Justin Burnell yesterday paid the price for Rotherham Titans’ wretched run of form that in any other year would have left them facing relegation to semi-professional rugby.
The Welshman was sacked after overseeing just one win from the club’s last 14 games, a sequence that has left them second-bottom of the Championship with two games to go.
Only part-timers Richmond sit below them, and with Nottingham coming to Clifton Lane on Saturday followed by a season-finale at London Irish – a side unbeaten and destined for a swift return to the Premiership – there is every chance Rotherham will finish the campaign bottom of the pile. In any other season, that would result in relegation to National One and could spell a temporary end to full-time rugby at Rotherham Titans.
But the fact London Welsh went out of business at the beginning of the year left the Rugby Football Union with no option but to postpone relegation from the second tier for one season only. Despite that saving grace, the club’s hierarchy had had enough of the poor performances and elected to pull the trigger with just a fortnight of the season remaining.
It is understood they will make an appointment before the end of this week, though that person will not be in charge of first-team matters, only recruitment for next season.
Forwards coach Steve Salvin and back coach Jon Clarke will take charge of first-team affairs for the remainder of the season.
Martin Jenkinson, the club’s director of rugby, said: “We were in a rut and we needed to make a change.
“We kept hoping we were going to turn a corner, but it never happened. The way the Championship works nowadays, with most players being on one-year contracts, we have decided to act now because we need to get moving on putting a squad together for next season.”
Burnell arrived at Clifton Lane last February with a solid reputation, having steered London Welsh into the Premiership just a few years earlier.
He succeeded compatriot Mark Jones who endured a similary difficult spell, and was successful in staving off the threat of relegation by winning two of the club’s remaining six games that season.
However, due to a reduction in the playing budget and a hefty injury list, that win ratio never improved, and a return of just four wins from 18 games has left Rotherham – who just two years ago finished in the top four for the second successive year – searching for another head coach.