The last time Plymouth Albion travelled to the home of the Cornish Pirates in 2015, both teams were in the Championship.
Soon after, the Devon side were relegated to the third tier of English rugby and, 12 months later, entered administration.
With the new owners’ promotion ambitions well documented, a game against their nearest Championship rivals was always going to attract attention.
Add former ‘Pirate’ Albion head coach Kieran Hallett to the mix and things get even more interesting. Despite calling it ‘just another game’, Hallett named a strong side and called on his players to show their pre-season improvement against a top-end Championship side.
Pirates fly half Laurence May took advantage of an early penalty kick before team mate Tom Lawday scored the first try, converted by May. Soon in action again, May kicked cross-field to the wing and Pirates were destined to score, were it not for a strong Matt Shepherd tackle.
Albion were dominant in the scrum until a penalty on their 5m line, taken quickly, sent prop Marlen Walker over for a try on 24 minutes.
Seven minutes later, Albion’s Dan Mugford was sin binned and Lawday went on to complete his brace with a catch and drive from a 5m lineout.
After half time, with the score at 22-0, Albion started to attack a tired Pirates defence. Back rower Alex Cheeseman was soon in the sin bin, gifting Albion valuable field position. They attacked wide at a line out and winger Jack Arnott scored Albion’s first points in the corner. Mugford added the extras on 58 minutes.
Worryingly for Albion, winger Robin Wedlake twisted his knee during an attacking run and was stretchered from the field.
Albion continued to dominate, forcing pressure at every scrum. 18 year-old scrum half Joe Snow led his troops on a charge and Harvey Skinner scored the try on 75 minutes, which Mugford also converted.
From the restart, Pirates finally got past Albion’s 10m line and attacked for the remaining minutes while the defence held strong to keep an impressive second half clean sheet.
Captain Herbie Stupple said: “After a slow start we began to show progression from last week, breaking down the defence, adapting the game to the opposition and taking control. We still have a lot to work on but the main positive is that we have competed with a Championship side.”
Head coach Kieran Hallett said: “I was pleased with the team’s progression from the Bedford game. The squad is showing signs of being stronger than last season and we have strength in depth and good decision makers. We can look back positively on what we achieved and take that to the start of the season next Saturday at Blackheath.”
Plymouth Albion will face Ivybridge RFC at the Brickfields on Monday, August 28. Kick-off is at 5.30pm and entry costs £5, with under-16s free with a paying adult. An informal ‘meet the players’ session will follow in the Bidfood marquee.
Albion’s National League One campaign starts with an away trip to their former head coach James Shanahan’s Blackheath on Saturday, September 2, followed by their first home fixture – and Albion Family Day – on Saturday, September 9, at the Brickfields vs Esher.
Tries – Lawday (2), Walker; Conversions – May (2); Penalty – May
Tries – Arnott, Skinner; Conversions – Mugford (2)
15 Toby May, 14 Kyle Moyle, 13 Pete Laverick, 12 Nicolas De Battista, 11 Harrison Cully, 10 Laurence May, 9 Mike Pope, 8 Tom Duncan, 7 Alex Cheesman, 6 Rupert Cooper, 5 Toby Freeman, 4 Chris Morgan (captain), 3 Jack Andrew, 2 Tom Cowan-Dickie, 1 Marlen Walker.
16 Billy Keast, 17 Christian Judge, 18 Josh Caulfield, 19 Matt Bolwell, 20 Tom Lawday, 21 Alex Day, 22 Will Cargill, 23 Alex O’Meara, 24 Dan Koster, 25 Harry Strong
15 Matthew Shepherd, 14 Jack Arnott, 13 Tom Hendrickson, 12 Harvey Skinner, 11 Robin Wedlake, 10 Dan Mugford, 9 Cameron Setter, 8 Herbie Stupple, 7 George Mills, 6 Ed Holmes, 5 Sean Lonsdale, 4 Daniel Collier, 3 Daniel Pullinger, 2 Jack Innard, 1 Will Norton
16 Luke Chapman, 17 Rupert Freestone 18 Marcus Street, 19 Dan Swain, 20 John Kelly, 21 Sam Daly, 22 Joe Snow, 23 Dean Squire, 24 Matt Crosscombe, 25 Dan Powell