By Kevin Westlake
Round 22 saw Albion out on their travels for the second week running, with a visit to tough opposition Blackheath at Kidbrook Lane in South East London.
James Scaysbrook made a number of changes to the side that narrowly lost to Sale the week before, with newly contracted wing Josh Skelcey, Pete Ingoldsby and Koree Britton dropping out of the match-day 20. Coming into the squad were talismanic skipper Herbie Stupple, acting skipper George Mills and Sam Morley returning from Premiership Shield action with Exeter Chiefs.
On the occasion of club stalwart, Jamie Salter’s 100th cap for the club, Albion were in search of more National One Points on the road. The conditions were surprisingly timid, with other games around the South East falling to the wrath of Storm Ciara, however, she saw fit to spare Blackheath on a calm afternoon.
The match was played in good spirits throughout, with both sides playing attractive rugby in an enthralling, end-to-end match.
It took seven minutes for the hosts to secure their first points of the afternoon, with the Albion scrum under pressure in their own 22. The front row were penalised and Blackheath punted the ball to touch. From the following line-out, Blackheath fly-half Mark Cooke chipped the ball over the top of the defence leaving the Albion backline exposed. The ball was taken wide and flanker Tom Baldwin raced down the touchline to score. Cooke added the extras.
The Plymouth side have had a habit this season of conceding early, but in true Albion fashion, an immediate response was forthcoming. After a period of sustained pressure in the Blackheath half, it was Albion’s forwards who recorded the next score, with George Mills crashing over amongst a host of bodies. Connor Eastgate, who signed a contract extension this week, slotted the conversion, leaving the game precariously balanced at 7-7.
On the 17-minute mark, the Albion pack were caught off-side in a good kicking position, Cooke duly stepped up and added another three points. Blackheath then struck again, with a well-worked try. Wing-man Mark Foster finishing a clever and powerful move to take the London club further ahead. Cooke made no mistake with the conversion.
Blackheath then further extended their lead with a well-taken penalty by Cooke, who capitalised when Albion crept offside at the breakdown.
Less than two minutes later, Albion were back on the attack, with centurion Jamie Salter crossing under the sticks after a period of relentless pressure on the Blackheath line. Eastgate stepped up, adding the conversion to bring the score line to 20 – 14, with the referee signalling for his cup of tea.
Scaysbrook made one change at half-time, with Dan Pullinger replacing Jack Higgins in the front row. Pullinger was making his second appearance following a period of injury and looked sharp.
The two sides played attacking rugby for the first 10 minutes of the second half, but it was Albion who struck first, with Alex Ducker conjuring a try from nothing. He embarked on one of his meandering treks across the pitch, finally straightening up and pressing the accelerator. Eastgate converted and Albion were within one point.
With the game finely balanced, Cooke stepped up and converted three penalties to take Blackheath 10 points clear, with Albion’s discipline costing them dear.
The away side kept banging at the door in the closing stages, but a fine defensive effort prevented the collection of two valuable bonus points.
Following the game, James Scaysbrook gave an honest assessment of the match, “the scrum dominance that Blackheath exerted gave them a real foothold in the game, and on the back of that, we made too many errors in the midfield and attack. But there was no lack of effort from any of our players, and they kept pushing right to the end”.
The loss at Blackheath saw Albion drop to 9th in the National One table with 60 points. Their nearest rivals being Old Elthamians with 62.
Albion returns to action at Brickfields this weekend, with Cambridge making to trip to the South West. Cambridge currently sits in 7th position, only three points ahead of Plymouth.
Tries: Baldwin, Foster
Conv: Cooke 2
Pens: Cooke 5
Tries: Mills, Salter, Ducker
Conv: Eastgate 2