Rotherham Titans 35 Cornish Pirates 30
The Titans and the Pirates produced a high tempo and entertaining New Year's opener at a damp Clifton Lane, where the home side, who have been the surprise package in this season's Greene King IPA Championship, emerged narrow victors.
The manner in which this game panned out was also fascinating, with the Pirates 24-3 up on the half-hour mark, before the home side clawed back at the deficit to ultimately take a 51st minute lead that they wouldn't relinquish.
For the Pirates, props Shane Cahill and Ben Prescott, along with lock Neale Patrick were selected to play against their former club, but Cahill was unfortunately forced to withdraw just ahead of kick-off because he was suffering from a sickness bug. Young Kieran Davies took his place in the starting XV and Jack Andrew came onto the bench.
Getting off to an encouraging start the Pirates opened their account with a penalty successfully struck by full-back Craig Holland. The advantage of that score, however, was cancelled out on eleven minutes when Rotherham's Argentinian centre Juan Pablo Socino levelled matters when slotting a penalty from in front of the posts.
The Pirates were keen to respond and Tom Kessell was desperately unlucky not to score when opting to sharply snipe for the line after the Pirates were awarded a penalty. The home side did well to thwart the scrum-half's effort, as he was adjudged to have been held up.
A little disappointment for the Pirates one moment, would soon be forgotten the next, for as the Titans looked to take play back upfield Holland suddenly intercepted and ran in for a try at the corner to which he also added an excellent conversion.
This was proving a good start for the Pirates, but it would soon get even better. Centre Alex Dancer, who was making his Championship debut, made telling yardage, creating space also for his midfield partner Tom Riley who offered support and dotted down the Pirates second converted try of the afternoon.
A 3-17 scoreline probably didn't quite reflect the overall balance of play, but confidence levels had to be high. The home team also made a change in personnel when their forwards coach Ed Williamson, who had a brief spell with the Pirates on loan from Newcastle Falcons in 2007, and was making a return from injury, was replaced by Laurence Pearce.
Could the Pirates add to their tally. Yes, as their third try came with Kessell not on this occasion denied when he sped through a gap to score under the posts. The try took his tally to eight in the Championship this season, and with Holland landing the conversion visiting supporters could pinch themselves, as their team held a 21 points advantage.
With ten minutes left to the interval it would be interesting to see how the Titans would respond, as they have been a force in this campaign and would clearly not cave in.
Indeed, this quickly became evident, and a converted try from replacement Pearce was soon followed by a second Rotherham try scored by centre Jack Roberts, thus making it 15-24 at the break.
The Pirates hoped for a positive start to the second period, but it was the home side who would maintain their resurgence when hooker Ben Sowery, who had played very well throughout, scrabbled his way to the line. Socino's conversion left just a two points deficit.
A big crowd had witnessed Rotherham bruise Bedford Blues with a 35-6 win on Boxing Day, and another large gathering were now enjoying this particular contest.
Finding voices of encouragement once more, they suddenly hit a high when a bonus point providing try awarded wing Michael Keating gave the Titans a lead for the first time in the match. Socino's conversion made it 29-24.
The final thirty minutes or so would likely provide further entertainment, and it was certain to be tense, so it was a case of hold on to your seats.
A penalty from Holland provided an extra nervy edge, and even though Socino similarly responded for the scoreline to read 32-27, the final result was still in doubt as this game approached its conclusion.
Among replacements being made, there was a welcome return to action for a fit again Aaron Carpenter, who hadn't played since being injured when captaining Canada against the Maori All Blacks at the beginning of November.
A third penalty from Socino opened up an eight points gap, but Holland was then given an opportunity to complete his own trio of three pointers, which he did, taking his tally to 20 in the match. Okay, Rotherham still held the advantage, but the end result was clearly still in the balance. Nervous still? Yes, a little.
In the final seconds Socino had a chance to cruelly deny the Pirates even a losing bonus point. However, his normally reliable boot would surprisingly let him down, which in the context of this game was perhaps just, as a losing bonus point was the very least that the Pirates deserved.
Commenting at the end of the match, Head Coach Ian Davies said:“In an entertaining game, it was disappointing that we allowed them to get back into the match, as it would have been a feather in our cap if we had won this game on the road.
“There were a number of positives, including Alex Dancer's display on his Championship debut and the play of Joel Conlon who will soon be away for spell with England under 20s. Tom Kessell was again in fine form and it was good to see Tom Riley getting ball in hand and scoring a super try.
“Our line-out functioned really well and although our scrum creaked a little we had that sorted by half-time.”
Ian added: “The home crowd lifted their side in what was a high tempo affair but we also deserved credit for displaying character to at least earn a bonus point.”
Rotherham Titans: 15 Sean Scanlon, 14 Michael Keating, 13 Jack Roberts (Joel Gill 29-36, 72), 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Curtis Wilson (Jamie Broadley 49), 10 Dallan Murphy, 9 Dan White; 1 Robin Hislop (Toby Williams 61), 2 Ben Sowrey, 3 Colin Quigley (Mark Tampin 60), 4 Barney Maddison (capt), 5 Ben Thomas (Dan Sanderson h/t), 6 Alex Rieder (Tom Cruse 53), 7 Jack Preece, 8 Ed Williamson (Laurence Pearce 27).
Cornish Pirates: 15 Craig Holland, 14 Mike Pope, 13 Tom Riley, 12 Alex Dancer (Rheon James 69), 11 Kieran Goss (Kyle Moyle 80), 10 Matt Evans (Angus Sinclair 54), 9 Tom Kessell; 1 Kieran Davies (Jack Andrew 54), 2 Rob Elloway, 3 Ben Prescott, 4 Neale Patrick (Joe Atkinson 69), 5 Darren Barry, 6 Chris Morgan (capt), 7 Joel Conlon (Jake Parker 80), 8 James Phillips (Aaron Carpenter 73).
Scorers:- Rotherham Titans – tries: Pearce, Roberts, Sowrey, Keating; cons: Socino (3); pens: Socino (3). Cornish Pirates – tries: Holland, Riley, Kessell; cons: Holland (3); pen: Holland (3).
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth (RFU) Attendance: 1,735