Gritty Albion take two points on the road
Match report by Chris Bentley / Photography by Andy Hall
Taking one of the longest trips in domestic rugby an injury-ravaged Plymouth Albion only had 17 men listed to play. On our social channels, there were dissenting voices as the parlous state of the club was clear to see. Many would have expected a team with a flanker on the wing, number 8 in the centres along with 5 specialist front-rowers in the starting pack to have been on the tail end of a big loss.
This was certainly not the case on Saturday as the decimated Albion squad put in a performance to be immensely proud of, taking two losing bonus points from the game and, to be frank, can count themselves hugely unfortunate not to have returned with the maximum.
Missing nigh on an entire backline through injury, along with backs Setareki Raumakita and Craig Duncan on duty with the Navy team, Albion were always going to be up against it out wide. Coaches Damian Welch and Ryan Lamb have certainly grown of late and implemented a tactically astute plan keeping a firm grip in the game and frustrating their opponents.
With Tom Putt pulling the strings at 10, The Albion pack took on their northern opponents with strong driving play that resulted in the hosts ceding positions and the referee punishing infringements. Albion denied the chance to take three and consistently chose to take lineouts, but the hosts did well to repel the drive.
After a couple of unsuccessful efforts from close range, it was a backline play that saw Albion over for the first score. Herbie Stupple caused chaos with a trademark bulldozing run and created enough space for Alex Ducker to squeeze in right by the touchline.
The theme for the game was set when, from a quickly taken penalty, Darlington responded scoring a breakout try. Albion had the forward dominance and were keen to put control onto the game, on the occasions where focus dropped, the ambitious Darlington team were set to pounce and pounce they did soon after with another score taking their lead up to 14-5.
Backs against the wall and fighting a long way from home it took an intervention from Alex Ducker once again to stem the tide. With the defence lined up in front of him, a neat kick and chase created space for one of his trademark tries to close the gap at the break to 4. Into the second half and Darlington showed immense respect for Albion by opting for the posts rather than going for the corner to extend their lead.
Albion however were in no mood to be left in their wake and a strong lineout drive led to a pushover try with Ramaz Rukhadze emerging from the pile. Darlington responded with another penalty and try to extend their lead to 25-17. Once again, Albion gained field position to launch another maul (that is fast becoming a trademark of the team) to power over once again with Rukhadze again emerging as try scorer.
With eight minutes left in the game the tension started to mount as Albion looked for position to launch their drive while Darlington began to get more expansive looking for the fourth try. With only props on the bench, the Albion team once again showed huge resilience and fortitude to maintain a defensive wall. Sadly, that was to be all and Darlington ended the game kicking a penalty to touch, scraping home 25-22.
Speaking after the game, head coach Damian Welch added “Although we came up short on the scoreboard, the supporters who mass the long trip can attest to the fact we didn’t come up short on performance. To push DMP all the way with 17 players, 2 forwards playing in the backs and props packing down at second row and flanker was a phenomenal effort. They should be proud of their efforts as I am. Our group has become tighter since the second half turnaround at Caldy and that will stand us in good stead going forward.”
Two bonus points on the road, combined with losses from the other two teams in the relegation picture has strengthened Albion’s hand with three games to play. Indeed, a win at Leeds next week will all but secure their status if Blackheath fail to win at promotion chasing Sale FC (it would also leave Leeds needing 13 points from their final three games).
Don’t miss our last home game of the season!