Plymouth Albion face a long journey north to Fylde in Lancashire for their first fixture of 2018, after last weekend’s home game against Bishop’s Stortford was called off due to a waterlogged pitch.
Kieran Hallett’s side are now fourth in National League One, just one point behind Ampthill who have played 17 games to Albion’s 15.
In contrast, Fylde are sitting at the bottom of the table, having lost 14 of their 17 matches so far this season.
When the sides met at Brickfields in September, Albion turned on the style to run in ten tries against a young Fylde side.
But it was a different story last season when, at the Woodlands Memorial Ground, the Lancashire side were victorious 39-37, thanks to a last gasp try by fly-half Greg Smith.
Speaking about last week’s postponement, head coach Kieran Hallett says: “It was out of our hands. There was a lot of rain on Thursday night and we cut our training session short as a result. There was so much standing water on the pitch that we had to get the RFU involved. They came to look on Friday and said it was unplayable due to the amount of water on it and that was that.”
It has now been three weeks since Albion’s last competitive game of rugby but Hallett is not worried about the enforced break.
“We trained on Saturday and had a full week of training, so have only had one week off. We will see how we go at the weekend but everyone seems fit and fresh and ready to go.”
The long journey is one of three circa 600 mile round trips on Albion’s schedule this season and Hallett is well aware of the challenges they bring: “It is tough. We won’t get to the hotel much before 1am. If we could leave earlier on Friday that would help but we have to wait for guys to finish work so that makes it a bit difficult. We break it up and stop off for dinner in Bristol on the way. Many of the boys have been here a long time and are used to it now so know what is expected.
“We talk about the challenges each week, depending on whether we are overnight or not. Travel is just another thing we have to factor in this week.”
Despite Fylde’s lowly league position, Hallett describes them as a dangerous side: “There are no easy games and they approach it slightly differently from other teams, especially when at home. They like to run the ball and, as a result, keep a lot of possession so it can be frustrating if you are not as accurate as you need to be.
“We won’t take them lightly. We didn’t win up there last year, so putting that right is a mental focus for us. Every game is massive for them so we have to be wary of that and aware of the emotion they’ll bring.”
Fylde have had a few impressive results, not least a bonus point home win against sixth-placed Bishop’s Stortford 29-22 and, just last month, they held second-placed Darlington Mowden Park to a 10-13 scoreline – also at the Woodlands.
“Through a good link with Sale they have a couple of boys who have come in recently who have done a good job. We know it is going to be a difficult game.”
Albion’s squad remains largely unchanged from the one selected for the Bishop’s Stortford fixture.
Scrum-half Cameron Setter starts in place of Joe Snow who has been away training with England Under 20s.
Hallett explains: “Joe couldn’t train with us until Thursday, so we will bring Cam in to start.”
Plymouth Albion team to face Fylde at the Woodlands Memorial Ground on Saturday, January 13 (KO 3pm).
15 Matt Shepherd, 14 Matt Crosscombe, 13 Dean Squire, 12 Harvey Skinner, 11 Harrison Cully, 10 Dan Mugford, 9 Cameron Setter, 1 Will Norton, 2 Jamie Salter, 3 Dan Pullinger, 4 Sean Lonsdale, 5 John Kelly, 6 Ed Holmes, 7 Sam Daly, 8 Eoghan Grace (Captain).
16 Rupert Freestone, 17 Jack Owlett, 18 George Mills, 19 Jordan Gott, 20 Joe Snow