Report by Chris Bentley, Photography by David Cunningham
Plymouth Albion concluded their friendly programme with a narrow loss to Exeter University in a highly entertaining game at the Brickfields on Saturday. The Albion faithful will be disappointed at the 28-40 scoreline after defeating the same opposition on their home patch just two weeks earlier in what was the university’s first home loss for over two years.
As reigning national champions and preparing in a full-time regime, the students were certainly not lacking in motivation and made no bones about the fact they were up for the fixture. Meanwhile, Albion were missing a couple of players rested with slight niggles as one eye was already on the season proper where a better start than last term will be expected.
The game itself was very much a case of Albion’s power taking on the running rugby of the students. Two maul tries from Albion were countered by some open field efforts from the students to leave the halftime score at 14-19.
Into the second half, the students enjoyed the better part of the first exchanges as they made use of the wide expanses to score two more tries early on. Albion responded with a third pushover to leave the score at 21-33. The game then lost a bit of shape as both teams looked to run their benches until a final scoring flurry left a final score of 28-41 in favour of the visitors.
Facing the same opponents each preseason has provided something of a gauge for the Ocean Cities’ finest and their planned curve of improvement. Over both fixtures with the university, Albion were certainly a more competitive outfit than last year (when they were distinctly second best throughout the 80 minutes), and the coaching staff will be pleased to see a bit more depth in the playing section.
Coach Damian Welch added, “It was a good test to come up against a different style of rugby to that which we are used to in National 1 and Exeter were a very exciting quick side and actually, it was a very interesting game. There were large areas where we enjoyed dominance and obviously a few areas to work on but overall, I’m much happier with where we are at this stage than last season. It’s been great to have unearthed a couple of new players who I feel can add to the squad and I imagine we will see one or two of those new faces when we look towards Cambridge”.
With a won 2 lost 2 record from the preseason, Welch will certainly be looking for a response from his charges as they commence their National One campaign next week on the road (to Cambridge and then Taunton) before the visit of Sale on the 17th September and he will be pleased to see a larger playing pool to select from.
There is certainly a more settled feel to the playing squad along with several locally based players stepping up which should make Albion a stronger proposition. Combined with the commencement of an ambitious four-year plan to return the club to the Championship tier it is a pivotal season in the history of the club and certainly one that will garner a lot of interest.