Plymouth Albion closed out their preseason slate of friendlies with a gritty 29-12 Southwest derby loss, to the Cornish Pirates, at Brickfields Saturday.
Although both sides powered through each other with mid-season velocity, it was the visitors who came out on top, showing a clear advantage in skill and stamina.
Despite the loss, head coach, Kieran Hallett, was happy with his sides effort. He said:
“I think the side did really well in terms of what we wanted to get out of today, we nailed it with lots of positives.
“We put the Pirates under pressure, created a lot of opportunities to score, some we took, some we didn’t, but that’s the whole point of the preseason, you try and do positive things then find things to improve on.
“I think the teams conditioning is good, it got a bit loose there as we held on at the end of the game, but we showed against Bedford and Exeter, as well as today, we can mix it with teams in the league above and push the tempo when we need to.”
Skipper, Herbie Stupple, also showed pride in his team mates performance, saying:
“This game was a huge positive for us heading into the Chinnor game next weekend, it was a huge shift for the guys, a lot of them switched to positions they wouldn’t usually play, at some points we had backs playing up with the forwards, but it’s something you’ve got to do, give it your all, and we proved that today.
“I think the conditioning of the team is brilliant, we pride ourselves on being the fittest team in the league which proved true last season as we scored a lot of our points in the dying minutes of games.
“There’s always a risk when you’re putting 110% into the preseason, especially against these bigger sides, you do worry about those little niggles and injuries leading into the season.”
A sentiment shared by Hallett, who said:
“You can’t hold the guys back, you’d rather have them going all out than the other way, but the injuries from today were concerning, we’ve lost two second rows and three back rowers.
“The physios will have their work cut out for them this week as we make sure we’re good to go next week.”
The opening passages of play showed strong resolve from both sides trying to dominate the derby game. The Pirates initially showed a potent running attack that threatened Albion’s edges, attacks were repelled though with some outstanding and committed tackling to excite the bumper crowd early.
Albion continued to play the opening ten pinned and out of possession, countering a sea of purple uniforms. You’d be forgiven for thinking the season was on the line as both sides showed a ferocity rarely seen from a preseason friendly.
As soon as cracks began to develop in Albion’s defence, bodies were there to plug any attempts to score, the closest of which, saw the line admirably close for the Pirates on the stroke of 15 minutes, but once again Albion showed their grit to hold the ball up.
After an initial 20 minutes of defending, Albion finally found themselves the aggressors, pushing past the halfway line for the first time in the half. It was now the Pirates turn to solidify, holding the city side well away from danger.
The first try of the bout seemed a little anti climatic, unbefitting of the hard-fought struggle of the first quarter of the game. A turnover ball was capitalised upon by the Pirates as Maliq Holden broke through a bad tackle, to lumber his way the length of the pitch, pursued by Robbie Weeks. The try was converted by the familiar face of Harvey Skinner.
Refusing to have the breath beaten out of them, Albion kicked up a gear to immediately counter attack towards the Pirates posts. When forward play was held in check, Albion tried the backline as the key, but couldn’t find a way past well executed Pirate tackling.
Albion came up agonisingly short as the duo of Cam Setter and John Kelly bounced passes between each other, only to see Kelly fumble the ball forward with a clear tunnel to the line.
Alex O’Meara would add an exclamation mark to the first half for the Pirates, putting away the sides second try off the back of a quickly taken penalty. Skinner would fail to hammer home the kick though, ending the opening passage 12-0.
The second half got off to storming start for Albion, who pulled off a try at the perfect time to drive themselves back into the game. A perfectly placed kick by Fraser Honey, sailed waist height into Matt Shepherd’s waiting grasp, leaving the full back to trot in for the score. The conversion was missed though, leaving valuable points on the pitch.
Fresh on another attack, it was now the Pirates turn to show some preseason cobwebs, turning down another guaranteed try. An intercepted ball was kicked on for Danny Cutmore, who merely needed to kick the ball on once again to convert points but missed the mark miserably.
The game was a continued tug of war between the two sides, but unlike the first half, Albion found a way to pick up and hold possession, a factor which changed the dynamic of the game, as both sets of players swung between defensive and attacking responsibilities.
With a try under their belt, Albion seemed to use new found momentum to etch ahead of their counterparts, which was rewarded with seven points on the hour mark, as referee Ben Russel awarded Albion a penalty try, after a scrambling Pirate defence was penalised for joining the side of a charging Albion maul.
To add further insult to injury, John Stevens would see yellow, sending the visitors down to 14 men.
The man-power deficit did little to stop the Pirates, who shone ahead of their fatigued hosts to score a further two tries and a penalty, whilst Albion gasped for air.
Keen to build off his sides strong preseason, Hallett identified Chinnor to be a unique challenge next week, saying:
“It’s always tricky playing a newly promoted side first game up because there’s always a bit of an unknown there, you’re not really sure how they’re going to play, so that’ll be difficult, but we’ve got to catch them with an intensity they’re perhaps not used to.”
Stupple, on the other hand, was all business, declaring:
“We’re going to show them we’re not here to mess around, again from our performance today we’ve proved that and have showed them we’re not here to make up numbers.
“We’re coming for the league title.”
15 Matthew Shepherd, 14 Jordan Gott, 13 Dean Squire, 12 Robbie Weeks, 11 Josh Skelcey, 10 Fraser Honey, 9 Cam Setter, 8 Will Norton, 2 Paul Davis, 3 Dan Pullinger, 4 Dan Collier, 5 Lewis Pearson, 6 John Kelly, 7 Sam Daly, 8 Herbie Stupple
1 James Kenny, 3 Marcus Street, 4 Sam fellows, 2 Jamie Salter, 9 Joe Snow, 10 Mitch Pinkus, 16 Teegan Minkley, 17 Kieran Westlake, 18 Dan Powell
15 Maliq Holden, 14 Alex O’Meara, 13 Rory Parata, 12 Harry Strong, 11 Matt Evans (C), 10 Harvey Skinner, 9 Jake Ashby, 1 Billy Keast, 2 Dan Frost, 3 Tyler Gendall, 4 Toby Freeman, 5 Danny Cutmore, 6 Josh Caulfield, 7 John Stevens, 8 James McRae
16 Jack Andrew, 17 Christian Judge, 18 Sam Matevesi, 19 Brett Beukeboom, 20 Nodar Cheischvili, 21 Jake Clemson, 22 Matt Bolwell, 23 Tom Duncan, 24 AJ Cant, 25 Will Cargill, 26 Dan koster, 27 Callum Patterson, 28 Alex Day, 29 Alex Schwarz, 30 Robin Wedlake, 31 Kyle Moyle
Albion: 2 (Shepherd, Pen try)
Pirates: 4 (Holden, O’meara, Koster, Clemson)
Pirates: 1 (Skinner)
Pirates: 3 (Skinner)