Plymouth Albion face Loughborough Students at Brickfields in National League One this Saturday, January 20 (KO 3pm).
It is Albion’s first home fixture of 2018, after their scheduled game against Bishop’s Stortford was called off earlier this month due to a waterlogged pitch.
Kieran Hallett’s side are now third in the table, while Loughborough are in 13th position, two places below where they ended up last season.
When the sides met on the University Stadium’s 3G pitch in September, Albion scored seven tries to Loughborough’s four to win 49-28.
But behind the scoreline was a tense game with the teams level at the break before Albion ran in four second half tries to emerge comfortable winners.
Albion will be in buoyant mood after their 26-nil victory away at Fylde last weekend, a performance described by head coach Kieran Hallett as ‘phenomenal’.
He said: “I bet it’s been a while since they haven’t scored a point at home. Certainly the way they approach the game and how they attack makes it very difficult to keep them under four tries, let alone zero points altogether, so I was really happy with that.”
The game was Plymouth Albion’s first in three weeks and the extended break had some impact on the initial stages of the match.
Hallett explained: “We were a little rusty at times in attack, as we predicted. Ordinarily with the amount of possession and territory we had, I would have liked us to have scored a lot of more points than we did. But to go through that period in the second half when we weren’t as accurate as we should have been, they had a while on top and we could have easily turned over and conceded a try and then who knows what happens? But we composed ourselves, did the business, scored two tries and got out of there with the bonus point.”
First to score was back row forward Sam Daly and Hallett singled out the 19-year old for particular praise: “Sam is playing really well at the moment and brings a lot of energy to what we are doing. He has certainly gone up a level from last year. He gets around the park incredibly well and is physical, which people may underestimate. He is not the biggest back row by any stretch but he certainly hits hard, his work rate is phenomenal and that’s why he gets on the end of these tries.”
Albion’s victory in Lancashire coincided with the shock defeat of league leaders Coventry away at Blackheath. Hallett admitted there were a few raised eyebrows in the changing room afterwards, but says attention is firmly on the game ahead: “We park that pretty quickly and concentrate on Loughborough. I am not too fussed what Coventry do or whether they win or lose. We focus on ourselves week to week and what will be will be. Their lead is so big at the moment that one loss doesn’t really make any difference. If we worry too much about what other teams are doing we will lose sight of what we are trying to do.”
Despite his team’s convincing win over Loughborough in September, the former fly half says the visitors are something of an unknown quantity: “They are a better team now and their new coaching staff came in over the summer so that always takes a while to bed in. They are difficult to analyse because their personnel change so much, with the BUCS league and they are in exam period.
“Looking at the footage, they conceded a mass of points against Caldy but it’s a struggle to see how. They were lots of intercepts and breakaway tries so I wouldn’t really put too much stock by that. We have to be on the money.”
Supporters will be delighted to learn that club captain and fans’ favourite Herbie Stupple returns to the squad from a slipped disc injury.
“Herbie is on the bench this week which is great. We want to give him a run out and ease him back in. He is now back in training and has looked good over the past two weeks or so. He is keen to get in the mix.”
Dan Williams is also back in action on the field, although not in an Albion shirt quite yet: “Dan played at the weekend for Newton Abbot and will turn out again this week and probably next, but after that he should be good to go.”
His return is good timing because Hallett will be without Exeter quartet Jack Owlett, Marcus Street, Sean Lonsdale and Harvey Skinner for the next few weeks.
Hallett explains: “There is an A league game on Sunday which ordinarily they wouldn’t be involved in but they have got a few injuries up there as well so that can’t be helped. And I think they will be involved in the Anglo Welsh for two weeks after that. So it’s great that Herbie and Dan are coming back.”
Albion’s sparse front row is boosted by the arrival of Brixham prop Joel Armitage.
“Joel is kindly on loan for the next few weeks from Brixham. Losing Jack and Marcus left us a little light up front and then Will Norton sprained an ankle in the first minute of the Fylde game so that leaves us with just two props. Hopefully Joel will settle in quickly and we will see how he goes.”
The Loughborough fixture is a sell-out in Brickfields’ corporate venues, thanks to a Building Plymouth partnership event and Ladies’ Day function in the South West Comms Suite. Hallett’s team will be keen to preserve their 13-month unbeaten home record in front of the bumper crowd: “With the Bishop’s Stortford game being called off, haven’t played here since before Christmas so it is our first chance in the new year to get out in front of our own fans.
“We always want to put a show at home.”
Plymouth Albion team to face Loughborough Students at Brickfields on Saturday, January 20 (KO 3pm).
15 Matt Shepherd, 14 Matt Crosscombe, 13 Seta Raumakita, 12 Dean Squire, 11 Harrison Cully, 10 Dan Mugford, 9 Joe Snow, 1 Luke Chapman, 2 Rupert Freestone, 3 Dan Pullinger, 4 Ed Holmes, 5 John Kelly, 6 George Mills, 7 Sam Daly, 8 Eoghan Grace (Captain).
16 Joel Armitage, 17 Jamie Salter, 18 Herbie Stupple, 19 Cameron Setter, 20 Jordan Gott