Plymouth Albion 19-26 Blackheath
By Jack Guthrie
Plymouth Albion’s players looked downtrodden walking off the pitch on Saturday afternoon, as they suffered a 26-19 bonus point loss against Blackheath after an oddly flat performance.
For the majority of the game the away side dictated the run of play, their experience showing as they comfortably held off the attempts of the young home side.
Albion’s head coach Ben Gulliver was exasperated after the performance, saying: “I’m really frustrated. Fair play to Blackheath they were pretty good and we were pretty average for 60 or 70 minutes today. Sometimes you just have to give the opposition a bit of credit.”
Albion seemed vacant for the entirety of the first half, conceding tries after needless penalties and lapses in concentration defensively.
They went into the half 14 points down, but the sheer amount of errors in tackling and ball handling justified the scoreline. The pitch conditions did not favour either side with endless resets after every scrum, and slips in attack from both outfits.
Blackheath compounded the misery shortly into the second half, as a poor kick managed to be turned over back into their possession, with Plymouth conceding a penalty immediately and then ultimately another try from a driving maul.
The bonus point was secured by both teams later in the second after Blackheath grabbed their fourth, and Albion scored two late consolation tries.
The south-east London side had their first opportunity to work the scoreboard as they received a penalty on eight minutes, but what looked like a simple kick was missed by fly-half Mark Cooke.
Fans had to wait until the 20th minute for the first score of the game with the hosts conceding a penalty allowing field position to their opponents. The resultant line-out set up a driving maul for hooker Harry Fry to bundle over the line, Cooke not missing the mark from the tee this time.
Blackheath continued to harass Albion, forcing them to kick and showing unrelenting force in the tackles. The visiting backs looked formidable as they broke tackles and made plenty of opportunities to score, however Albion’s forwards held them at bay when it counted.
This continued until the dying moments of the first period where the visitors scored again, this time Leo Fielding who was able to break two tackles to run in after a succession of offloads in Plymouth’s 22 yard area.
Cooke converted again and the home side looked deflated, conceding cheap penalties for lacks of discipline until the whistle.
Coming out of the half, Albion had a nightmare start to proceedings. An awful kick from the Blackheath kick-off was recovered after a mix up in defence by the receivers.
They conceded a penalty for offside which allowed the hosts an easy kick to the corner, setting up another driving maul from the line-out for hooker Fry to get his second, with Cooke missing his second of the game.
Gulliver made some crucial substitutions in an attempt to resurrect his side’s performance. They managed to get a try back through substitute Sam Daly, copying his opposite number Fry with a try from a driving maul after a line-out, which have proven successful many times for Albion this season. Eastgate missed the conversion and Gulliver made more swaps in midfield.
Joe Snow left the field after a poor performance, so different to his performance against Sale, with Oliver Mulberry taking his place for the remaining 15 minutes.
The changes did not help Albion’s defence promptly however, as prop Tom Williams went over the line for Blackheath’s bonus point try with Cooke converting to make it 26-5, leaving 10 minutes for three converted scores to get a draw.
Albion played doggedly in the home stretch, and dominated the closing stages. Another substitute in Koree Britton gave the hosts hope in the 76th minute as another line-out was finished with a driving maul try and a conversion from Eastgate.
For the first time in the match the away side looked lacklustre in defence. Another penalty was conceded in their own 22, and Albion went for the corner again.
With 80 minutes on the running clock a penalty try was awarded to Albion after the maul was collapsed just before the try line, with the referee sprinting under the posts awarding seven points after the infringement.
With Albion only requiring a converted try to draw, they bolted down the wing from the kick-off, but a misguided pass from Sam Morley went forward to Alex Ducker who was open, and the play was called back.
Blackheath got the ball and launched it over the stand to end the game, leaving Albion fans in despair.
After the game Gulliver said: “I’m fully confident that we will be a good team moving forward in the coming weeks if we can string these pockets of 10 or 20 minutes of good play together.”
After their uncharacteristic defensive performance in this game, Albion will be looking to rise back to the defensive stature that they have shown in recent weeks, and skip over what fans will hope is an anomaly this season.
15.C. Eastgate 14.J Skelcey 13.D. Squire 12.J. Pohe 11.A. Ducker 10.S. Morley 9.J. Snow 1.J. Higgins 2.J. Salter 3.D. Pullinger 4.D. Collier 5.L. Pearson 6.G. Mills 7.P. Ingoldsby 8.D. Swain
16.S. Daly 17.M. Norey 18.D. Powell 19.K. Britton 20.O. Mulberry
Tries: S. Daly, K. Britton, Penalty try
Convs: C. Eastgate (2)
15.L. Fielding 14.J. LLoyd 13.A. Pickersgill 12.M. Burcham 11.C. Dowsett 10.M. Cooke 9.J. Daly 1.T. Williams 2.H. Fry 3.D. Herriott 4.S. Sheriff 5.T. Stradwick 6.T. Baldwin 7.J. Poole 8.T. Burns
16.M. Perks 17.H. Seward 18.J. Catt 19.F. Owen 20.B. Ransom
Tries: H. Fry (2), L. Fielding, T. Williams
Convs: M. Cooke (3)