By Haden Tye
Albion beat Cambridge 15-40 to conclude the season in fashion with a 13 game winning-run dating back to January still intact.
After a tough first-half, Albion went into the break with a narrow lead – which was soon turned into a comfortable gap as Kieran Hallett’s side stormed out of the blocks in the second-half to ease away from the hosts and grab a bonus-point win.
Harry Strong scored a brace, whilst Herbie Stupple, Dan Powell, Dan Williams and Harrison Cully also scored for Albion; with the shared scoring typical of Hallett’s side this season.
It was a stylish conclusion to a relatively successful season for Albion, albeit it has left the Albion faithful praying for just that little bit more, that ‘what if’ feeling.
But ‘if’ is one of the biggest words in sport.
Not in terms of characters, but in terms of its impact; the imagining of a different scenario.
Try this one.
If Albion were fortunate enough to be in a Hartpury-free National League One, then Kieran Hallett’s men would have spent their final game of the season against Cambridge celebrating a well-deserved promotion back to the Championship.
However, with a seemingly indestructible Hartpury taking the only one-way ticket out of National League One, Albion had to settle for a strong second-place finish that sends out a warning signal to any of the other clubs looking to take Albion on in the hunt for promotion next season.
Try another one.
If a few tight games had twisted in Albion’s favour in the closing minutes, then Hallett’s men could have competed with Hartpury. Imagine that. The side that have cruised their way to the league title winning every single game could have been challenged.
That’s not to discredit Hartpury – they have clearly been the runaway side in the division and deserve their promotion. However, Hallett’s side have resembled their ruthlessness towards the end of the season, winning 13 consecutive games with little forgiveness.
Hallett made six changes to the side that beat Blackheath 7-48 last week; notably Harrison Cully returned from injury to start on the wing, which meant Robin Wedlake, who had been in formidable form shifted into the middle.
Cambridge didn’t make things easy for Albion, but after a Tom Cowan-Dickie line-out on the left was shifted across the pitch, Strong managed to make a dash for the try-line which evaded Cambridge’s defence to put Albion ahead.
The hosts got themselves straight back into the game, though. After a scrum on Albion’s 22 on the left, they switched the ball across field and Albert Portsmouth ran onto a pass with such power, he separated Albion’s line and managed to put down to level things up.
With the break on the horizon, the hosts took the lead. As Cambridge players streamed into Albion’s 22, Hallett’s men weren’t aware of Jack Green on the edge of the 22 who received a quick pass and kicked between the posts to score.
Despite having little time left in the half, Albion got themselves back in front. After an Albion scrum on Cambridge’s 5, Stupple crashed into one man, then the next – and with neither able to stop Albion’s powerful captain going over the line, Stupple scored. Harvey Skinner added the extras to ensure Albion had a slim lead to take into the next half.
After the break, Albion were unstoppable.
It took just three minutes for Dan Powell to spin past his man on Cambridge’s 5 and score, with Skinner again converting.
Minutes later, Albion scored another. James Salter, who had replaced Cowan-Dickie at the break took a line-out, from which Albion went to either side in search of a way through, which Dan Williams eventually found somewhere in the middle.
Just before the hour-mark, Albion were the creators of their own down-fall. Albion had a scrum on their own 5, but Cambridge turned it over and Stefan Liebenberg managed to put down for the home side. Green converted.
With little over ten minutes to go, Cambridge began to gather a bit of momentum. With the game not yet a done deal, the crowd rallied behind the hosts as they searched for a way back into the game.
Their glimmer of hope was quickly erased. Typical of Albion’s ruthless streak in recent weeks, Sam Daly raced away with the ball towards the left corner and as he faced a tackle, he played in Strong who cruised over the try-line for his second. Matthew Shepherd, who had just come on converted.
With the game already secure, Albion added another try as Cully managed to get his name on the scoresheet. Albion’s winger intercepted a misplaced Cambridge pass thanks to a kind bounce and waltzed his way underneath the posts to round off yet another impressive display. Shepherd again added the extras.
It’s been a brilliant season for Albion, with a fitting ending – and only one thing could have made it better.
Next season, ‘what if’.
First team: 15 Dan Powell, 14 Matthew Crosscombe, 13 Robin Wedlake, 12 Harry Strong, 11 Harrison Cully, 10 Harvey Skinner, 21 Cameron Setter, 1 William Keast, 2 Tom Cowan-Dickie, 3 Dan Pullinger, 4 Nile Dacres, 5 Dan Collier, 6 Rupert Cooper, 7 Sam Daly, 8 Herbie Stupple (capt).
Replacements: 16 Samuel Nixon, 17 Daniel Williams, 18 James Salter, 19 George Mills, 20 Matthew Shepherd.
T: Harry Strong 13, 68, Herbie Stupple 40+6, Dan Powell 43, Dan Williams 47, Harrison Cully 80 +3.
C: Harvey Skinner 40+6, 43, 47, Matt Shepherd 68, 80+3.
First team: 15 Mike Ayrton, 14 Matt Hema, 13 James Ayrton, 12 Ben Penfold, 11 Ashley Elvers, 10 Jack Green, 9 Stefan Liebenberg (capt), 1 Ben Ibrahim, 2 Ean Griffiths, 3 David Langley, 4 Alex Moon, 5 George Bretag-Norris, 6 Louis Rawlings, 7 Simon Johnson, 8 Devante Onojaife.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Worrall-Clare, 17 Sisa Nagasima, 18 Tom Read, 19 Matt Meek, 20 Albert Portsmouth.
T: Albert Portsmouth 15, Stefan Liebenberg 58.
P: Jack Green 37.
C: Jack Green 58.