Match report by Chris Bentley / Photography by David Cunningham
A hugely spirited Plymouth Albion claimed what may be a vital bonus point away from home for the second week on the bounce at Volac Park on Saturday.
Travelling with a depleted bench and stretched to their barest resources, the spirit from Damian Welch’s team shone through in what can certainly be seen as a moral victory against fourth placed Cambridge.
On a bright and clear day, running rugby was going to be very much to the fore and that certainly proved to be the case in the to-and-fro match that remained in the balance up until the final ten minutes. Things certainly didn’t start well for the Ocean Cities’ finest with an early Cambridge score and scrum-half Henry Clement departing with an ankle injury very early in proceedings.
When a scrum-half comes off injured and a hooker goes on in his place, you know things are tough but, in such trying circumstances, the Albion team fronted up. George Mills moved from the flank to the wing, debutant half Tom Cairns (on an emergency loan from Exeter) moved from the wing to nine and Albion Harry Wilkinson went into the pack.
Clement’s replacement, Exeter Chiefs youngster Tom Cairns, certainly didn’t let the side down and inspired the Albion team to score the next try; a neatly taken score by the aforementioned Mills. Next on the log, Cambridge scored before Alex Ducker took another try via a clever interception to leave the scores tied with a minute left in the half.
Sadly, just as last week, Albion conceded scores in the last play of the first half and opening one of the second to stretch the score to 26-12. Undeterred, Plymouth kept plugging away with the forward pack stretching the much-vaunted Cambridge 8 to the limit. At scrum time especially, props Ramaz Rukhadze and Dan Pullinger were putting in sterling performances and were unfortunate to not get better rewards from the officials.
With an injury list that itself can induce a wince, backs coach Ryan Lamb has worked wonders to ensure the Albion’s backs maintain an attacking threat. Missing Henry Clement, Olly Mulberry, Phil Jones, Connor Eastgate, Jeremy To’a, Setareki Raumakita, Craig Duncan, Shea Cornish it was through the backline that the next score came.
Running in the centre, talismanic club captain Herbie Stupple barged over to narrow the score to 26-19 with thirty minutes still on the clock. It was at this point a telling moment took place. As the ferocity of the encounter rose, Cambridge were able to rotate their players while Albion were forced to continue to toil away with only two specialist props in reserve. Warhorses Dan Collier and Wayne Sprangle battling heroically but fresh legs may have made all the difference.
Cambridge scored again before the impressive Cairns scored the crucial fourth Albion try and set the score up at 31-21 with 14 minutes to play. As the game entered the final stanza, the battle-weary Albion faded, and this was enough for Cambridge to up a gear and stretch away to finish up 48-24 winners.
There is no doubt the score was not a fair reflection of the game nor just reward for effort and commitment from Albion. However, if this level of performance continues into the next few weeks, Albion will have enough to get out of the bottom of the table logjam.
Indeed, over the next three weeks, Albion face bottom of the table Tonbridge Juddians, second-bottom Leeds Tykes, and fourth-bottom Darlington Mowden Park in crucial games. Tonbridge are very much in the last chance saloon and the game at the Brickfields will be their last throw of the dice as they look to avoid certain relegation.
With the other two games on the road, the time has come for the people of Plymouth to come out in force to cheer on their team this weekend as they look to get out of the relegation dogfight.
Join us next Saturday for Albion v Tonbridge