Darlington Mowden Park 49 – 22 Plymouth Albion
By Kevin Westlake at the Northern Echo Arena
This was the Plymouth sides’ longest trip of the season, and the Northern Echo Arena hasn’t been a happy hunting ground in recent years, but the dedicated band of Albion supporters who made the trip were looking forward to a good display after the impressive home win versus Birmingham Moseley the week before at Brickfields.
Albion’s preparation in midweek had been good according to Head Coach Ben Gulliver, but the late withdrawal of talisman and club skipper Herbie Stupple meant Albion had to make late changes.
The side that beat Moseley was largely the same, with Dan Powell, Jamie Salter, and Scott Makepeace coming into the starting XV, and Seta Raumakita returning to the bench after a stint with the UKAF rugby squad.
Albion looked to start strong, with great pressure in the first scrum leading to a penalty. Inaccuracy at the lineout saw the ball knocked forward. With Referee Calum Howard playing advantage, Darlington launched a meaningful counter-attack lead by Number 8 Hodgson and by finished Morgan Passman, who sped over the line to land the first blow. Warren Seals added the conversion to put Park 7 points to the good.
It was Park who kept the pressure on, adding two penalty kicks from the boot of fly-half Seals and with only 16 minutes gone, Albion were trailing by 13 points.
Albion then suffered a further blow, with flanker Pete Ingoldsby leaving the field through injury to be replaced by Seta Raumakita. Following a period of Albion pressure, DMP flanker George Stokes was shown a Yellow Card for a high tackle. As a consequence, Eastgate had to leave the field and was replaced by Tom Putt. Sam Morley slotted the penalty kick from 40 metres.
What followed next was a disaster for the Plymouth side, with a Yellow Card for newcomer Raumakita for a high tackle, followed by periods of sustained attack from the home side, who scored tries through wing Brandon Asher-Wood and Passman who added his secondof the match. Successful conversions from Seals, left Albion trailing by 30 points to 3 at the break.
Darlington started the second half with a bang. Passman took the restart, and carved his way through the Plymouth defence like a knife through butter – dotting down for his third and securing the try bonus point for Park. Seals added the conversion. This left Albion 37 – 3 in arrears and looking beleaguered.
Ben Gulliver started to make his first changes soon after, with Ashlee Crouch and Pierre Thompson replacing Pullinger and Powell. The changes made an immediate difference, with Albion piling on the pressure and being awarded a series of penalties. Cam Setter tapped the ball quickly, but was tackled high by replacement Daniel Grange who saw yellow for his efforts. Albion opted for the scrum from the penalty and drove the Park pack over the whitewash. Number 8 Dan Swain pounced over the line to reduce the deficit. The conversion was added by Morley.
Shortly after, it was Albion who were on the wrong side of the referee again, with prop Crouch receiving a yellow card to add to Albion’s woes, it didn’t take long for Passman to add his fourth try. Seals uncharacteristically missed the conversion.
A knock-on on lead to an Albion scrum on half-way. Once again, the pack piled on the pressure and won another penalty. Morley kicked into touch well into the Park 22. From the line-out, Albion swung the ball to the far side and wing Dean Squire wriggled over for the Plymouth side’s second try of the day. The conversion was missed by Morley.
Park finished their scoring on 72 minutes, with a line-break from McKirdy who was brought down short, although a smart offload found Talite Vaioleti who barged his way over. Seals added the extras.
Less than 3 minutes later and with 4 minutes left on the clock, Albion mounted a superb attack, with real grit and determination, Dan Swain added his second of the afternoon and Morley slotted the conversion.
With seconds left, Albion went on the hunt for the try bonus point but couldn’t quite get there, with the last play of the game being a knock-on.
As the final whistle went, you could see the anguish in the away teams eyes, the result leaves Albion sitting in 11th on 27 points in National League One after Round 11. Next week they face fellow strugglers Chinnor at Brickfields in an important clash.