Report by Chris Bentley / Photography by David Cunningham
Harry Wilkinson was the deserved man of the match as Albion scored a bumper 45-29 win over newly promoted Esher at the Brickfields on Saturday afternoon.
Albion fancied their chances against the London-based newcomers and started at a breakneck pace with ‘pocket rocket’ Kyle Speare (making his run-on debut) especially prominent on the right wing. Esher had not read the script however and repelled a few early skirmishes before taking a three-point lead on ten minutes.
It didn’t take the Ocean City’s finest long to respond as the pack drove over with the man Wilkinson emerging last. Just four minutes later, he was on the board again as a cute move saw a dummy drive break up only for the hooker to emerge down the blind side unopposed for a run in for 20 out.
Up front, it was clear Albion had the edge where Torin Clarke was having a fine game at 8 as he was in the thick of all that was good in the Albion effort. He was ably supported by Loosehead Ramaz Rukhadze who was prominent in both the loose and tight as the Albion really took control of proceedings.
When Albion are purring, it’s only a matter of time for the ‘Prince of Plymouth’ to arrive and Alex Ducker announced his presence in the 24th minute as he finished off some strong phase play, cutting a fine angle, the Cornishman scurried under the posts to take Albion into a deserved 17-3 lead.
With their tails up Albion really started to take the game by the scruff and the halfback pairing of Jack Oulton and Phil Jones pulled the strings with aplomb. It was from a half break from the former that stalwart George Mills found himself with half a gap and, with a bit of work still to do as his jersey was pulled over his head, he dotted down the bonus point try on 30 minutes.
24-3 up and cruising, Albion seemed to ease off a bit and the visitors regained the momentum. National One is certainly a tough league and in a five-minute purple patch, Esher scored a quickfire brace to prove this point and bring the game back into contention ending the half just 9 points behind.
The second half started well for the neutral as both teams fought to strike first. A score for Albion would seem enough to break the opponent’s resolve while the visitors would be right back in the mix if they could dot down. In the end, the hulking figure of Dan Collier made the decisive play. Defending on the Esher 10-metre line the big man knocked over the opposition hooker, bounced up and gained a turnover penalty that Jones didn’t hesitate to bang into the corner.
Showing shades of control akin to their predecessors from the Championship era, the Albion pack of today do enjoy a catch and drive and Wilkinson emerged with the ball as his hattrick score took Plymouth to a 31-15 lead. In the ascendancy, Albion chose to run the bench and the game lost a bit of shape as the new boys settled in. as soon as they did, however, service was resumed!
From another penalty, Albion went to the corner and Wilkinson was driven over for a fourth. Just a few moments later, Esher regained the restart and scored in a single phase to give themselves a glimmer of hope at 38-22 behind
The glimmer was extinguished in no time as Albion drove into the heart of Esher with replacements Shek Sherriff and Bryn Edwards particularly prominent before Royal Marine Setareki Raumakiti delivered a ferocious hand-off to bury his opponent into the turf and mark the seventh score of the day leaving Albion well clear at 45-22.
Esher had time for one last roll of the dice, and it was a former Albion man Sam Morley who dotted down to get the four-try bonus with a cheeky show and go opening the home defence. Albion roared back and with the final play looked to have scored only for the assistant refereed to adjudge Angus Hodges in touch and the game to end.
Speaking after the game, head coach Damian Welch added, “It was a pretty pleasing way to finish off the first block of games and I think sitting 6th at this point is probably a fair reflection of the progress we’ve made since the same point last season. I’m in the encouraging position of being able to look at the win against Esher and be happy with large parts of our performance but also a bit frustrated with seeing some of the recurring themes present again which we are trying to polish out of our game as a whole.
He went on “What I’m really pleased with is the fact that we were comfortable throughout despite some disruption to our consistency of selection and that can only stand us in good stead. I felt that when we were on it, we looked very good with dominance up front and we also looked dangerous behind as well and we probably left a few tries out there too, which is a nice position to be in before we go again after the down week”
The win sees the Ocean City’s finest move to a deserved sixth in the table after five rounds of league action and sets the team up well for a rest week after a sterling start to the season.
A year ago, Albion were rock bottom of the league without a single point and the transformation has been something to behold as the club embarks on its ambitious PROJECT 150 plan. To a man, the playing section of the club are vastly improved from last term and will be a challenge for all comers at the Brickfields and on the road.
Albion return home on Saturday 22nd October to face Hull RUFC
Harry Wilkinson awarded ‘Man of the Match’ by Emma Hewitt from Building Plymouth