For the third time this season in the Championship, South Yorkshire’s top sides produced a thrilling game which benefited Doncaster far more than Rotherham who are struggling to overcome internal problems and playing weaknesses.
Doncaster remain on course for a semi-final place in the promotion play-offs, and if they beat Bedford at Castle Park this Saturdaythey will boost their prospects even further.
Rotherham, however, despite a superb second-half recovery in which they cut Doncaster’s lead to 34-26, have now lost both their games in Pool B, and it would be a major shock if they were to win at Cornish Pirates next Sunday.
Nevertheless, although beaten by six tries to four by Doncaster, the Titans deservedly earned a bonus point because they scored four tries.
Rotherham’s problems seem to be piling up: centre Byron Godfrey broke his jaw, the second serious injury they have suffered following Sam Dickinson’s smashed arm, and forwards Ryan Burrows and James Sandford are leaving Clifton Lane.
Burrows, it’s understood, has signed for Leeds Carnegie and Sandford is joining London Irish.
Doncaster may have beaten their South Yorkshire rivals, but they, too, are not without their worries.
They are not at full strength because of injuries, and if they repeat the complacency revealed against Rotherham other sides in the play-offs will be delighted.
After demolishing Rotherham in the first half to lead convincingly by 31-0 after half an hour, Doncaster foolishly decided a well-earned rest was in order. They had scored five tries and Rotherham had offered nothing.
How misjudged they were. The tries scored on one, 10, 21, 28 and 32 minutes seemed a distant memory as Rotherham put together an astonishing fightback.
The scale of the recovery was such that by 70 minutes the tries by forward Louis McGowan, fly-half Juan Pablo Socino and No 8 Burrows, all converted, slashed Doncaster’s lead to 34-26. With the momentum all in Rotherham’s favour, the most improbable of wins seemed possible.
The introduction of former Leeds Rhinos forward Simon Worrall, a class act, made a big impact as the Titans’ pack grabbed hold of the ball and dominated territory.
It was now Doncaster’s turn to look a rabble as they, too,l eaked points.However, just in the nick of time, they stopped the rot and, after being outplayed, at last they won possession deep in Rotherham’s 22 to score a sixth try to confirm what should have been a comfortable victory.
Centre Andy Wright used his power to beat at least three Rotherham tacklers to drive over for his second try on 77 minutes, and although the Titans continued to show aggression and attack Doncaster’s line in injury time the Knights pack were able to defend effectively their match-winning lead.
“Our aim in the play-offs is to upset people. That’s the biggest thing we can do,” said Doncaster director of rugby Lynn Howells.
“We’ve put together a side of young players who like to play expansively. We went 30 points up. The good teams take it to another level. We sat back on the lead, fell asleep and paid a price.
“We tried to be clever instead of taking control of the game and forcing Rotherham to play in their 22.”
Rotherham’s skipper and scrum-half, Matt Rhodes, was relieved that his side had come back so strongly to gain some respectability.
“The encouraging thing was that our heads didn’t go down. What we have to do now is to take the attitude we showed in the second half with us down to Cornish Pirates on Sunday and show that we want to win the most,” he said.
n Knights: McColl, Flockhart, Goss, Wright, Williams, Roberts, Jones, Frazier, Lawrie,Cusack, Challinor, Kenworthy, Makaafi, Cochrane, Jackson.Reps: Boden, Thiede, Parsons, Craig, Rowan, Hampson, Briers.
n Titans: Hodgson, Hampsey, Hepworth, Godfrey, Swatkins, Socino, Rhodes, Harris,McGregor, George, McGowan, Smidt, Baines, Dougall, Burrows. Reps: Loney, Kilbane, Aikman, Worrall, McMahon, Hunt, Bedford.
n Scorers: Knights: Tries: Williams, penalty, Challinor, Wright, 2, Lawrie; Conversions: Roberts 3, McColl; Penalty: McColl. Titans: Tries: Dougall, McGowan, Socino, Burrows; Conversions: Socino 3.