Plymouth Albion are on the road tomorrow (Saturday, February 10) to take on sixth-placed Old Elthamians in National League One (KO 2.15pm).
Albion, currently fourth in the league, will be looking to built on last week’s positive performance and 21-16 home win over Caldy.
Head coach Kieran Hallett described a game of two halves against the Merseyside club: “In the first half I thought we were very good especially to have that much possession and territory playing into the wind. They struggled to get out of their half after the first ten minutes, so I think we played some really intelligent stuff.”
“I would have liked us to be more accurate at times, particularly in the second half when, although we went off the boil a bit, we were never in danger of losing the game. Barring the try they scored in the first ten minutes, they never really threatened us again too much so I was happy from that point of view but disappointed, having been held up over the line and then dropping the ball over the line.
“Not to get a bonus point was frustrating. I felt we had done enough and I that we deserved it but that is probably a fair reflection of where we are at right now, having played only our second game in sixweeks. So the main positive for me was that it was a step forward from Cambridge.”
Old Elthamians held Albion to a 17-17 draw when the two sides met last October. In fact , only a last minute try by Harvey Skinner preserved the home record at Brickfields.
Aware of the challenge, Hallett is seeking further improvements against the highest placed of the league’s newly-promoted teams: “I think that is probably all we can ask for. Is we spoke about getting a bit of momentum back in our season and one game doesn’t really give you that, you have got to maybe put three or four wins together. It is looking at the detail of things of why we didn’t quite put Caldy away the way we would have liked to. And trying to fix those and try to raise performance by a few more percent this week.”
There is both good and bad news as one heavyweight returns to the starting XV, while the team suffers the loss of another.
Herbie Stupple makes his first start – at number eight – since October, but fly-half Dan Mugford has ruptured a tendon in his finger and will miss Saturday’s fixture.
Hallett is delighted to have Herbie back: “I thought he did really well off the bench. We gave him a bit longer than the week before and I think he is ready now. He has got that confidence back and had a few good carries. When you have been out for a long time and had a serious injury like his it can take a couple of games just to regain that confidence. I can see he is ready to go so it is exciting to get him back in for a start.”
Mugford’s injury is a blow but Hallett says his contribution will continue: “He is going to be out for a while. He is very influential in terms of what we are doing on the pitch but he is already talking about helping out more from an analysis point of view, being around at training and travelling with us on Saturday so he is keen to stay involved and drive this club forward.”
The former Sale Shark’s absence forces something of a shake-up among the backs, with the versatile Harvey Skinner, who can play at centre, fly-half and full-back, taking the number ten shirt. Exeter’s Tom Hendrickson, back from Anglo-Welsh duties for the premiership side, is a welcome return at 12 and Jordan Gott slots in at full-back.
Saturday’s man of the match, 19 year-old Sam Daly, impressed not only his head coach but also the National Clubs Association (NCA) who named him National League One player of the week. Hallett says: “We challenged him a bit as I didn’t feel he was quite at the standard against Cambridge that he has been the past few weeks, maybe as a result of having not played regularly. But he was back to his best again and is having a great season. Sam is playing at a level that we can’t really leave him out at the moment!”
With players like Daly demonstrating such form, it is not surprising that player retention plans are well under way: “We will hopefully have some more news on that in the next few weeks, but a lot of guys are close to signing and hopefully we will get them over the line. The way talks are going, I don’t envisage too many boys leaving this year and we are working hard behind the scenes to get as many secured as early as possible.”
Plymouth Albion team to face Old Elthamians at College Meadow on Saturday, February 10 (KO 2.15pm).
15 Jordan Gott, 14 Matt Crosscombe, 13 Dean Squire, 12 Tom Hendrickson, 11 Harrison Cully, 10 Harvey Skinner, 9 Cameron Setter, 1 Luke Chapman, 2 Rupert Freestone, 3 Jack Owlett, 4 Ed Holmes, 5 Dan Swain, 6 Eoghan Grace, 7 Sam Daly, 8 Herbie Stupple (Captain).
16 Will Norton, 17 Jamie Salter, 18 Dan Williams, 19 Matt Shepherd, 20 Joe Snow