Plymouth Albion face one of the longest journeys in domestic rugby union this weekend with the mammoth trip north to face Darlington Mowden Park.
In another big fixture as part of their dramatic National League One run in, the game has added spice due to ongoing sparsity in the Albion squad. With only two players on the bench, Albion really are running on fumes as the season reaches an extraordinary climax.
After a highly convincing bonus point win last weekend that saw opponents Tonbridge Juddians relegated, many would tip Albion to do the double this weekend against their northern rivals. Indeed, in the reverse fixture at the Brickfields, the Ocean Cities’ finest had no real issue scoring a bonus point win over the Durham based outfit. The lack of a full bench does however loom over the team for the third week on the bounce.
Astoundingly, those still standing have been galvanised by the challenge into some Herculean performances of late. Indeed, it is often said not to back a dog into a corner as, no matter if they’re vicious or not, they’re going to bite back! There is no doubt Albion are in a dogfight over the next few weeks and they have certainly showed their teeth already taking bonus points on the road at Cambridge and Moseley followed by a big win last weekend.
Both sides this weekend will see this game as of huge importance as they lie nine and eleven points clear of second bottom Leeds. The Yorkshiremen play Tonbridge this weekend and should take a step up the points towards the losers. Conversely, a win for either team in the far north will be a huge step towards safety. Strangely enough both Albion and DMP face Leeds over successive weekends following this game!
Darlington go into this week’s game following a bye week and will be buoyed from a late 22-20 win over Tonbridge the week before. They are certainly an exciting team, willing to play from all over the field but have shown real susceptibility to the driven maul and will be wary of Albion’s lineout near their redzone.
As with the last few weeks, the starting XV for Albion has plenty of firepower and certainly a very good opportunity to take a lot from the game. With five club centurions in the starting team, they do not lack experience while some of the newer players in the squad have stepped up of late.
Up front the front row of Slater, Southworth and Pullinger looks very strong. Fresh from being crowned player of the month, Ramaz Rukhadze finds himself in the unaccustomed second row of the scrum and there will be expectation he and hooker come flanker Harry Wilkinson add grunt to the set piece. Dan Collier and Jake Clemson run at more accustomed positions of 5 and 7 respectively and their experience will be vital,
Packing at 8, one of the finds of the season, Cornishman Torin Clarke will be expected to keep his high standards up off the base while Exeter University student Tom Cairns will look to add zip to the backline at 9. ‘Faff de Putt’ Tom Putt will be relishing playing behind such a big pack and his tactical nous will be needed to keep them on the front foot.
Captain fantastic Herbie Stupple remains in the centres, and he has formed a brilliant link with another young tyro Ben Parsons. Out wide, the firmer pitches have given the ‘Prince of Plymouth’ Alex Ducker more scope to add to his impressive try tally but there will also be greater expectation on him and the every reliable Connor Eastgate to support George Mills who is joining the back three.
This is not a must win game for Albion but, with the season getting closer to its conclusion, a win would set the team up brilliantly for their final three games.
Albion v DMP – 3pm The Darlington Arena