Ruth Dacey’s rugby round-up: Tigers dreaming of a title tilt after doing the double over the league leaders Sale

Sheffield Tigers RUFC 1st XV head coach Thiu Barnard

Sheffield Tigers RUFC 1st XV head coach Thiu Barnard

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They have won their last six games in a row and are right in the mix for promotion, after beating table toppers Sale - for the second time this season - last weekend.

Sheffield Tigers head coach Thiu Barnard watched on in delight as his side beat their league rivals 20-11- Sale’s first home defeat in over a year - despite having replacement prop Mick Ward red carded in the first half, and another yellow carded in the final ten minutes.

The hosts were leading the game before two tries from in-form Henri Packard and full back Peter Swatkins secured the Tigers’ 15th win of the season.

“Every player was incredibly nervous before kick-off because they knew that a loss would mean dreams of promotion were gone,” explained South African head coach Barnard.

“But Sale did us a favour by scoring first because it made everybody wake up and we then pushed ourselves into the game.

“Round the half-hour mark, Mick was sent off for us, for an apparent headbutt on a player. But even at that point, I knew we had the quality in the side to win and our defence in particular was immense.”

Tigers - currently third in National Three, on 77 points after 20 games - have the second-best defensive record in the league and are now only three points behind second-placed Sandal and seven behind last weekend’s opponents, Sale.

But this week, Barnard has urged players to avoid complacency which cost them in the reverse fixture against their “tricky opponents” tomorrow - seventh-placed Rossendale, who beat them 31-26 in November.

“It is a massive game and I do not want to see a repeat of what happened last time,” said Barnard.

“Everybody was incredibly disappointed after losing to Rossendale last time and this won’t be happening this weekend.

“Our defence and discipline wasn’t good enough but we have made big changes on that front and there will be six changes to the side that lost before.

“So I expect a much stronger, clinical and assured performance. Now is not the time to be slipping up against lower opposition.

“I don’t want us throwing away stupid points but I am confident we will get a good result on the weekend.

“And with our amazing supporters cheering the side on, I expect us to play controlled and confident rugby.”

n Elsewhere in the city, Sheffield RUFC remain on course to win the North One East title despite recent close results - including last weekend’s 15-0 home win against fifth-placed Dinnington, which they sealed only in the last 10 minutes of the match.

And head coach Adam Byron is looking for a much more assured team performance away from home against league strugglers Old Crossleyans tomorrow, who have only won one of their last five games: “I’m very pleased we are securing victories at the moment, but we need to make improvements,” he said.

“Against Dinnington our set pieces were not good enough and we need to start scoring more tries to get those important bonus points.

“Crossleyans are battling to get out of relegation so I know it is going to be a very difficult test, which is why we need to pick up our game.

“They aren’t going to hold back, so neither can we.

“We need to watch out for their scrum half, make sure we secure the set pieces and maintain our defence. At the moment our defence is keeping us in a lot of the games so we need to start showing what we can do in attack again.”

The title looks set to go to the wire as the Abbeydale Park side have secured 80 points from 20 games. But league challengers Ilkley are hot on their heels - only five behind, and regularly picking up bonus points.

Jimmy Pearson, the skipper, said: “We all need to keep our heads now and remember that the title is completely in our hands, it is ours to lose.”

“Ilkley are on a brilliant run at the moment so that’s why we need to be winning all the rest of our games convincingly. It is time now to start picking up those bonus points and playing with confidence.”

Also this week, the Sheffield side are building up to a special charity event in honour of former Colts player Joss Rowley-Stark, who sadly died from a brain tumour at the age of 16 in 2012.

The event will take place next Saturday at 7.15pm, at Rotherham United’s New York Stadium.

Joss inspired the setting up of The Lewis Moody foundation two years ago after the courageous young man met the former Leicester and Bath player.

Moody said: “Josh was such an inspiration.

“The biggest cancer killer of under-40s in the UK is brain tumours, and yet it is one of the least supported cancer charities. So I linked up with the Brain Tumour Trust.”

For more information about the event, visit www.pitchero.com/clubs/sheffield.