By Richard Sykes

Huddersfield RUFC head coach Gaz Lewis praised his players for a brave second-half fight-back despite ultimately going down to a 26-12 National 2 North defeat against unbeaten Rotherham Titans at Clifton Lane.

With the driving wind and rain at their backs and with a pitch slope advantage, Rotherham’s game plan was evident from the starting whistle.

Kicking deep from the off, they forced Huddersfield into conceding three penalties in the first five minutes. Two were kicked to touch, giving the home side attacking lineouts, with a scrum option being taken with the other. Field manned up to the test of strength they had been presented with but couldn’t prevent their hosts opening their account at the end of the early exchanges.

The first try came six minutes into the game, scrum half Sam Boxhall nipping over close to the posts, from behind a driving maul, with fly half Matt Minogue notching a comfortable conversion.

Field responded well to the early setback, producing some attritional rugby to gain ground and put Rotherham on the back foot. They probed with grubber kicks and and ran back line moves but when play broke down Rotherham hoisted the high ball and the wind took play back deep into the Huddersfield half. 

A penalty on 20 minutes gave Rotherham a 5 metre line out and when the ball was mauled and rucked infield, lock Matt Smith spotted a gap and dived in for a try under the posts. Aussie Minogue – inevitably nicknamed Kylie by his teammates – added the extras.  

Approaching half-time Rotherham flanker Zak Poole scored his team’s third converted try. Once again it was the combination of lineout and drive that set up the chance, with the outcome giving the team a 21-point lead at the interval.

At the start of the second half the game balance changed. With the elements now in their favour it was Huddersfield’s turn to apply the pressure. For 15 minutes they pressed hard inside the Rotherham 22, working patiently through the phases to close in on the try line.

Huddersfield hooker Liam Stapley and winger Elliot Knight came close and full back, Tom Hodson, grubbed the ball, a shade too heavily, through the defensive line, seeing it run dead before it could be touched down.

Pictures courtesy of the Rotherham Advertiser 

Although Rotherham defended well they were forced to concede a succession of penalties on their try line. When referee Daniel Woods reached for a yellow card, it was Rotherham prop Rikki Stout who carried the team can to the sin bin.

Immediately after Stout’s dismissal, Field flanker, Lewis Bradley, was driven over the whitewash for his team’s first try. When Smith got a few sour grapes stuck in his throat and directed some ungentlemanly attention towards Bradley, he too was dispatched to the sin bin to join Stout.

Will Milner missed the conversion attempt, but Smith’s indiscretion meant that Huddersfield were able to re-establish pressure with a penalty kick from the re-start. Five minutes later they scored their second try. From a neatly worked move behind a scrum, the ball was passed along the back line, with Hodson rounding the defence on the right for the try which Milner converted.  

Rotherham made the game safe and secured the bonus point with a fourth try on 66 minutes. Number 8, Callum Bustin, was the scorer, with pack power from the line out creating his opportunity. Huddersfield continued to battle hard but the game concluded with no further scoring.

Huddersfield head coach Gaz Lewis was immensely proud of his team’s performance and said: “The prospect of facing an experienced and abrasive side would have frightened a lesser team but, as we’ve done so often, we embraced it and gave as good as we got.

“At 21 points down some teams would have crumbled but we got ourselves back in the game with our resilience. We forced them to lose their rhythm and discipline and scored two great tries.

“I’m really proud of the way all 20 players performed and we are battle hardened in readiness for the visit of Wharfedale next week.”

Rotherham are the only unbeaten team in National 2 North and the win leaves them in second place in the table. They are just three points behind leaders, Sedgley Park, with two games in hand. Meanwhile Huddersfield sit third bottom on 19 points.