Match preview: Rotherham Titans v Newcastle Falcons

Titanic going down

Saturday 2 March 2013 – 3.00pm
Clifton Lane, Rotherham
RFU Championship #17

The Falcons have visited several new grounds this season, and though Clifton Lane is not somewhere we have not never been before, it has been a rare destination in our club’s 135-year history. Tomorrow it is the venue for the 17th match of our first (and hopefully only) season in the Championship as Rotherham become the latest to take the Falcons’ scalp.

The meeting of the two sides up at KP back in October was notable for three things – Zach Kibirige’s try-scoring league debut, Rotherham failing to get on the scoreboard (the old one), and the fact that the second half ended with a blizzard coming down over north-western Newcastle.

Rory Lawson, Jonny Golding and Scott MacLeod were also on the scoresheet to give us a bonus point but unrest about form began, the home fans not being satisfied with a 33-0 win.

Mind, Rotherham are not having a bad season, sitting a respectable eighth in the Championship table with six wins, nine defeats and a draw in their 16 outings.

The titanic Titans come into this game on the back of a 49-7 home defeat of Aberavon (*gets nostalgic*) in their rearranged final British & Irish Cup game, though this was not enough to give Rotherham a place in the quarter-finals as they finished three points behind Munster A in Pool Seven.

Two weeks earlier, Plymouth Albion were also vanquished at Clifton Lane, though that was Rotherham’s first home win since beating Doncaster in early November, some three months earlier. In between times, Leeds, Munster A and Nottingham were all victorious in south Yorkshire.

Before that though, Rotherham started the season unbeaten in four home games, drawing what must have been an amazing game with Bedford 38-38 in September before sending Jersey, Bristol and Plymouth (in the cup) back south contemplating defeat.

Sitting just a point behind seventh-placed London Scottish, the Titans will have hopes of taking that place and matching last season’s finishing spot in the table, though catching Leeds, Cornish Pirates or Bristol in the top six may now be beyond them.

As I said, the Falcons have been to Clifton Lane twice before amid just nine previous meetings with Rotherham. The first was in the final weeks of 1996/97, our last season in this division, when John Bentley, Va’aiga Tuigamala, Rob Andrew, Garath Archer, Pat Lam and Steve Bates were the try-scorers in a 21-45 win, alongside a penalty try.

An early-evening thriller was played out in the last week of the regular 2000/01 season in the Premiership. Relegated Rotherham gave the cup-winning Falcons a scare in Tom May’s first (and last for nearly eight years) senior game in the number ten shirt. Gary Armstrong had kicking duties and knocked over two penalties and four conversions, while joining Michael Stephenson, George Graham (two) and Jim Jenner among the try-scorers, both teams getting the four-score bonus point.

More recently, we visiterd Millmoor in the cup in Rotherham’s last season in the top flight, winning routinely and then on the final day of that season a 20-26 win in Sheffield ensured the Titans ended the season winless.

Falcons away to Rotherham:
19/04/1997 Clifton Lane                     Division 2        W45-21
10/04/2001 Clifton Lane                     Premiership   W39-36
16/11/2003 Millmoor                           Cup R6              W38-10
08/05/2004 Don Valley Stadium    Premiership   W26-20
Rotherham’s squad has few well-known names, although Lee Blackett and Gareth Denman are former Leeds Cardigans, both suffering relegation from the Premiership with the Titans’ more northern county rivals.

The Falcons have an unchanged starting lineup with Tom Catterick being OK after a knock against Pirates. George McGuigan could come on to make a first team debut and Sean Tomes replaces James Goode on the bench. I’m looking forward to seeing Michael Tait play for once, but Noah Cato has tonsilitis and won’t be breathing his illness all over his teammates and opponents.

Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Andrew Higgins, 13 Michael Tait, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 James Hudson, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.

Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 James Hall, 18 Sean Tomes, 19 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Alex Crockett.
Rotherham have named the below team for what their website says is their “toughest test of the year”, with Curtis Wilson starting following his loan move from Leeds. It is the big pack that should give us a good test though on a tight pitch.

Titans: 15 Garry Law (c), 14 Mike Doneghan, 13 Eamonn Sheridan, 12 Pale Nonu, 11 Curtis Wilson, 10 James McKinney, 9 Charlie Mulchrone, 1 Jamie Kilbane, 2 Ted Stagg, 3 Gareth Denman, 4 Ben Thomas, 5 Dan Sanderson, 6 Latu Makaafi, 7 Carl Kirwan, 8 Toby Freeman.

Replacements: 16 Jared Saunders, 17 Marshall Gadd, 18 Ross Davies, 19 Laurence Pearce, 20 Alex Rieder, 21 Lee Blackett, 22 Jimmy Williams.
For those getting to the ground early, there is a Clifton Lane curtain-raiser at 12.15pm when Rotherham Phoenix U14 play Northumberland’s own Novocastrians U14, the latter bringing three coaches full of members to Yorkshire.

After that is the main event, and hopefully the Falcons will pick up from last week and put down another marker ahead of the playoffs.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

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