By Robert Tunley at Brickfields
Plymouth Albion finally reigned victorious Saturday, to secure the sides first home win of the season, pushing aside Ampthill in a gripping 17-5 Brickfields bout.
The game started out as a slow burner, but the heat continued to ramp up throughout as both teams put the pressure on, lost players, and fought for supremacy in sodden conditions.
After a shaky start to the season, head coach Kieran Hallett was pleased with his sides strong effort, saying:
“Yeah it feels good, there’s elements we could have done better today, but we’re not too worried about that right now, we’re going to enjoy this hard-fought win.
“I think the lineout was much improved today, conditions made it hard at times but in terms of our system, we were a lot better and maybe in a couple of weeks we’ll have better weather and really reap the benefits of our training.
“There were some great defensive sets through the game, Ampthill don’t do a whole lot that’ll take you by surprise, but they’re good at what they do, so you have to match them physically and really want to match them to stop them, and we did that today.”
Although his side emerged the victors from a tough game, poor decision-making cost Albion two players to the bin to begin the second half, something the coach wasn’t too pleased with. He said:
“I think silly is the appropriate word, a lot of our penalties all game were for silly stuff we don’t need, we can cut them out quite easily, and I think we need to understand that things like that give opposition sides energy and belief.”
The game was a close fought matchup throughout, but in the dying minutes, Albion came close to securing the all-important bonus point fourth try but fell short. Hallett wasn’t too discouraged though, saying:
“We were quite comfortable at the time going up a try to have that two-score buffer, but when Jack Arnott made a run down the side, I think if we just showed a bit more composure and recycled the ball there to play another phase, we would have been in there.
“Bonus points will come in better conditions and when we’re gelling better together, but we’re happy with today.”
The penalty strewn first half began with a bang as both sides put on a tackle clinic for the brave crowd, defending admirably to keep the game close for most of the opening passage.
Early penalties played a part in keeping the ball out of Albion’s hands in the opening ten minutes, as the side continued to struggle in set piece play.
Ampthill, who’ve had early success this season, looked a threat to their hoists, but the score remained zero as Albion where quick up to the line to smother any ball carrier coming their way.
Albion’s first push for line came as the forwards came together, forming an impressive scrum to push over their visitors, who ultimately gave up a penalty of their own. Not much could be achieved though as the slippery ball fell forwards.
It was Albion, though, that was first to break the scoreless dead-lock in the 15th minute. Playing from the halfway line, quick phases were repelled by Ampthill until a pop pass allowed George Mills to break through and drive down the meterage to the line. Mills was close to scoring but found himself out paced on the final stretch. Sensing the opportunity for seven beginning to close, support was immediately there for the city side, who recycled the ball quickly for Dean Squire to score in the corner. The conversion was missed in the difficult weather conditions to leave the score 5-0.
With the first try in the books, the first half resumed where it had left off at the halfway line, with the ball swinging side to side in an attempt to find its way through both squad’s defensive fronts.
Each side had further opportunities gifted to them with penalties, but each attempt was thwarted by silly errors in the worsening weather.
A couple of well-placed pinning kicks swung momentum back to Albion though, and with another sniff at points, the city side delivered. It was the forwards who began the push, using the momentum of a classic Albion maul to scare Ampthill into desperate defence which came back to bite as the sides number eight, Maama Molitika, was sent off for pulling the forwards down.
Albion used the penalty to throw from five-metres to score their second, and although they were initially held, Paul Davis dug his way over a tackler against one of the uprights to score. Fraser Honey would add the extras to give Albion a commanding 12-0 lead into the half.
The uphill struggle to get back into the match began immediately for Ampthill who used the kick off to tackle Albion backwards inside their 22 and assert a grip on the breakdown.
Things quickly snowballed for Albion’s defence as half-time replacement, Sam Daley, saw yellow. With a man down, Albion did well to manage further attacks, but things went from bad to worse, as the side suffered their second yellow in as many minutes, this time as a result of Jon Kelly kicking the ball away in frustration.
The costly mistake in choice provided Ampthill the opportunity to score their first points of the game, as Albion could only stand and watch the ball sail by to the right wing for Spencer Sutherland to score with ease, taking advantage of the two-man difference.
Albion spent the next ten minutes fighting hard to retain the ball and hold onto the lead whilst pushing through their own self-inflicted manpower deficiency. At moments Ampthill looked certain to break through huge gaps across the park, but Albion always found a way to scramble back and defend, holding on tightly to see out the remainder of the two bins.
With both sides back to full strength, the game seemed up for anyone’s taking with Albion’s lead holding at seven, and it was clear how important possession meant to both sides, as with every victory and decision won, players would emerge cheering and embracing team mates.
The fourth yellow card of the afternoon went against Ampthill’s Carl Garside, as referee Alex Thomas tried to keep the scrappy play under control.
Determined to secure the sides first win at the Brickfields, Albion dug deep to keep their visitors on the back foot, despite holding most of the possession through the last ten minutes. Often, Ampthill could only try and pas the ball outwards as Albion took play to their opposing numbers at a ferocious pace, leaving the ball to go backwards. But without the ball in hand, Albion could do little to extend their lead and pounce on their numbers advantage.
After losing out to most of the penalty decisions, Albion had the opportunity to put the game to bed in the 77th minute as the side aimed to slot home a penalty, just offset of the posts, but Honey’s kick couldn’t find the target.
Not letting the kick get the side down, Albion’s grit paid off in the ensuing attack as the ball charged its way down the left touchline. After holding short for a few phases, the big body of replacement Rus Tuima couldn’t be stopped to score Albion’s third and final try of the game. The last-minute try extended the lead back to 12, allowing Albion to close out the vital win 17-5.
15 Daniel Powell, 14 Jack Arnott, 13 Dean Squire, 12 Connor Eastgate, 11 Jonathan Dawe, 10 Fraser Honey, 9 Cameron Setter, 1 Luke Chapman, 2 Paul Davis, 3 Daniel Pullinger, 4 Daniel Collier, 5 John Kelly, 6 Daniel Swain, 7 George Mills, 8 Herbie Stupple [C]
16 James Kenny, 17 David McGregor, 18 Sam Daly, 19 James Tait, 20 Daniel Mugford
15 Will Foster, 14 Spencer Southerland, 13 Samuel Hanks, 12 Michael Waters, 11 Nigel Baker, 10 Michael waters, 9 George De Cothi, 1 Soane Tongauiha, 2 Alexi Lutui, 3 Matthew Collins, 4 Paino Hehea, 5 Joshua Walker, 6 Sydney Blackmore, 7 William Allman, 8 Maama Molitika
16 Oliver Walliker, 17 Karl Garside, 18 Joseph Bercis, 19 Euan Mckirdy, 20 Joshua Sharp
Albion: 3 (Squire, Davis, Tuima)
Ampthill: 1 (Spencer)
Albion: 1 (Honey)
Man of the Match: George Mills
Referee: Alexander Thomas