Report by Chris Bentley / Photography by David Cunningham
Albion face a second big trip north this weekend to fellow relegation battlers Leeds Tykes. Albion have a nine-point buffer over their hosts and it would be safe to say a win this weekend will nigh on completely extinguish the threat for the Ocean Cities’ finest and leave the Tykes and Blackheath as the only clubs staring down the barrel for the one remain position in the drop zone.
Under normal circumstances and, having comfortably defeated the Tykes at the Brickfields earlier in the season, Albion would be strong favourites to double up but, for the fourth week in a row, Albion will have a reduced squad as injuries continue to bite. Rather than cause issues for Damian Welch’s charges however, the team has been galvanised as they have channelled the ‘spirit of Agincourt’ to become a team any Albion fan can really be proud of.
Assuming the team does indeed do enough to avoid the drop, many will look back at the nine league points achieved in the most trying of circumstances as a defining time for Plymouth Albion. Where many teams of lesser volition would have folded, this group have rolled up their sleeves and battled for every inch. Bloodying the noses of every opponent, they have provided a sterling example of the level of commitment needed to represent Albion.
With regards to selection, the front row looks especially strong with centurions Dan Pullinger and Jamie Salter linking up with the ever-impressive Danny Southworth. The warhorse Dan Collier has been producing some of his finest form in the engine room of late and he packs down once again next to out of position bulldozer Ramaz Rukhadze. The Georgian will hope to repeat his try-scoring feats of last weekend where he dotted down twice. In the backrow, another club centurion, George Mills returns from his week on the wing and joins abrasive Cornishman Torin Clarke and pocket rocket Harry Wilkinson to form a solid backrow.
Exeter University tyro Tom Cairns once again links up with Tom ‘Faff de’ Putt in the halfbacks and they will certainly be excited at the centres they will be feeding. Returning from an injury lay off Jeremy To’a links up with Herbie Stupple to form one of the most destructive midfield partnerships the club has seen since the days of Fisilau and Saumi!
Out wide, Ben Parsons slots back into his more familiar wing role. He will be joined by the ‘Prince of Plymouth’ Alex Ducker and the old general Connor Eastgate who will be looking to harness the obvious attacking abilities of his lively wingers.
There is no doubt that the starting Albion XV is more than capable of doing the double over Leeds but with only two specialist props (James ‘Spud’ McFarlane and Luke Chapman) on the bench there will need to be all the tenacity and grit of Henry V and his oft remembered ‘merry band of brothers’ to ensure this is the case!
Speaking in advance of the game, Head coach Damian Welch added, “Pushing towards the end of a strange and testing season has brought the best out in the group in terms of togetherness and a bit of adversity in the face of some quite considerable challenges. It’s been really pleasing to see and the boys deserve a lot of credit for the way they are handling our run in, and I look forward to watching that same competitive spirit in action against Leeds. We’re expecting a tough encounter and I’m sure the boys will put their all into it yet again”
Leeds Tykes v Plymouth Albion, The Sycamores 1500