It was an ugly win from a below-par Reds against spirited opposition, but nevertheless the home side did enough to claim an eighth successive victory and maintain their hopes of a top-four Championship place.
The Reds made use of a strong wind at their backs to recover from a six-point deficit at half-time and left the unfortunate visitors with nothing to show after a display that most observers agreed deserved at least a losing bonus point.
Titans were dominant for large periods of the first half, getting the edge at scrum time and successfully disrupting a number of Jersey lineouts and the box-kicking of Kieran Hardy – the Reds’ scrum-half had no fewer than four kicks charged down.
Rotherham’s Lee Millar had two penalty shots at goal and landed both, the second from 56 metres, while Callum Sheedy was unsuccessful with Jersey’s only shot at goal. Sheedy nearly made amends with a jinking run that took him close to the try-line, but could only find Millar with what might have been a scoring pass.
The Reds piled on the pressure after the resumption and after a series of drives, with James Voss and Hardy making good ground, Simon Kerrod barged his way over from close range.
Trailing for the first time after Sheedy’s conversion, Titans fought back within six minutes and replacement Caolan Ryan slotted a penalty to reclaim the lead, but Sheedy responded in kind immediately and the Reds were back in front (10-9).
Although the home side were able to carve out some opportunities, they continued to make frequent handling errors and were frustrated by some terrier-like defence from Titans. Hardy made one notable break upfield before kicking ahead, but the visitors’ scrambling defence was enough to clear the danger.
The highly conspicuous figure of Nick Haining had a key role in the passage of play that led to a crucial second try for Jersey. Twice in succession the number 8 plucked opposition lineout ball out of the air, once in his own half and again close to Titans’ line. The Reds drove forward, first via a maul and then a series of follow up drives – eventually it was Haining who eventually forced his way over. Eight minutes remained, but neither side had a clear-cut opportunity to add to their points tally after that.
“It was a real heart-and-soul effort from Rotherham, we certainly knew we were in a game but my players showed real character to claw their way back,” said Reds’ Head Coach Harvey Biljon.
“I think Rotherham came with a game plan, they pushed the boundaries around the set piece and the breakdown and gave it everything.
“There were two or three moments in the first half that we should have capitalised on and come away with a few more points so we need to go and look at why we didn’t take those points.
“The second half was just about controlling the pitch, controlling the territory – we had the wind at our backs and it was just about making sure pressure would eventually turn into points.
“We defended well at the end and I was pleased that we didn’t concede a try.”
Titans’ Head Coach Justin Burnell said:
“I’m very disappointed to come away with nothing – I thought we were the better side and it was just a couple of horrendous lineouts that let us down when we were otherwise dominant. The boys showed great spirit and should be proud of their display.”
The Reds moved above Cornish Pirates to fifth in the Greene King IPA Championship table and will have an interested eye on Sunday afternoon’s televised clash between Doncaster Knights and Yorkshire Carnegie. The Knights advantage over the Reds is just two points (50-48) going into the derby match.
The focus for Jersey switches to the visit of London Irish next weekend (Saturday at St Peter, k-o 3pm). In winning a 17th straight league match by defeating the Pirates 39-10, Irish guaranteed that they will finish first in the table and be top seeds for the promotion play-offs. The visitors are set to bring a very large contingent of supporters to the Island. The Reds will hope their home support will be equally large and noisy, and will have ambitions to take a scalp similar to the one achieved in March 2015, when Worcester Warriors suffered their first defeat after a 24-game winning run, losing 24-21 at St Peter.
Pictures by Rich Chapman; a full selection of shots by Rich and Jacquie Ranieri will be published on our Facebook site in due course.
JERSEY REDS: Cuthbert; Lane, Ma’afu, Eastwell, Scott (Robling 68, Argyle 78); Sheedy, Hardy (Dudley 64); Woolmore (McCarthy 59), Buckle (Selway 50), Kerrod (Armstrong 67), Phillips, Voss (Kolo’ofa’i 59), Freeman (c), Graham, Haining.
ROTHERHAM TITANS: Thomas; Foley, Hayes, Owen (c), Wilson; Millar (Ryan 46-55), Murphy (Tressider 62); T Williams (Cano 67), Socino (Cole 59), Rees (I Williams 53), Salmon, Curry, Calladine (Barker 72), Maddison, Tyas (Lawrence 59).
REFEREE: Andrew Jackson. Assistants: Andrew Pearce, Simon Adams
Half Time: 0-6
Man-of-the-match (as chosen by match sponsor Praxis IFM): Nick Haining (Jersey Reds)
Tries: Kerrod 45, Haining 72
Conversions: Sheedy 45, 72
Penalty: Sheedy 52
Penalties: Millar 10, 22, Ryan 51