By Jack Guthrie
Plymouth Albion scraped a crucial win against league strugglers Hull Ionians after a physical match ended as an 11-try thriller at the Brickfields.
Albion director of rugby Nigel Sparrow felt they deservedly won saying: “had we just had more control than them in the right parts of the pitch it would have been easier, but they never gave up and it was a fair result.”
He continued by praising the forwards’ performance adding: “there’s some aspects that went really well, our tight play was good and our line-out went well. If I’m hypercritical I think we gave away too many penalties at the breakdown which gave them field position, but I’m very pleased especially when we have players like Herbie away, which gives the younger guys some game time and they’re improving.”
Match captain Jamie Salter also felt the game was tougher than it needed to be saying: “we did make hard work of it, but credit to Hull they came and they worked hard for 80 minutes. We drifted away from our process a couple of times which made it difficult, but a massive defensive effort to be on our own try line and not concede and then score at the other end shows the character that we’re developing this year.”
Coming off the back of an extraordinary win at Richmond last week, Albion continued their good form with a dominant and bullish first-half performance. An early Alex Ducker try opened the scoring after some battering runs from the Albion forwards opened up spaces out wide for the backs. Eastgate found Ducker on the wing who ran it into the right corner but wasn’t able to convert the try.
Albion’s early work was undone later from two Hull tries in two minutes to escape from the hosts. The first was a cross-field kick after a penalty advantage from Max Titchener, which found Will Hardy in the red area. The second was all Titchener after he intercepted a stray pass from Plymouth centre Javiah Pohe and ran the ball under the posts, leaving him an easy conversion.
A yellow card for Ionians’ hooker Ben Stephenson after collapsing a maul shifted the momentum and Albion scored another try from the resultant penalty at the line-out, Albion’s captain Jamie Salter with the drive. Dan Powell came on in place of Josh Skelcey who went off clutching his hamstring.
Eastgate took the opportunity from a penalty in front of goal, making up for his two earlier missed kicks to put the hosts in the lead at 13-12. Just before the half ended, Sam Morley’s jinking run saw him skip past 3 defenders in the Hull 22 and over the line by the posts, Eastgate converting the easy kick for a seven-point lead going into the second.
Albion had been dominant physically in the first half, with Rusi Tuima playing a major role from the eight position. Hull were clinical and managed to pounce on any scoring opportunity that fell their way, leaving Albion frustrated as the whistle blew.
Plymouth extended their lead early into the half, as a barraging run from Pohe opened space for Dan Powell on the left wing to run the ball to the corner and make his mark after coming off the bench. Eastgate missed again and looked to be having an off-day from the tee and Hull responded with another two tries.
The first came from Ed Brown as fullback Lewis Minikin broke three tackles in the Albion half. He was eventually brought down around five metres out from the whitewash, with Brown picking up the ball from the ruck and bundling over the line with Titchener adding the extra two.
Ben Bell got the other after a driving maul brought the away side a metre out from the line and a quick burst from the tighthead prop allowed him to sail through the defensive line and over.
Albion responded with another two tries as Ducker got his second, this time on the left-wing as Eastgate played him through in a similar vein to his first try. Salter then managed to grab his second after another driving maul following a lineout from close range, the packable to haul him through the Ionian forwards.
In the dying moments, Hull hit back as a looping pass from Titchener to the left-wing found substitute William Stowe, who ran the ball into the corner. An incredible conversion kick from the fly-half ended the game and gained the away side a much-deserved losing bonus-point.
Albion fans can take a range of positives and negatives from this game, with an excellent array of attacking manoeuvres working for them consistently throughout the game. Their forwards were incredible in pack defence constantly in the second half, however individual tackling errors will need to be rectified. Hull never gave up the pressure, forcing Albion into mistakes by questioning their individual defensive abilities and capitalising whenever they could.
With the past two wins for Albion crucially moving them up the table, this result will play a major part in progressing their season and moving on from the uncertainty surrounding the club.
TRIES: A. Ducker (2), J. Salter (2), S. Morley, D. Powell
CONVS: C. Eastgate (2)
PENS: C. Eastgate
TRIES: W. Hardy, M. Titchener, E. Brown, B. Bell, W. Stowe
CONVS: M. Titchener (3)
Yellow Card: B. Stephenson 30’