Report by Chris Bentley / Photography by s2s Photography
The Albion coaching staff must be struggling to see what the secret sauce is that diminishes the potency of their charges on the road. Two dominant home bonus point wins have each been followed by blunt road trips, first to Taunton and now Reading-based Rams. This week’s loss was especially galling as the host club were reduced to 14 men after just 20 minutes of action at Old Bath Road.
Albion were forced into a late change going into the game as hooker Max Norey dropped out suffering from a stomach bug. With Jamie Salter also absent, the number two shirt was taken on by Harry Wilkinson. The opening stanza of the game was all Albion as the visitor’s dominated territory and possession. Making a change from earlier in the season, they opted to take the points from early penalty rewards and former Scotland Under 20 cap Connor Eastgate duly obliged to nudge Albion into a 0-6 lead.
Sadly, that was about as good as it got for most of the afternoon as the Rams pack started to take a hold on the game. Loosehead Ramaz Rukhadze seemed to fall on the wrong side of the officials and was a persistent source of penalties allowing the home side to plug position and build a strong platform. Strong carrying at the midfield allowed Rams to get a converted score and edge into a one-point lead.
On twenty minutes, Shea Cornish went up for a high kick and was clumsily more than malevolently tackled in the air by a Jak Rossiter from Rams. A couple of years ago this would have been classed as a ‘rugby incident’ but, under the new guidelines, the officials had no choice but to reduce Rams to 14. Many unaccustomed to the game may suggest that 15 against 14 would make the game a cert for Albion but, just as Toulouse found out at Wasps this weekend, that isn’t necessarily rugby!
The reduction in numbers seemed to galvanise the Rams team with their forwards taking a vice-like grip on the game as they scored again taking them followed by a penalty on the stroke of 40 minutes, leaving them 17-6 up at halftime.
The early stanza of the second half saw Rams score from a driving maul only for Albion to get one of their own via a penalty try that saw a further yellow card, reducing Rams to 13. The travelling Albion support started to get behind their team sensing a rousing comeback but, even against a vastly reduced opponent, they couldn’t build consistency into their game.
Indeed, next to score was the home team clinching the bonus point (with two men down) taking them to an insurmountable 31-13 lead. Compounding issues, Dan Collier was harshly adjusted to have illegally stopped a maul and dispatched to the sin bin with twelve minutes to play. Almost immediately, Rams scored another try to seal the game at 38-13.
Suddenly, with the pressure off, Albion began to show the form that has made them tough to beat at the Brickfields recently as two quickfire tries from Henry Clement pulled them back to a more respectable 38-27. There was a faint hope for a repeat of ‘the miracle of Chinnor’ but it wasn’t to be as Rams converted another penalty to see out the game deserved 41-27 winners.
A win from Bishops Stortford over Leeds means that Albion remain tantalisingly close to the bottom two spots in the league and there is a huge challenge next week with the visit of high flying Sale RFC who scored a resounding 60 point victory this weekend.
Tries: Hayhow 15, 27, 60 Hayman 45 Penalty 72
Conversions: Humberstone 16, 27, 46, 61
Penalties: Humberstone 40, 80
Yellow Card: Baker 57
Red Card: Rossiter 18
Tries: Clement 78, 79
Conversions: Putt 78, 79
Penalties: Eastgate 6, 13
Yellow Card: Collier 68