Plymouth Albion – now third in National League One – take on tenth-placed Esher away from home this Saturday, December 23, in their final fixture of the year.
Albion will be full of confidence following their 26-8 bonus point win over Old Albanian RFC at Brickfields last week, while Esher are recovering from a 15-7 defeat away at newly-promoted Caldy.
Albion’s victory marked a significant milestone – 12 months since they last lost at Brickfields, against last year’s runaway league champions Hartpury College.
Head coach Kieran Hallett said: “It is something that we spoke about wanting to achieve and a goal we set ourselves, so in that regard it is nice to have got it.
“But it’s important that we park it pretty quickly and move on. You don’t win any prizes for going twelve months unbeaten at home.
“The guys should be proud of themselves. We mentioned it after the game, but now we move on and try to go for another twelve months!”
Last week the 32-year-old former fly half was shortlisted for the coach of the year category in the Herald Sports Awards. “Everyone likes a bit of individual recognition but in all honesty I wouldn’t be nominated if it wasn’t for the guys out on the field doing as well as they are doing.
“A lot of people working hard at the club to turn the tide on recent times and if it can bring a bit of good publicity then that’s great.”
Hallett described the Old Albanian fixture as a poor game. “The skills set from both sides wasn’t great. Conditions made that difficult and they defended very well which was tough for us.
“Their defence was different than we expected. They brought in eight Saracens players for the game, all of whom were on a completely different defensive system to what Old Albanian have been doing for the past few weeks, so that rattled us a bit.
“We gathered ourselves at half time and spoke about what we had to do, but then the weather conditions got worse and we didn’t get a chance to put it right.
“The really pleasing thing was that we found a way to win. We just went back to basics, back to our set piece which has always been good and then, in the last ten minutes, played the conditions really well to get into a position to win the five points.”
In the somewhat ill tempered game, Old Albanian left winger Craig Dowsett was red carded for an off-the-ball incident which left Dean Squire with a five stitches to his head and a broken nose. Hallett explains: “Dean’s face is a little swollen at the moment and he is in a bit of a state. It’s frustrating, because it means he will be unavailable for a couple of weeks. But the matter is out of our hands and we will let the disciplinary panel deal with that.”
Hallett rates this weekend’s opponents Esher as a dangerous team, due in part to their relationship with Premiership side Harlequins: “They could have six or seven Quins players that they didn’t have last week, so that makes it difficult to prepare and they play some good rugby.”
Despite a run of poor results – the Surrey side have lost their last three games – Esher have had a couple of big wins this season, over second-placed Darlington Mowden Park and Blackheath, currently in fifth.
Albion won convincingly, 43-10, when the two teams met at Brickfields in September, but Hallett warns Esher are not to be underestimated: “Even when we put a few points on them here, they played some decent stuff. They are different to other teams towards that end of the table, in that they actually like to go and play. They are quite attack-minded and will definitely pose some threats.”
With Dean Squire’s injury rendering him unavailable and highly-rated Tom Hendrickson recalled by Exeter, there are a number of enforced changes to the squad.
Seta Raumakita moves back from the wing to the centre, while new signing Harrison Cully plays his first game in an Albion shirt this season on the right wing.
Ed Holmes returns to the back row and lines up alongside 19-year-old Sam Daly and captain Eoghan Grace.
Plymouth Albion team to face Esher at Molesey Road on Saturday, December 23 (KO 3pm).
15 Matt Shepherd, 14 Matt Crosscombe, 13 Seta Raumakita, 12 Harvey Skinner, 11 Harrison Cully, 10 Dan Mugford, 9 Cameron Setter, 1 Luke Chapman, 2 Jamie Salter, 3 Dan Pullinger, 4 Sean Lonsdale, 5 John Kelly, 6 Ed Holmes, 7 Sam Daly, 8 Eoghan Grace (Captain).
16 Jack Owlett, 17 Rupert Freestone, 18, George Mills, 19 Jordan Gott, 20 Joe Snow