A 38-27 reversal away from home to Sale FC was not the result Albion wanted, especially after a 250-mile sojourn to the industrial north.
Going four games without a win is certainly not where we had planned to be, but in defeat and the bigger picture, there were loads of positives to draw from the game last Saturday.
Looking back to our pre-season everything was going well. A sense of optimism and excitement was in the air.
Approaching the return to competitive rugby in Plymouth after the 18-month Covid shut down, Albion’s mood was good. Our coaching team were bedding in nicely and the squad was shaping up well.
In the event a bumper crowd turned up in glorious sunshine to support the lads in our opening game of the new season. Things went well for Albi in a competitive first half against the mighty Rosslyn Park.
Our team matched the bookies favourites to win the league blow for blow in an exciting 40 minutes. A disappointing reversal of fortunes followed in the second half.
We allowed Park to get into their game and 12 points conceded in the last two minutes left a demoralising 37-8 defeat.
Away to Bishop Stortford a week later the lads got off to a bristling start to hold a convincing 19-3 half time lead. Just when our spirits were rising the bottom fell out of our world as the north London club scored 29 unanswered points in the second half to grab their convincing 32-19 home win.
The writing was on the wall in week three when, despite a valiant effort, Albion again ended up in second place losing 22-19 to high flying Rams.
Our pre-season optimism was replaced by the reality that our team is just a bit short of the pace and power demanded to win at this elite level.
Last week in Manchester we came so very close to getting over the line for our first win of the season, but eventually Albi fell just a little short losing 38-27.
In the event it was a nail bitingly close encounter that could so easily have gone either way.
Following Old Elthamians late withdrawal from our league, Albion have a free date with no game until we travel to third-placed Cinderford next week.
With four wins from four the Gloucester-based club present another tough challenge for our lads.
There is an old adage in rugby circles; ‘Forwards determine who wins or loses a game of rugby, the backs merely by how many.’
Considering I am still in not bad shape, I suggested to Coach Welch that I suit up and add my experience, not to mention 19 stone, to the Albi pack simply to add a little forward grunt and grist.
Damian politely refused my offer confirming his focus and firm intent to build the players we have into ‘our team’ that all of Plymouth can be proud of. It will take time.
I am not sure if Damian was being diplomatically polite regarding my ageing body or firm in his focus on team building, but I was forced to agree. The Heritage Club vision is just that!
We take the talent we have and we BUILD a team in which Plymouth can be proud. He was right, it takes time, resolve and patience.
As one who lived the dream as a professional player for 13 seasons, I know well the time it takes to develop the physical skills and fitness levels that only come with prolonged training and playing at an elite level for several seasons.
As a player you only get from the game what you are prepared to commit to the game. Diet, discipline and persistence being major elements. The ultimate key to becoming an elite level rugby player is however, in the mind.
Mental fitness, or the ‘top 2 inches’, as my dad drilled into me as a boy, is what takes the journeyman player onto the next level of excellence.
I still remember when the ‘Old Man’ illustrated the issue by asking me how fast I could run across a field. ‘As fast as I can I replied’. He added that I would find an extra gear and run faster if I was being chased by a savage bull. His point was well made.
It was a good point and one I would like to share with the Albion squad. Dad followed up his analogy by comparing fitness to an electric circuit. When the current becomes too demanding a fuse blows and the current stops flowing.
Fatigue in a rugby game is similar. When we think we are exhausted, a body fuse blows and we stop for a rest. Dad’s answer was to fit a stronger over-ride fuse and go through the fatigue onto another level of athletic output.
Experience tells me that mental fitness, belief and confidence is the edge that separates the champions from those who also ran. It is a message I would like to share with the Albion squad.
You are a talented group, you have what it takes to win in this league, indeed you have enough to be in the top four. The facilities, coaching and opportunity are all there for you at the Brickfields.
The key now for several Albion players is to make the decision that you want to be the very best player you can be. Put in the work, develop the confidence, belief and mental strength to overload the limiting fuse in your mind and go on to be the best!
The only limits are those you set yourselves. As one who was not naturally athletic or physically gifted, I can testify first-hand that it is possible for a journeyman player to reach the top.
Our result in Cinderford is important. Yes, it will be a tough task, but we have the armoury and fire power to get a result. As the old American self help author Napolean Hill wrote, ‘your only limitation is the one you set up in your own mind.’
Moving on my message to our fans and sponsors is to buy into our ‘Plymouth Heritage Club’ ideal. Have faith, believe it, Albion are on the right track.
Our ambitions high, realistic and our fiscal discipline to remain within sustainable budgets is the right way forward. The future is bright – The future of Plymouth rugby is Albion.
We hope you can join us at our next home game against Birmingham Moseley on Saturday 16th October – BOOK NOW
Written by Chris Bentley / Photography by Gareth Lyons