Davies, Barker, J.Hayes, Jones, Carter, Hislop, Harris, Tampin, Holmes, Ryan, Sinclair, Oram, Calladine, Argyle, Birch, Cree, C.Maddison, Williams, Thiede, L.Hayes, McKinney, White, Goodwin.