Fourth-placed Plymouth Albion are set to face their biggest test at home this season when they welcome second-placed Darlington Mowden Park to Brickfields for their National League One game this Saturday, February 17 (KO 3pm).
Kieran Hallett’s side will be looking to protect their 14-month unbeaten home record.
Last week Albion came unstuck against in-form Old Elthamians 16-12. Despite the result, Hallett rated elements of his side’s performance: “They defended very well. For the third game in a row we dominated possession and territory and pretty much controlled the game without really getting the rewards for it.
“We were inaccurate at key times but in very poor conditions produced some of our best attacking play since Christmas – so some very pleasing things and some disappointments as well.”
Albion started poorly, giving away three penalties and a try in the first 20 minutes.
“Penalties are always frustrating, especially as two were offside penalties when we were not really under any pressure. They are difficult ones to accept as a coach and proved costly but we outscored them two tries to one and had multiple opportunities to put the game to bed.
“Our set piece isn’t where it needs to be at the moment. To bomb three five-metre lineouts wastes a possible maximum of 21 points and we have got to be better than that. You convert all of those and we walk it easily.
“The one at the end was a poor piece of play with the game on the line. All we had to do was win a lineout, maul over and score.
“Earlier on in the season you would have put money on us to do that but in the last few weeks probably not. It is concerning and I am not sure why we have gone off the boil in that area.
“We defended very well and cut down their opportunities to pretty much just penalties.”
This weekend’s game is perhaps the biggest home fixture of Albion’s season so far and Hallett anticipates a tough encounter.
“I expect a big performance. We were unlucky to lose up there in the last play of the game having probably done enough to win. We are better at home at the moment and even though we lost at the weekend that was still our best performance since Christmas, so we are moving in the right direction. It would be nice off the back of a frustrating loss to put a big side away at home.
“We fancy our chances every week, particularly at home. If we improve again from Old Elthamians, which I would back us to do, we have got more than a good chance of winning.”
Likely to feature in Darlington’s starting XV is South African back row forward David Fisher who was formerly on Albion’s books. Signed by Graham Dawe in 2015, Fisher was injured pre-season, underwent anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery and, as a result, spent most of his year in Devon helping out behind the club’s reception desk. The 24-year-old, who joined the County Durham club in 2016, is relishing the opportunity to return.
He says: “I didn’t get to play last season down in Plymouth so am really looking forward to coming back to where it all began for me. It is a tough place for us to visit and get the win but I really believe that we can with the bunch of boys we have this season.
“We got the win at home but Plymouth are a different team at Brickfields and we are expecting a hard game as always.
“I am also looking forward to seeing all the supporters off the field and sharing a few beers with them.”
Hallett delayed selecting his starting XV due to a number of injuries picked up during last week’s game.
He says: “It was a difficult training week which is not ideal going into a big game, but it is what it is. We will have to see how they do.”
Plymouth Albion team to face Darlington Mowden Park at Brickfields on Saturday, February 17 (KO 3pm).
15 Matthew Shepherd, 14 Matt Crosscombe, 13 Setareki Raumakita, 12 Tom Hendrickson, 11 Harrison Cully, 10 Harvey Skinner, 9 Cameron Setter, 1 Luke Chapman, 2 Jamie Salter, 3 Jack Owlett, 4 Ed Holmes, 5 Sean Lonsdale, 6 George Mills, 7 Sam Daly, 8 Dan Williams (Captain).
16 Dan Pullinger, 17 Rupert Freestone, 18 Dan Swain, 19 Jordan Gott, 20 Joe Snow