Rotherham Titans, who have finished in the top four of the Championship in consecutive seasons, today start preparing for the semi-finals of the promotion play-offs beginning against Bristol at Ashton Gate on Saturday.
The second leg will be the following Sunday at Abbeydale in Sheffield where Rotherham beat London Scottish by three tries to none on Saturday on the last weekend of the regular league programme.
Titans had thought they’d be taking on Worcester Warriors in the semi-fonals , but following Bristol’s remarkable win away at Sixways, Titans’ coach Lee Blackett has had to think again.
So with Bristol finishing top of the Championship and Rotherham fourth - again - the two clubs are all set to resume the battles which have become so familiar over this season and last.
Although Rotherham have lost seven games on the trot, it will be Bristol who will be feeling uneasy. They may well have a budget of £4m and four British and Irish Lions on the payroll, but in the play-offs last season and in the league games in November and March, Bristol were made to look less than glittering by Rotherham.
In close matches, the Titans lost 26-17 and then by only 27-25 at Clifton Lane where Rotherham’s spirit continued to defy opponents who dislike facing Blackett’s boys.
Rotherham will be back to full strength at Ashton Gate for the contest which will be broadcast live by Sky as will the return at Abbeydale.
Blackett made eight changes to face London Scottish, but so determined is the attitude in the Rotherham squad, the absence of first choice players such as Alex Rieder, Michael Keating, Curtis Wilson and Jordan Davies, who will return against Bristol, did not disrupt the team’s competitiveness.
After a weakish first half, Rotherham’s forwards took control and created three tries on 55, 65 and 80 minutes for prop Robin Hislop and backs Jamie Broadley and Tom Barrett respectively.
With full back Sean Scanlon also making dangerous breaks, London Scottish’s defence couldn’t cope with the speed of Broadley,running 40 metres to touch down, or with the counter attack that created Barrett’s try.
The three second half tries ensured Rotherham’s 13th win in 22 Championship games and took them to 61 points as they enter the play-offs.
So with four successive wins against Moseley, Doncaster, Nottingham and now London Scottish, the Titans travel to Bristol in confident form as Blackett explains: “Look, we know we are the underdogs, but we are playing well and while it’s going to be tough, our mentality will be right and positive.”
Rotherham Titans: Scanlon, Broadley, Hayes, Cooke, Dowsett, Barrett, Davies, Williams, Cruse, Thiede, Parker, Maddison, Morris, Birch, Ryan.
Replacements: Preece, Hislop, Tampin, Thomas, Argyle, White, Rath.
Scorers: Tries: Hislop, Broadley, Barrett. Conversions: Barrett 2.
Referee: Andrew Jackson.