A TOUGH January programme for the Cornish Pirates, in both league and cup, begins on Saturday as they travel to south Yorkshire to face second-placed Rotherham Titans at Clifton Lane (2pm).
The Titans are flying high on the back of a strong first half of their Greene King Championship season and swept aside the challenge of Bedford Blues on Boxing Day to register their eighth win of the campaign.
Four second half tries secured a bonus point in a 35-6 victory, but the Cornish Pirates are handily placed, only four points behind the Titans and will fancy their chances of causing an upset on Saturday.
The Pirates have won on three of their last five visits to Clifton Lane in matches, which are often tight affairs on the scoreboard. Last season, Rotherham grabbed a slightly more comfortable 41-28 midweek win in a high scoring end of season encounter in which the Pirates scored four tries.
Only London Welsh have so far beaten the Titans at home this season, and Pirates head coach Ian Davies knows that his team will have to perform much better than they did in victory against Plymouth Albion (match report, page 78) if they are to do the same.
He said: "They (Rotherham) are playing really well and Lee Blackett has certainly turned them into a force. They play a totally different style to what you had under Andre (Bester), move the ball around a lot more and they have (Juan Pablo) Socino back there who is a cracking player and was very much a catalyst for them when he was there before."
"We have got a few days off and can put the Plymouth game to bed before focusing on Rotherham. It will be tough up there, we know that, but January is a big month for us with the B&I Cup as well and by the end of it we should know where we are."
Davies is hoping that first team regulars Alan Paver, Laurie McGlone, Aaron Carpenter, Tom Duncan and Kieran Hallett will all return to action during the next month, while youngsters Matt Bolwell and Max Bodilly are also ready to play again.
There is a concern over skipper Gavin Cattle, who injured a knee during the second half against Plymouth, but Davies also hopes that he can hang on to James Phillips for a bit longer.
The No8 joined the Pirates on loan from Exeter Chiefs and Davies said: "There's a possibility we can keep James longer than the original one month loan and we will have that discussion with Exeter Chiefs."
"He is enjoying his time here, getting game time and miles in his legs, but at the same time we need to make sure that Joe Atkinson and Jake Parker are getting game time too.
"It is very important that guys who are Pirates players are allowed to develop."
Cornish Pirates (from): Fatialofa, Goss, Hendrickson, Holland, James, Jones, Kessell, Moyle, Pope, Riley, Sinclair, Evans; Andrew, Barry, Cahill, Channon, Joyce, Elloway, Graulich, Patrick, Prescott, Stevens, Davies, Cattle, Cheesman, Dancer, Morgan, Parker, Sandford, Phillips.
Cornish Pirates supporters are set to benefit from a special ticket offer for the British & Irish Cup home match with Ayr on Sunday January 12 (3pm).
Season ticket holders are advised that they can 'Bring A Pal For A Fiver', where for only £5, a terrace ticket will be provided for a relative or friend to watch the game.
This ticket offer must be purchased in advance by contacting the ticket office, 01736-331961, which is open Monday to Friday from 9am to noon.
The Pirates are offering a hospitality deal on the day, when a pre-match meal is available at just £20 per head.
To book contact Rebecca Daniell via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01736-335315.