Justin Burnell’s prediction that Clifton Lane would present London Welsh their toughest test so far proved only too accurate, but a powerful final quarter was enough to see the Exiles go top of the Greene King IPA Championship table.
Putting their 100 per cent records on the line in a clash which promised much in the pre-match billing, Welsh and the Titans delivered every bit and more, with the Exiles forced to dig deep to avoid slipping to a first defeat of the season.
That Welsh emerged on the right side of the scoreline was down to cooler wiser heads prevailing, and a stubborn refusal to be beaten.
Their tryline breached three times inside the opening 11 minutes - via Curtis Wilson, Juan Pablo Socino and Alistair Birch - Welsh needed to draw on all of their experience in the face of an at times rampant Rotherham side.
Lessor sides would have wilted in the face of such an onslaught. That it was in part self-inflicted will be cause for later dissection, but on Saturday at Clifton Road it simply created the parameters for Welsh to exhibit their will to win.
Welsh wrestled back some control in the run up to half-time, with Gordon Ross landing a couple of crucial penalties to close the gap to 20-16 at half-time.
The fly half brought the Exiles to within a point after Colin Quigley was yellow carded – the prop paying the price for the away side’s dominance in the scrum – but it was the 14-men of Rotherham who struck next through Michael Keating’s try.
Trailing 27-19, Welsh produced a commanding final quarter display, however, triggered by Tom May’s intercept score. Alex Davies’ long range penalty edged Welsh ahead for the first time in the game in the 65th minute, and the scrum half added a second seal the win and ensure Welsh sit proudly at the top of the table going into the British & Irish Cup.
Against a Rotherham side setting the pace at the top of the championship after three rounds, Welsh would have no doubt emphasised the need to keep things tight early on and quietened the crowd.
Wilson bursting clear to touch down in the second minute was hardly in keeping with that, after James Broadley had collected Charles Mulchrone’s up and under.
Three minutes later the home side were in again - Socino benefiting from a loose London Welsh pass to race half the length of the field. The centre converted and the Titans led 12-0.
The Exiles’ response was immediate, as the pack drove their way over after Ross had pushed a penalty into the corner. Fittingly it was ex-Titan Carl Kirwan who claimed the try. Ross converted.
But that did little to put Rotherham off their stride and Welsh knew they were in for a tough afternoon when Broadley broke a tackle and fed Birch to go over in the corner and the home side led 17-7.
The scrum was becoming increasingly more prevalent though, and it was Welsh who were winning the battle. Ross clawed back three points.
Socino cancelled out that strike and the home side should have been in for try number four. Breaking down field, the ball passed smartly between several pairs of hands before Tom Cruse was hauled down just short.
It was still a Rotherham put in five metres short of the line, but Welsh survived thanks to their scrum, and it was the scrum that inched them back into the game.
Ross landed two more penalties off the back of Welsh’s forward power and for all of Rotherham’s attacking enterprise the home side led by just four at the break.
Ross kicked the Exiles to within a single point within three minutes of the restart, a penalty accompanied by the sight of Quigley seeing yellow – the prop paying the collective price Welsh’s dominance in this area.
That should have been the opportunity for the away side to stamp their authority – instead it brought the best out of the Titans.
Welsh were stunned when Socino’s break set up Keating to cross in the corner and the centre’s conversion left the Exiles suddenly eight points adrift.
For 17 scoreless minutes the game hung in the balance before turning decisively in Welsh’s favour, as Rotherham’s ambition brought about their own downfall when the decision to take a quick tap penalty saw James Lewis intercept and he fed May to race clear.
It was a mistake Welsh seized upon. Ross added the extras and with the momentum behind them the Exiles edged ahead two minutes later for the first time in the game when Davies bisected the posts from half-way.
Davies missed with a further attempt and Ross saw his drop goal attempt slip just wide, as the game remained in the balance. Welsh were playing the game, though, in the right areas of the field and forcing Rotherham to go from deep.
That pressure paid dividends when Mike Denbee won a penalty on the floor and Davies slotted over his second penalty to give Welsh a five-point cushion. Having kept the Titans scoreless for 35 minutes it was a hard earned lead they weren’t about to relinquish.
Rotherham Titans scorers:
Tries: Wilson, Socino, Birch, Keating; Cons: Socino (2); Pens: Socino.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Kirwan, May; Cons: Ross (2); Pens: Ross (4), Davies (2).
Referee: Steve Lee
Referee Assistants: Wayne Falla & Darryl Chapman