Match report by Chris Bentley / Photography by David Cunningham
Competing amongst some of the forty top rugby clubs in the nation is tough going. In the rarefied air of the higher divisions, battling amongst the most prestigious names in the rugby pantheon isn’t easy, even with a full compliment. The challenge has been made doubly hard for Plymouth Albion with a backline injury crisis leaving the team with just seventeen fit players for the last few weeks. Sadly, that lack of manpower left the Ocean Cities’ finest just short for the second week on the bounce as they continue in their battle for National Division One safety.
Last week against Darlington, Damian Welch’s charges outscored their opponents four tries to three but lost out by the narrowest margin. This week, a last-minute Tom Putt kick was needed to secure the second losing bonus point. In a game that saw eleven tries scored, it would be fair to say attack was the name of the game with defence very much second best!
Playing a Leeds Tykes team who are deep in the relegation mire, it was laudable that both teams went out looking to win and played with the ambition to score more points than their opponent. With limited backline resource, Albion once again looked to build from a solid forward platform (with a pack containing five specialist front rowers) and focussed on the driving maul. Leeds meanwhile looked to build phases and pick on the more cumbersome members of their opponent’s defence.
In a game where the scoreboard didn’t stop ticking over, Albion were always just behind their hosts and will be frustrated that five tries were not enough to see off their opponents. Indeed, Jamie Salter will be especially aggrieved that having scored four tries he found himself on the beaten team.
The game started on a bright and clear day, perfect for attacking rugby, and it was the home side who struck first. Showing no signs of a hangover from their last-minute loss at Tonbridge Juddians, the ball was spun out to centre Tom Williams who found a gap to sprint in. Albion’s response was nearly instant as Torin Clarke capitalised on Leeds not playing the whistle, following an up and under that wasn’t dealt with, Putt converted.
It was all Leeds on the scoreboard for the next ten minutes as two unconverted tries followed a penalty kick that took the score to 20-7. In such trying circumstances, many teams would have folded but, cheered on by strong travelling support, Albion found a way to battle back. After being held up short, they opted for the corner and a short lineout drive led to the first try from Jamie Salter. With half time looming, Albion would have been happy to be six points in arrears but, with the last play, Leeds scored and converted their fourth try.
Trailing 27-14 Albion once again showed huge courage to fight back to narrow the score to 30-28 with fifteen minutes to play. They even survived a period when ‘the prince of Plymouth’ Alex Ducker needed to leave the field for treatment on an ankle injury. Playing with six specialist front rowers on the field is a testament to the coaching staff and players that Albion kept the scoreline as tight as it was.
Sadly, the two-point split was as close as it got. Leeds took advantage of a tiring Albion team to dot down a couple more tires in reply to a fourth driven maul (once again scored by Salter). Following their sixth try, and with second remaining, Albion kicked off and went all out from the restart and were rewarded a penalty forty metres out. With time up on the clock, they opted for a long-range penalty and Tom Putt showed nerves of steel to sink it and claim what may be an all-important second losing bonus point. The final result was Leeds Tykes 42 – Albion 35.
Since the heroic bonus point gain at league leaders Calday six weeks ago, Albion have been a changed team. Battling for every piece of every game, sticking together and showing all the qualities that the fanbase know all too well from former teams gone by. With the bare bones of a squad and no chance to rotate or rest, those who have pulled on the shirt of late have set a standard and have wrestled destiny back into their own hands.
With two weeks left in the regular season, Albion now face local rivals Taunton Titans at the Brickfields in a game that could see them secure their league status. With a host of players expected back in the rank, the squad should have 20 players ready to go and a bumper crowd is expected for the last home game of the season as well as the St Luke’s Men’s Walk.
Sitting three points ahead of Blackheath, who have one game left (at Cinderford) and six ahead of Leeds (who still have to play at Darlington, at Taunton and home to Cinderford) the stage is set and we are keen to get as many rugby fans in to help cheer the team as the fascinating season reaches its climax!
Join us for our last home game of the season.
Albion v Taunton, Saturday 23rd April