Plymouth Albion face their toughest test of the season this weekend with the visit of runaway league leaders Rams. With only two losses all season, the Reading club are closing in on automatic promotion, but they will see the visit to the Brickfields as one of their toughest assignments to date.
Having troubled the visitors at their home ground earlier in the season, they will know all too well the difficult proposition Albion presents at the Brickfields. Combined with an expected 3000 crowd, as the St Luke’s Mens Walk is in town, the stage really is set for a ding-dong battle.
Rams will be looking to edge ever closer to guaranteed promotion as they sit 9 points clear with 5 games to play while Albion will be looking to right narrow losses in their last two games where they coughed up 19 and 21 point early in the contests. Indeed, without the first 15 minutes of the last two games, Albion would be on a 7-run winning streak and have gained 9 league points instead of 2!
With former Albion Ace Dan Swain alongside Cornish Pirate James Mcrae, Rams will be no strangers to the Brickfields and will bring their high tempo ‘all court’ game to bear. Only the very best Albion performance will suffice if Ryan Lamb’s men are going to get something from the Match.
Last time out in Reading, Albion led 7-14 deep into the third quarter only for a sin bin and sending off to hand the initiative to Rams. In the last ten minutes, they took full advantage of the numerical advantage to take a 26-14 win, scoring the final try in the last play of the game.
If Albion can get their start right and keep 15 men on the field, this could be something of a fixture. With their league status secure, one could argue there is little to motivate the Ocean City’s finest, but this team has developed well through the season and, buoyed on by a bumper crowd, may take inspiration from their top-of-the-table guests.
With the return of talismanic tighthead Dan Pullinger to the rank, Albion will certainly look to carry on where they left off at the tail end of last weekend. Under the tutelage of former Welsh international Aaron Jarvis, the forwards will relish the visit of table topping opposition and have a real chance to start sending a message for the league to note.
22/23 has been a vastly improved showing from Albion and, with stated ambitions to be competing further up the table next term, the last 5 games of the season will give the players a real opportunity to lay down some markers as the season reaches a climax.
Selection wise, the returning Pullinger forms a formidable front row with Harry Wilkinson and the ‘Georgian Bull’ Ramaz Rukhadze. In the engine room, man mountain Dan Collier returns to partner Jake Clemson in a combination that has power and guile in equal measure. The pack is completed with the backrow combination of Herbie Stupple, George Mills and Torin Clarke.
Enjoying a breakthrough season, Clarke has not looked out of place next to the proven operators in the 7 and 8 shirts. They will take part in a key battle with the Rams backrow who provide a huge amount of impetus to their game. Indeed, if Albion can gain an edge in the tight exchanges, as they did for 65 minutes in Reading, we could have a big day on the cards!
In the backline, the abrasive Jack Oulton remains in the 9 shirt and he will look to link with Tom Putt who is back in at flyhalf. Connor Eastgate and Jeremy To’a remain in the centres, and much will be expected of the duo who can cause any team problems when they are on their mettle.
Perhaps the most surprising selection is that of Jon Dawe who starts his first Albion game in over a year having returned from a sabbatical a little over month ago. Renowned as one of the hardest hitters in the National Leagues, Dawe has big boots to fill as he steps in for Setareki Raumakita. His wing buddy is ‘try a game’ Kyle Speare.
Fullback Craig Duncan returns after some impressive outings for the Royal Navy while the bench looks strong with a combination of experience (Jamie Salter and Navy Captain Kye Beasley) alongside exciting youth (Phil Jones and Frankie Nowell) together with a man for all seasons, Angus Hodges!
With the England game kicking off immediately after and the St Luke’s Men’s walk, this promises to be the best-attended game of the season so be sure to get in early for a superb clash.
Albion v Rams, Sat 11th March
- Gates open at 12 PM
- K/O 3 PM
- Six Nations on the big screen
- Live music until late!
Here’s your starting XV