By Jack Guthrie
Plymouth Albion were able to shut out fifth-placed Birmingham Moseley and deservedly win 19-7 at the Brickfields on Saturday after a commanding first-half performance proved too much for the away side to overturn in their Division One match-up.
Albion’s head coach Ben Gulliver described his side’s performance as: “outstanding, to come up 19 points to nil at half-time, we couldn’t have asked for more from the boys. It was just a bit disappointing that we didn’t get the bonus-point in the second half, but that’s credit to Moseley.”
The home side set the tone early on, asserting their dominance through the kicking game, preventing Moseley from holding possession in their half. Conditions were slippery and handling errors were plenty, as unforced turnovers and a yellow card for second-row Dan Wright cushioned Albion’s advantage.
All of Plymouth’s points came in the first half from excellent play through the backs with Sam Morley, Connor Eastgate and Dean Squire cementing their first-half lead. Birmingham had it all to do in the second half, but the defence of Albion held strong. Dominant at the line-out, the performances of Lewis Pearson and Max Norey stood out as they dictated the play with consistent turnovers at most lineouts, leaving the away side without a foothold.
Tempers started to flare towards the end of the match, both on the pitch and the side-lines as both the Moseley players and coaching staff vocalised their disappointment at the refereeing decisions. They nabbed a converted try back towards the end of the game and looked to secure another.
Both sides fought hard to earn their respective bonus points but neither managed to get them, as the ball was eventually launched into the stands after 10 additional minutes.
To start the game both sides kicked from hand, trying to establish territory and relieve pressure from each other’s defences. Albion were the more clinical in the opening stages and constantly pinned back the visitors, confining them to their own 22-yard-area.
The high line in the defence caused Birmingham to knock the ball on at an alarming rate allowing Albion to settle in the scrummage. Moseley’s mistakes gifted the first try as a penalty gave the hosts a line-out which they secured and proceeded to move down the line, leaving fly-half Sam Morley a large gap in the defence to run into for the first try of the game which was converted by Eastgate.
The West-Midlands side then gave the hosts a man advantage as Dan Wright was sin-binned, after conceding a penalty five metres out from his own try-line. Albion kept a fast line speed and pressurised Moseley into more mistakes. A penalty from the scrum was capitalised by Sam Daly who broke through the defence into their 22, with a very quick passing play from the ruck seeing Eastgate dive into the corner. He then converted his own score from an incredibly tough angle, and Albion looked unbeatable.
On the stroke of half-time, Albion secured their third try through makeshift winger Dean Squire, in place of the injured Josh Skelcey. The ball was fumbled by Birmingham at their own line-out which saw Norey reclaim possession. An inch-perfect box-kick from scrum-half Cam Setter was misjudged horribly by winger Aquile Smith and was picked up by Squire who had the pace to run it around the full-back. Eastgate missed the following conversion and the referee called half-time.
The second half contrasted to the first, where neither team held an advantage over their counterparts. Multiple replacements were made by both teams, and the narrative of the game shifted completely.
Albion remained resolute in defence for the majority of the second period, playing outstandingly from set-pieces as they racked up countless interceptions and turnovers, looking the favourites at every line-out.
Both sides continued heavily with the clearing kicks, trying to force handling errors from each other’s backs however both teams held their ground. Moseley created more chances and had more breaks in their counterparts’ 22 and looked like they would inevitably score.
They finally broke through the defence with 10 minutes left of play, as Aquile Smith made up for his earlier mistake by running a try into the open left corner of the pitch. Fly-half Clifford Hodgson converted, and the away side now hunted desperately for a losing bonus-point.
Altercations started frequently between both packs, as breakdowns became more physical in the latter stages with both teams looking to get bonus-points. Birmingham’s director of rugby Adam Balding raced up and down the touchline, ranting at the officiating from the referee and his assistants as well as barking orders at his side.
The game went deep into additional time with both teams continuing to battle for extra points. In the 90th minute of play, Albion’s replacement scrum-half Joe Snow ended the game and sealed the result with a kick to touch.
Reflecting on the past weeks of inconsistent performances Gulliver added: “we feel like a team at the moment, our season has been very up and down, and I think we looked a lot more collected today, and I’m pleased with how we’re progressing.”
This game will likely be the foundation for Albion’s season as they look to build upon this win and solidify their contention in the league, acting as a yardstick that they can go on a run of winning performances from and look back on as the major turning point in their season.
Tries: S. Morley, C. Eastgate, D. Squire
Convs: C. Eastgate (2)
Tries: A. Smith
Convs: C. Hodgson