Jamie Broadley admits Rotherham Titans’ ambitions almost were their own undoing at the start of the season – but he knows there is no better place to test themselves than in the Greene King IPA Championship play-offs.
Saturday’s victory over top four rivals London Scottish emphatically secured the Titans’ semi-final spot, where they will take on a Bristol Rugby side that fell to just a single defeat in topping the table.
In contrast to Bristol’s unerring consistency, Lee Blackett’s men endured a yo-yo season for much of the campaign, before finding form at the perfect time to win six of their last seven league matches and book their place in the end-of-year shootout.
And while the odds seem stacked against them – as well as the record of last year’s semi-final failure against the same opponents – Rotherham winger Broadley insists his side are well poised to spring a surprise on the Ashton Gate outfit.
“We were always going to be underdogs going to a place like Bristol in the first leg – they’ve got a ridiculous team when you look at it, and I think you can talk about the difference in finances, fans and facilities all day long,” he said.
“But ultimately this is a play-off, two 80-minute games and anything can happen.
“We’ve run them very close already this season, so we don’t really go there with any huge fear.
“We know that on our day we’ve got the ability to turn them over, we just need a couple of bounces of the ball, so there’s certainly no pressure on us and we’ll see what happens.
“Off the back of last year I think the expectations from both outside and inside the squad were so high that we struggled a little through the first half of the season.
“Things started to click against Yorkshire Carnegie at home, and since then we’ve controlled games better and improved our discipline.
“We’ve found some good momentum now – we could even have drawn at Bristol to make it seven wins from seven but for a missed conversion – so we are in a very good place.”
The Titans are unlikely to need much motivation ahead of the two-legged face-off. If the incentive of a spot in the Premiership does not get the adrenaline pumping, memories of last year’s 39-25 aggregate defeat against Andy Robinson’s men surely will.
And Broadley will certainly not require any extra team-talks as he prepares to add to a multitude of memories against this weekend’s opponents.
“You always want to test yourself against the best teams,” the winger said.
“Personally I’ve had some great experiences against Bristol – that last-minute try in the play-offs last year springs to mind.
“But I’ve also had some horrible experiences in the league where I’ve been hauled off after 50 minutes having conceded several tries down my wing.
“I’ve definitely experienced the full spectrum against them, so there’s no fear from my point of view.
“You look at their team and they’ve got former internationals and Lions there, players you used to watch on TV as a young player growing up, and the opportunity to play against them is amazing.
“The atmosphere will be very special – hopefully it will help take the game to another level.”
Formed in 2009, the Greene King IPA Championship is the second tier of professional rugby union in England. To keep up-to-date with all the latest news follow @ChampRugby on Twitter, or visit www.rfu.com/championship