By Jack Guthrie
PLYMOUTH ALBION 29 – 20 LOUGHBOUROUGH STUDENTS
Plymouth Albion managed to scrape a win over National One strugglers Loughborough Students, in a close match that Albion coach Kieran Hallett described as “a funny game”. The battle was closely fought, with Albion having to defend doggedly throughout the match as Loughborough dominated the possession.
A quick start from Plymouth was unravelled by some disciplinary issues which saw them concede two penalties and their early lead. The first half was ended after a converted try for the students, putting pressure on the home side going into the second half.
Albion were much improved in the second half, defending resolutely and forcing mistakes of the opposition. Captain Herbie Stupple and fly-half Dan Mugford were influential in the second half as Albion clawed back the score line and edged the victory, in milestone games for both players receiving 150 and 50 caps respectively.
Albion sealed the game with a final-minute penalty, preventing the away side from gaining a crucial losing bonus point, after 15 minutes of additional time.
Albion went into this game looking for their eighth straight home victory and went for it early on, scoring a trademark early try that a lot of their recent home performances have produced. Joe Snow kicked the ball through the Student defence allowing Jack Arnott to touch it down on the wing. The resulting conversion was missed by Mugford.
Infringements in the tackling and rucks saw Albion penalised and the Leicestershire side come back into the game with two successful penalty kicks from full-back Thomas Ffitch in the space of 10 minutes.
Albion had a glaring opportunity to take the lead again through Dan Pullinger, however he knocked the ball on as he tried to plant it over the try line, relieving the away side.
Only a few minutes later Loughborough did the exact same up the other end of the pitch as it was knocked loose in the tackle going over the try line, allowing Albion to counter-attack.
Albion were able to maintain the ball in the last five minutes of the first half, with lots of passing phases trying to unlock the resolute Student defence. Though the home side looked well drilled in attack, a misplaced pass saw the ball turned over for a Loughborough scrum. They capitalised on their scrum and after a few phases of pick and drive, a quick passing move saw Oskar Hirskyj-Douglas open to run the ball over for his first of the afternoon.The try was converted by Ffitch and the first half was ended, with Albion facing a 5-13 deficit.
Hallett felt that Loughborough did everything they could against Albion. He said: “they were throwing everything at us looking for that win so they can stay up.”
Albion needed to provide a strong response in the second period if they were going to win the game.
Some defensive lapses early in the second half saw Loughborough give up good territory to Albion who capitalised from a lineout within five minutes. A powerful driving maul shunted the away side over their own try line and Paul Davis planted the ball on the try line, Mugford able to convert the easy kick.
This cut the deficit to one point, but the Students weren’t worried by this. Some more excellent defending from them forced the ball to be played through the Plymouth Albion backs, with a wayward pass being intercepted by Hirskyj-Douglas on his own 22-metre-line. He ran it the whole way for his second, being converted by Ffitch to restore their lead to eight points.
Albion were able to apply the pressure to the away side instantly from the kick-off. Another conceded penalty by the students saw Albion kick for another lineout deep in Loughborough’s half. Albion again utilised the pick and drive to break the gain-line and force the defence back. A quick outlet pass to Sam Daly saw him lunge over the line under the posts to again cut the deficit in quick fashion.Another easy conversion for Mugford brought Albion right back into the game with just over 20 minutes left to play.
Loughborough upped the pressure and physicality of the game to guard their lead. This forced them into making some simple mistakes, giving the ball back to the revitalised home side.
Albion gained the bonus point with Davis’ second of the game, as a long pass found him out on the right wing to sprint past the Loughborough backs for Albion’s fourth. The conversion was scored from a tough angle by Mugford and the pressure was now on the Students who needed a converted try to win the game.
For the rest of the game both sides were tentative with the ball, making safe plays and looking to gain a couple of yards phase by phase. The game went into additional time from the referee and Plymouth started to give away some sloppy penalties. The home supporters were up in arms whenever the referee blew his whistle as it seemed to be advantage to the Loughborough Students.
The away side continued to press hard and long, forcing Albion to defend strongly and quickly. The ball was agonisingly dropped forward from a ruck by Loughborough and Albion ran the ball back. A penalty was conceded by Loughborough with a late arms tackle, and Mugford sealed the game with a penalty kick.
Hallett said: “It was just another win, we could have easily crumbled and let them back into it.
”They were unlucky not to get the losing bonus point, but that’s sport, we could have kicked the ball of but that’s not us, we are a competitive side.”
Looking to next season with several players resigning, Hallett continued about how important it is to keep a strong young group of players together. “It is massively important. I am hopefully the one coaching them, but that decision is out of my hands.”
Plymouth Albion: J. Arnott, P. Davis (2), S. Daly
Loughborough Students: O. Hirskyj-Douglas (2)
Plymouth Albion: D. Mugford (3)
Loughborough Students: T. Ffitch (2)
Plymouth Albion: D. Mugford
Loughborough Students: T. Ffitch (2)