It’s going to be the toughest of challenges at Abbeydale on Sunday, but Rotherham still have a chance of going through to the Championship final to decide which club is promoted to the Aviva Premiership next season.
For more than an hour Titans were the best side at Ashton Gate and scored two outstanding tries by forward Ben Morris and winger Jamie Broadley, but they need to make up 12 points if they are to compete in the second leg of the semi final.
If they score early at the home of Sheffield RUFC in front of an expected 3,000 crowd Rotherham may go on and produce the shock of the Championship season.
That looked to be the case at Ashton Gate where a crowd of more than 7,000 were stunned as Rotherham, playing positively and with flair and enterprise,typified by centres Jordan Davies and Lloyd Hayes, outthought a sluggish Bristol.
Just after the hour, they led 17-8 and thanks to tries on 19 and 58 minutes from Morris and Broadley, backed up by two conversions and penalty by fly half Tom Barrett, the Titans were in control.
And it could have been better still if hooker Tom Cruse had not been tackled just short of the line at the start of the second half and if Barrett had not missed penalties on 24, 43 and 56 minutes.
Bristol were struggling to break through despite the presence of three British Lions in Ryan Jones, Dwayne Peel and Gavin Henson.
But the contest suddenly shifted rapidly in Bristol’s favour as they scored 24 points between 63 and 77 minutes.
Tries by backs David Lemi and Charlie Amesbury plus the award of a penalty try, all converted, shot Bristol into a 32-17 lead as Rotherham collapsed and failed to deal with the power of the Bristol forwards and top class replacements.
The turnaround was as surprising as had been Rotherham’s earlier control against a club that is spending vast sums to return to the Premiership.
Rotherham, though, remained competitive and reminded Bristol they were by no means comfortably through to the final when on 79 minutes, Barrett put over his second penalty to cut the deficit to 12 points.
“We are confident if we can get an early score on Sunday,it’s all to play for. We are very competitive and we have not been beaten by a much better team,” said Titans’ skipper Cruse.
Titans: Scanlon, Broadley, Hayes, J.Davies, Keating, Barrett, A. Davies, Hislop, Cruse, Tampin, Maddison, Robinson, Rieder, Birch, Morris. Replacements: Preece, Williams, Thiede, Thomas, Argyle, White, Wilson.
Tries - Morris, Broadley; conversions: Barrett 2. Penalties: Barrett 2.