Over the years trips to Rotherham have rarely produced a happy outcome for ‘Ensians, but on this occasion, despite having several players missing due to injury and unavailability, they managed to pull off a convincing victory. For their part the South Yorkshire side put in a plucky performance out of keeping with their lowly position in the League which had the visitors on the back foot for long spells.
Things started brightly for ‘Ensians when they managed to work the ball into the home 22 in the first few minutes. Quick re-cycling allowed No. 8 Rob Arbuckle to break away up the right and centre-turned -flanker Josh Howarth was on hand to take the pass and go over wide out. The conversion by Connor Batemen gave the visitors a 7 – 0 lead on 6 minutes.
Things then started to go wrong when at the re-start ‘Ensians failed to secure the ball and allowed a Rotherham forward to gather and gallop through two tackles to put the visitors under pressure in their own 22. The hosts then showed that they had a solid lineout and a series of driving mauls put the visitors on the back foot. With prop Michael Groves deputising at hooker and the visiting pack struggling to keep the scrum steady, half backs Rob Lofthouse and Ollie Eaves had problems getting the ball away and then passing was hurried and untidy.
The home side continued to dominate, but sound tackling by centres Luke Cowdell and Chris Westland snuffed out several threatening Rotherham attacks. On 18 minutes the hosts missed a penalty and at last ‘Ensians managed to put some phases together coupled with good runs from Westland and strong support from the back row of Sam Featherstone, Rob Arbuckle and Josh Howarth. Good interplay between Westland and Featherstone took play up to the line where Ollie Eaves was on hand to take the final pass. Bateman’s conversion stretched the advantage to 14 – 0 on 29 minutes.
Far from being daunted, the hosts set about their opponents with renewed vigour and pushed play deep into the visitor’s half with their trademark driving mauls and direct running by their backs. An infringement followed and the home side converted a penalty to put them on the scoreboard at 18 – 3 on 34 minutes.
‘Ensians then clicked into gear with strong runs by fly half Eaves and centre Westland. The forwards were there in support through lively locks Keiran Walker and Tom Dyson who was playing his first game for many months. As half the home pack was battling away in the corner to keep out powerful winger George Duncan, the ball was whipped out into midfield where Luke Cowdell used his strength and pace to beat three defenders and touch down near the posts. Bateman added the extras for a 21 – 3 lead at half time.
After the break there was a setback for the visitors when a player was yellow-carded for what the referee deemed to be a dangerous tackle. Having the extra man seemed to give a boost to the home side as their forwards and backs combined well to score two tries in the next ten minutes to narrow the visitors’ lead to 21 – 13 on 50 minutes.
It then became end-to-end rugby as ‘Ensians counter-attacked through strong running by Cowdell and Westland. Fly half Eaves was having a fine game and was held up over the line before re-cycled ball allowed winger Bateman to show his pace and carve through a broken defence to score out wide on 57 minutes to move the lead to 26 – 13.
If ‘Ensians thought the game was tied up, they were wrong when a turnover allowed the hosts to break away up the left to score in the corner and narrow the lead to 26 – 20. The visitors then started putting together some good phases of rugby to show just what they were capable of as Lofthouse and Eaves started carving big holes in the opposition defence. Good offloading put Cowdell into space where he dodged round defenders to go in at the corner on 69 minutes for his second.
Three minutes later Eaves broke through and good support allowed scrum half Lofthouse to show his pace with a fine try out wide. Eaves was causing major problems for the defence as he carved through yet again, flanker Howarth was in support and he fed winger Connor Paley who raced in at the corner to round off the scoring at 41 – 20.
This game eventually ended up being a comprehensive win for ‘Ensians who, with several key players missing and others playing out of position, still managed to put periods of good rugby together. However, there will be concerns about the number of penalties conceded and spells of careless passing which led to promising moves breaking down. On the plus side were encouraging performances from youngsters Will Cooper at full back and George Duncan on the wing.