Rotherham Titans 35
Doncaster Knights 34
South Yorkshire’s top professional teams produced a match of high drama, skill and relentless pressure and commitment at Clifton Lane where Rotherham somehow managed to cling to the thinnest of leads and went on to earn four priceless points which kept alive their hopes of reaching the promotion play-offs.
Doncaster are already well on course to participate and while they are disappointed to have claimed a losing bonus point only their chances of finishing in the top five of the Championship remain high.
The Titans, after three consecutive defeats, revealed outstanding character and determination and can now go into their final league games against Moseley, this Friday in Birmingham, and then Bristol at Clifton Lane, with renewed vigour and self-belief.
The Knights, too, who outscored their rivals by three tries to two, also have important games remaining, beginning at Nottingham on Wednesday evening followed by matches at Castle Park against Esher and Cornish Pirates.
The video of this remarkable match, which was a credit to both clubs, should be required viewing by the authorities at Twickenham who need to be convinced that the Championship should be funded decently.
In terms of entertainment alone in horrible conditions, thick mud and heavy rain, both sides delivered a contest which will be hard to beat, capped by influential contributions from Rotherham’s centre, Juan Pablo Socino, and Doncaster fly-half Tristan Roberts.
The derby also saw five fine tries. The scores by forward Latu Makaafi and backs Roberts and centre Oli Goss put Doncaster in front, but Rotherham, fighting tooth and nail, touched down twice through winger Peter Swatkins and scrum-half Joe Bedford to launch a strong recovery in a game where the lead continually changed hands.
The high-scoring individual efforts of Socino and Roberts occupied much attention. The Argentine, not for the first time, supplied a match-winning performance.
In a perfect goal-kicking display, Socino put over seven penalties on 6, 18, 27, 38, 44, 68 and,crucially, on 77 minutes when his last successful kick provided Rotherham with the narrowest of leads and one which they defended superbly in injury time as Doncaster raided their line repeatedly.
Socino’s 25 points also included two conversions.
Roberts came close to matching him - under normal match circumstances, 21 points are more than enough to win a league game.
Roberts, whether he was kicking goals or skimming over the mud, was a delight to watch. A try, two conversions, three penalties and a drop-goal on 70 minutes which inched Doncaster in front 34-32 threatened to ruin Rotherham, but on this occasion the Knight’s number 10, one of the most lethal points-scorers in the Championship, ended on the losing side.
The climax to a thrilling game featured several incidents of high drama.
Penalised again, Doncaster were punished, once more, by Socino whose seventh penalty late in the second half gave Rotherham a lead of one point. Going into injury time, they led 35-34.
The Titans then faced, and survived, constant assaults from Doncaster’s forwards who almost broke through again to pinch the spoils.
Doncaster should have gone over for a fourth try, but a stray pass flew into touch.
Just before the final whistle, Rotherham’s stress grew when a clearance kick by fly-half Matt James was charged down. Doncaster’s attackers, sliding in the mud, couldn’t pick up the ball, so Rotherham amazingly hung on to their slim advantage and emerged with four points. Cue celebrations.
“We have deserved this win for a while,” said Titans coach Andre Bester.
“We were unlucky to lose at Esher and Bees. We should be six points higher in the Championship, but we are on target. I am very proud of the team.”
After seeing his side come so near to grabbing a win, Doncaster skipper Neil Cochrane found it hard to believe they had lost.
“We are bitterly disappointed. It could have gone either way at the end. When you travel away and get 34 points you expect to win,” he said. “We gave away too many stupid penalties and we have to criticise ourselves.”
Titans: Welding, Swatkins, Hepworth, Socino, S. James, M. James, Bedford, Kilbane,
Loney, Quigley, Harris, Smidt, Dickinson, Dougall, Burrows. Reps: George, Aikman, McGowan, Baines, Godfrey, Rhodes, Hunt.
Scorers: Tries: Swatkins, Bedford; conversions: Socino 2; penalties: Socino 7.
Knights: McColl, Flockhart, Goss, Gidlow, Wright, Roberts, Jones, Frazier, Boden, Cusack, Challinor, Kenworthy, Makaafi, Cochrane, Jackson. Reps: Corsar, Walker, Thiede, Parsons, Hampson, Lewis-Pratt, Briers.
Scorers: Tries: Makaafi, Roberts, Goss; conversions: Roberts 2; penalties: Roberts 3; drop -goals: McColl, Roberts.
Referee: T. Hall.
Attendance: 1, 491.