Plymouth Albion face Caldy RFC at Brickfields in National League One this Saturday, February 3 (KO 3pm).
It will be Albion’s first home game of 2018 after their scheduled January fixtures against Bishop’s Stortford and Loughborough Students were called off due to pitch concerns.
Kieran Hallett’s side will be keen to return to ‘fortress Brickfields’ after their disappointing loss (16-14) away at Cambridge last Saturday.
Head coach Hallett had previously billed the so-called ’Blood and Sand’ as something of a bogey team for Albion: “Everything we were concerned about happened. It was one of those perfect storm situations. Yes, we had only played once in five weeks and yes, we had to leave at 5am and yes, conditions were difficult but we still have to be better than that.
The former fly-half refused to make excuses for his team’s poor performance: “There are no asterisks. You don’t get a star by the result that says Plymouth Albion left at five in the morning. These are challenges we just have to deal with and despite all that we should still have had enough to beat them.
“We weren’t good enough at key times during the game. It was a very uncharacteristic performance from us as a whole and certainly from a lot of individuals as well. A bit of rust maybe comes into it but the performance was nowhere near where it should have been.”
Albion played with the wind for the first 40 minutes and, Hallett believes, failed to make the most of their first half advantage.
“The try they scored in the first half was what decided the game really. Second half they opened us up a couple of times but they didn’t really trouble us defensively. Some of our fringe defence needs work but, apart from pick-and-gos and mauling, we were pretty comfortable.
“The difficulty was that we defended for pretty much 40 minutes. But it was the try against the wind that made the difference.”
This week’s visitors are enjoying their first season in English rugby’s third tier following their promotion from National League Two North.
Hallett expects the fixture to be a difficult one: “They are on a good run. They beat Loughborough convincingly and Old Elthamians last week and were pretty close to beating Darlington as well. They have improved as the season has gone on. It is going to be another tough game.
“Ideally we would have a bit of momentum going in from last week but essentially our season is at a standstill at the moment. We have got to try and generate momentum from somewhere and as a result ultimately a win becomes more important than a performance at this point.
“It has been a frustrating month.”
Despite last week’s disappointing performance at Cambridge, Hallett’s squad remains largely unchanged: “We will give the guys the benefit of the doubt and another shot to redeem themselves. There were some angry and disappointed players after the game but there’s no point feeling like that afterwards, you have got to turn up and perform.”
Hallett was pleased that fans’ favourite Herbie Stupple took another step to full match fitness.
“Herbie came through 20 minutes off the bench which was a big positive. We will probably look to introduce him into the game a bit earlier. A start is maybe asking a bit too much at this point but certainly over the next coming weeks he will come back in.”
Albion will be without dual registered Exeter prop Marcus Street who has been selected for the England Under 20 squad for the Six Nations fixture against Rome,
“He will play against Italy on Friday night which is fantastic.”
Fellow Exeter Chief Harvey Skinner returns to the fold from Anglo-Welsh duties for the Premiership side and slots in at number 12. Hallett is pleased to have his services: “He makes a big difference to us and allows us to put a lot more width in our attack and play at a better pace.
“That’s not to say that we don’t get that with Dean Squire, but he is probably more suited to outside centre than to playing in that second distributor role.”
The National Clubs Association (NCA) has announced that Albion will replay their scheduled fixture against Loughborough Students on the club’s only remaining free weekend – Easter Saturday (March 31, KO 3pm).
While Albion are not required to fund the midland club’s travel expenses, Hallett is dissatisfied with the outcome.
“It opens up a can of worms. Look, the decision has been made and we will turn up on March 31 and we will do a job, but I think, having made that decision to replay it, what is to stop any team just refusing to play at any point when the referee says that it is safe?
“We could pick up ten injuries this week, have to pull in lads from the academy, rock up at Old Elthamians, say we don’t think the pitch is safe and replay it on another date. I think the way the protocols are at the moment it sets a dangerous precedent.”
Plymouth Albion team to face Caldy at Brickfields on Saturday, February 3 (KO 3pm).
15 Matt Shepherd, 14 Matt Crosscombe, 13 Dean Squire, 12 Harvey Skinner, 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 Jordan Gott, 20 Cameron Setter