By Kevin Westlake at Clifton Lane.
After the first weekend break since the middle of August, Albion returned to action in National One against former Championship Rivals Rotherham Titans. Head Coach James Scaysbrook made several changes to the team defeated by Cinderford in terrible conditions at Brickfields a fortnight ago.
The backline saw the introduction of youngsters Shea Cornish, Sam Morley and Joe Snow, with Connor Eastgate moving to Full Back. The forwards were bolstered by the returning Lewis Pearson and John Kelly, with England under 20 hopeful Rusi Tuima replacing injured skipper Herbie Stupple.
In front of 481 supporters, it was Albion who started slowly, allowing a try in the first minute by Rotherham winger Dan Leake who collected a perfectly weighted cross-field kick to score. Fly-Half Sam Hollingsworth adding the extras. It was Rotherham who struck again next, with a penalty kick at goal after Albion were penalised for killing the ball at the ruck just outside their own 22.
With Titans in the ascendancy, Albion managed to force a penalty on the half-way line which Eastgate kicked to touch on the Rotherham 22. From the lineout, Titans were penalised by the referee for side entry at the ruck. Eastgate stepped up and struck the kick magnificently to get Albion off the mark on 14 minutes.
On the 25-minute mark, Eastgate pulled off a beauty of a touch-finding kick from inside his own half, to get the away side to within 5 meters of the Rotherham line. With deadly accuracy, the forward power generated from the set-piece resulted in Albion’s first try of the afternoon, with prop Koree Britton crossing just wide of the uprights. Eastgate converted with ease.
On 28 minutes, Rotherham increased their lead after Albion Number 8 Tuima was deemed to be in an offside position. Hollingworth added the three points with a penalty kick just inside the 10m line.
Two minutes later, Titans further increased their lead, with some poor defending in the midfield allowing scrum-half Sam Boxall a direct route to the try-line. The conversion from directly in front of the sticks was duly added by Hollingsworth. The final action of the first half saw Rotherham try-scorer Dan Leake leave the field through injury to be replaced by Connor Dever. At the break, Titans were leading 20 – 10 with 2 tries to Albion’s one.
The second half began with another Titans substitution, tactical this time with hooker Bergmanas yielding to Harry Newborn. Albion started the second with much more purpose and managed to retain possession for much longer periods. The territorial advantage was soon capitalised upon with Number 8 Rusi Tuima scoring Albion’s second try of the afternoon with a well-worked catch a drive move at the lineout. Eastgate, impeccable with the boot as always, added the conversion to bring the score to 20 – 17.
Ten minutes later, the Plymouth pack was at it again, with a series of 14 phases on the Titans try-line. The defense eventually crumbled under the sustained attack, ended by second-row giant John Kelly who barged his way over just right of the posts. Again, the deadly accurate Eastgate converted to give Albion the lead for the first time. With Albion now firing on all cylinders, the waves of attack proved too much for Rotherham, who slipped up in the midfield after some quick hands.
In what was a very good audition for “Strictly Come Dancing”, Shea Cornish danced his way through the defensive line, and then showed a clean pair of heels to power through for the bonus point try under the posts. Eastgate slotting the simple kick to put the away side 20 –31 to the good.
On 66 minutes, a Rotherham attack just outside the Albion 22 was thwarted with a great tackle by Britton, Snow collected and distributed the ball wide to Alex Ducker who made a searing run into the heart of the defense. A well-timed off-load to Dean Squire followed. Squire then passed the ball back inside to Ducker on the supporting run who then looped a glorious pass to the galloping skipper and birthday boy George Mills, who ran in from the 22 metre line to score under the posts, much to the displeasure of the home fans, who claimed a knock-on. Truly a contender for try of the season!!! Steely-eyed Eastgate added the extras to take Albion to 38 points.
Mills then headed for an early bath, after chasing an Albion kick and misjudging the tackle, which was deemed high by referee Llyr Apgeraint-Roberts. Two minutes later, the numerical advantage told, as flanker Zak Poole crossed for Rotherham’s third try of the afternoon. Hollingsworth converted.
The final play of the match saw Titans cross for their fourth and bonus point try through wing James Cooke. Hollingsworth couldn’t add the extras. Albion’s bonus-point win puts them in 10th position in National One after Round 17, with the visit of high-flyers Old Elthamians to Brickfields this Saturday (KO 1500). A better second-half performance from the boys in white will give supporters hope that 2020 is to be the start of the Plymouth Albion resurgence.