Rotherham Titans v Bedford Blues
An enthralling first half saw James Pritchard’s penalty put Bedford in front with less than a minute on the clock, before the Titans responded with tries from Mike Whitehead and Alex Rieder, while Neil Cochrane pulled one back for the Blues.
Bedford started the second half in a more positive manner, scoring three tries - including two from winger Josh Bassett, but they were to be denied a bonus point victory when they conceded a penalty try in the dying seconds of the match.
The Blues made three changes to the side that beat Moseley with Ollie Dodge, Mike Howard and Ricky Reeves coming in for James Stephenson, Alex Rae and Dan Seal.
It took the Blues just 40 seconds to go ahead when Pritchard converted a penalty, only for their lead to be short-lived as the Titans scored the first try of the match less than a minute later. Neale Patrick’s surging run left the Blues defence out of position and the ball was switched wide for full-back Mike Whitehead to go over.
The conversion was missed but Rotherham had another chance to get points on the board when they won a penalty. McKinney converted and Bedford were now 8-3 down.
It was end-to-end stuff and the away side got the response they needed when hooker Neil Cochrane crossed the line.
Bedford won a line-out on the Rotherham five metre line and in a similar move to last week against Moseley, the Blues forwards showed their strength to enable Cochrane to score, Pritchard added the extras and the visitors were back in front.
The home side came back strongly once again and after enjoying heavy pressure deep in the Blues half, the lively Alex Rieder scored from a scrum – giving McKinney an easy conversion.
The game then saw an exchange of penalties. McKinney was the first man to send one through the posts but Pritchard followed shortly after with his second of the match.
Rotherham fly-half, McKinney, then missed a penalty late in the first half but the Titans went into the break with an 18-13 lead.
Bedford came out all guns blazing at the start of the second period and scored a much-needed try when Jake Sharp offloaded to Bassett who put the ball down underneath the posts. Pritchard converted and the score now stood at 20-18.
However Bedford were conceding penalties at regular intervals and McKinney scored two in quick succession to put Rotherham back in front.
Not to be outdone the Blues responded magnificently as they grabbed two tries in as many minutes.
Don Barrell was the first to go over as he made the most of some poor Rotherham defending and scrum-half Luke Baldwin was instrumental in the next one as he made two breaks through the Rotherham backline, before getting the ball out wide to Bassett who went over for his second.
Pritchard converted and the Blues skipper strengthened his side’s position moments later when he kicked another penalty.
The Titans needed to bounce back quickly and when Lee Blackett bundled the ball over the line, they were back in the match.
Pritchard then scored his fourth penalty, giving the Blues a seven-point lead as the hosts now needed a try to salvage anything from the match.
With the game entering the final five minutes, the Titans began to apply some heavy pressure. They won a scrum on the Blues five metre line and Scott Spurling was sent to the sin bin for repeated infringements.
The Blues were living dangerously and when they committed another violation in the scrum it gave referee, Geraint Roberts, no choice but to award Rotherham the penalty try.
McKinney, who had looked good with the boot all day, kept his cool to convert and even the match at 38-38 with what proved the final kick of the match.
Rotherham: Jamie Kilbane (Marshall Gadd 55), Dan Baines, Ross Davies (Simon Gardiner 55), Neale Patrick (Latu Makaafi 65), Dan Sanderson, Barney Maddison, Carl Kirwan, Alex Rieder (Rory Piutman 47), James Williams (Joel Gill 59), James McKinney, Peter Homan, Palepoi Nonu (Garry Law 65), Lee Blackett (C), Eamonn Sheridan, Michael Whitehead.
Replacements: Edward Stagg.
Scorers:T: Whitehead, Rieder, Blackett, Penalty Try. C: McKinney (3). P:McKinney (4).
Blues: Ricky Reeves (Dan Seal 54), Neil Cochrane (Scott Spurling 65), Phil Boulton (Ben Cooper 57) Mike Howard (Paul Tupai 47), Ben Gulliver, Gregor Gillanders, Sacha Harding, (Darren Fox 65) Don Barrell, Luke Baldwin (Darryl Veenendaal 65), Jake Sharp, Josh Bassett, Henry Staff, Brendan Burke (Ian Vass 60), Ollie Dodge, James Pritchard (C).
Scorers:T: Cochrane, Bassett (2), Barrell. C: Pritchard (2). P: Pritchard (4).