Match Report by Richard Ashton
Third-placed Rams made it four wins on the spin and 11 in 15 at the halfway point of the season, ensuring they sit just a point behind leaders Richmond.
And after one of their best all-round performances of the season – where the likes of Kieran Leicester, Connor Hayhow, Ollie Cole and two-try star man Jamie Guttridge continued to show improvement week-on-week – Reynolds believes his side can continue to grow in the third tier of English rugby.
He said: “If you give young local talent an opportunity, and you let them make mistakes with it – the guys go onto the pitch knowing no-one is going to shout at them if something goes wrong because it’s part of life and part of the game – you can thrive.
“If you look at Kieran, the lad played one game in National Two South, had to work his way back into the side, took the challenge on and now he’s come into the team at full-back and he’s been absolutely brilliant. He looks really strong on the ball and I’m really pleased for him.
“Our success is a product of the guys being together for a long while and actually learning from when things don’t go well – when we’ve lost in the last play to Chinnor and Cinderford (in 2018) – it’s the same group that’s had that happen to them and you learn from those and so you find different ways to win.”
The hosts had made a blistering start and took the lead with a slick try, hooker Ben Henderson flicking the ball out the back of his hand to Tom Vooght, who fed Hayhow to cross from close range in the third minute.
Rams doubled their advantage when the outstanding Guttridge burst down the touchline to score, and when the Albion defence inexplicably splintered shortly after, Leicester crossed under the posts, Andrew Humberstone converting.
The try bonus-point was confirmed on 24 minutes when Guttridge blasted over from close range for his second of the afternoon, although James Salter got the visitors on the board shortly afterwards.
Reflecting on the first half, Reynolds remarked: “In any game you want to start fast, but you have to acknowledge they’ve had a long journey so we didn’t want to let them settle into the game because they’re very dangerous. They’re a very dangerous counter-attacking team and if we’d got loose and not taken control early, they would have punished us, as they did in parts.”
Having repelled an increasingly dangerous Albion at the end of the first half, Rams struck swiftly at the start of the second, lock Connor Stapley crossing for a converted score.
Captain George Mills went over for Plymouth in the 48th minute, Connor Eastgate adding the extras, but that was as good as it got for the visitors.
A strong defensive rear-guard from Rams eventually forced an error which allowed Stevie Bryant to collect the ball and race home from 60 metres out, and the try-of-the-day followed immediately as the hosts went from one end of the field to the other before Vooght dotted down, the open-side flanker – who has to date looked the best open-side in the division – adding a second 10 minutes from time to add further gloss to the scoreline.
A feature of the game was the way Plymouth rallied after both their tries, and Reynolds admitted this is a sign of Rams’ growing maturity as a side in nullifying their opposition when they come under threat.
He commented: “(Defence coach) Danny (Batty) calls it rope-a-dope. If a team’s on the front foot against you but you can hang in there and then counter-attack and take the game to them like Stevie did with his try (it changes the momentum). At 29-14, if they’d got the next try it was game on, but we managed to get the next one and take the game away from them.
“I’m really pleased and it was a really good performance from the players. Plymouth are a really strong ex-championship side who’ve had good results. They came from 24-7 down at Richmond to win, so even when we went 22 points in front early, you just can’t rest against these guys. They came back well, but we wrestled control of the game, got our discipline back and got on the front foot and in the second half we were dominant.”
Next up for Rams is a trip to Birmingham Moseley, who played their part in a second-week cracker while going down 25-21 at Old Bath Road, and Reynolds is hoping to overcome difficult opponents ahead of the Christmas break.
He acknowledged: “I’m expecting a really tough game. They’re a very tough side and very strong at the set-piece, really dangerous backs and a big back row, so while we managed to hold on for the victory at home, they’re a fine side and they’ll be dangerous.”
And concluding on a first half of the season which has surpassed even the most optimistic of Rams fans when they first began down at Cambridge at the start of September, the head coach paid tribute to his squad.
He ended: “These guys will battle week-in, week-out for each other and they will not stop.
“We’re very happy to be on this points tally at this stage of the season. Over Christmas we’ll have a review of where we’re at, but our main aim – and it doesn’t matter if you’re in a promotion fight or relegation battle – is always to look to improve. With this group it’s going well and that’s nice.”
Tries: Hayhow 3, Guttridge 13, 24, Leicester 19, C Stapley 44, Bryant 63, Vooght 64, 70.
Conversions: Humberstone 20, 44.
Tries: Salter 28, Mills 48
Conversions: Eastgate 29, 49
Yellow Card: Mills 60
Half Time: 22-7
Star Man: Jamie Guttridge (Rams)
Referee: Veryan Boscawen
Rams: Leicester, Corrigan, Bryant, Hayhow (Ellis 66, Hayhow 78), Denham, Humberstone, Cole (Moates 61); Kidd (Steadman 49), Henderson (Kidd 71), Zeiss (Baker 49), Taylor, C Stapley, Guttridge (Thomson 57), Vooght, R Stapley (Guttridge 71)
Plymouth Albion: Eastgate, Cornish (Ingoldsby 61), Squire, Pohe, Ducker, Morley (Setter 41), Snow; Higgins, Salter, Pullinger-Ham (Crouch 57), Collier, Pearson, Swain (Weeks 70), Mills, Tuima (Stupple 41, Ingoldsby 50, Stupple 55).