Nonu sins forgiven as Titans shock the leaders
As brother chases World Cup glory with the All Blacks, Rotherham’s Kiwi proves crucial to their cause
to be a top side, we have to earn it.” WHILE Ma’a Nonu attempts to help New Zealand lift the World Cup on home soil at the bottom end of the world, the goal of his elder brother Palepoi is by no means as glamorous but just as pressing.
For after three keenly-fought contests in which Rotherham Titans had shaded one match and been edged out in two others, Palepoi Nonu’s new side had still to make any emphatic statement about their credentials in the RFU Championship.
Even that sole win over Leeds Carnegie had come against a side that after the first month of the campaign are proving a pale imitation of their former Premiership selves.
But on Saturday, Rotherham announced themselves as credible contenders in what is shaping up to be a wide open league with a rousing second-half fightback to end the only remaining 100 per cent winning record in the division.
“It’s a huge scalp,” said Palepoi Nonu, 32, whose sin-binning in the first half allowed Bedford to open a 13-point lead before his early score in the second sparked a four-try comeback.
“Bedford are probably favourites to take the title this year, but we went out and tried to prove that we’ve got the goods.”
Indeed they did, and how Nonu’s younger, more famous brother, would have been proud.
“The All Blacks had a good win against France in the morning and it was great to make it a double,” said Titans centre Palepoi, who was playing National One rugby at Launceston last season.
“It’s been great getting up in a morning and watching the World Cup, but even if we get to the final, I’ll be here on Rotherham duty.”
How the Titans need their bulldozing centre, their wrecking ball of a Pacific Island No 8 Semisi Taulava and their unerringly accurate fly-half Garry Law.
All three were summer recruits by head coach Andre Bester, who made 22 changes to his squad during the close season.
Taulava scored two tries after Nonu’s first as Rotherham rallied from 22-9 and then 32-23 adrift to steal the unlikeliest of victories that was not even sealed until Shane Monahan’s rampage down the right wing in stoppage time.
Law’s touchline conversion was his 20th point of the match and he never missed a deadball kick in 80 breathless minutes.
He was lucky to stay on the field, though, in the first half after a petulant kick at an opponent.
If referee Andrew Taylorson had seen it, Rotherham could have been in deep trouble.
For, after Law kicked three penalties to keep the hosts in touch after former Titan Neil Cochrane – one of five former Clifton Laners in the Blues side – had scored an early try, Nonu was sin-binned for not rolling away.
Wing David Vincent scored two tries in his absence as Bedford hinted at extending their unbeaten start to the season.
“I thought I’d let the team down,” said Nonu. “I thought we were in for a hard day after that but credit to the boys, they hung in there and got the win in the end.”
Bester’s call for more discipline in the second half was heeded as Rotherham conceded only one more penalty in a refreshingly energetic attacking performance.
Matthew Rhodes peeled off the back of a scrum to feed Nonu from five metres before Taulava twice went over following excellent work from the Rotherham pack, who stole lineouts and turned scrums at will.
I thought I’d let the team down and thought we were in for a hard day.
Palepoi Nonu, reflecting on what could have been a costly yellow card.
Jamie Lennard, Bedford’s former Titan and Doncaster flyhalf, threatened to spoil the party with a conversion to Hendre Schmidt’s 61st-minute try and a drop goal.
But Monahan completed the five-point haul with his gallant run down the wing after yet more good work from the outstanding Taulava, who said pointedly afterwards: “We are not the best team in the league but this is a stepping stone.
“There are still a lot of things to work on. But this is a way to show everyone what we are trying to build here.”
For Bester, the task now is to instil the belief in his charges that they can be as good away from home as they are at Clifton Lane.
Two excellent wins on the tops of Rotherham have been cancelled out by disappointing defeats at London Scottish and Plymouth.
A daunting trip to Nottingham on Friday night offers the chance to end that stifling symmetry.
“We’ll only be as good as our performance in the Nottingham game and we’ll start from scratch again this week,” said the South African, in the second season of his second spell at the club.
“The potential in this squad is massive. All that we need to do is look at ourselves. We’re not into making statements, but if we want
CHARGE: Titans’ Semisi Taulava pushes Ali Price to the ground on his way to a try. Inset, Palepoi Nanu.