Plymouth Albion managed to edge out National Division One rivals Darlington Mowden Park and win 34-27, in what turned out to be a closely fought game at the Brickfields where both teams came away with bonus points.
After a pleasing victory in the Midlands last week against Birmingham Moseley, James Scaysbrook’s Albion were looking to continue their winning streak against the Durham side and seek revenge for their 27-point loss the last time the two outfits met. With the defence looking much improved since the appointment of the new-look coaching roster, Albion fans were eager to see if the result could tip in their favour.
The game started off as a scrappy affair with handling errors setting off the game at a bad tempo. The hosts soon rose to the occasion and scored on seven minutes. Alex Ducker was able to weave through the defence and down the right-wing, then passing the ball off to George Mills when faced with the full-back for an easy first score. Connor Eastgate then started the game with a first successful conversion attempt giving Albion an early seven-point lead.
The pace of the game slowed for most of the remainder of the half, with both sides feeling each other out tactically and trying to force mistakes from their opposition. Albion then added to the scoreline just after half an hour of play through John Kelly. Plymouth found themselves battering the defence in the away 22 as the forwards opted for phase play. Kelly managed to break the line and go over for another five, Eastgate narrowly missing the conversion.
Mowden Park hit straight back scoring a try of their own. After an early substitution in the game, replacement Talite Vaioleti found space in the open field after a good passing move. The overlap was on and a simple pass to full-back Paul Jarvis ended in a try. The conversion was missed by Warren Seals from a tight angle.
Albion ended the half with scoring momentum, as Eastgate added an extra three points after a penalty was attempted on goal from 30 metres out directly in front of the posts. The ball sailed through and the home side had a 10-point advantage going into the interval.
Albion remained hot after the restart, with Jamie Salter notching another try onto his season tally, with another line-out from a penalty setting up a driving maul, allowing him to drop to the floor as soon as he was shunted over the line. Eastgate sliced the conversion, but the lead was not at 15 points.
Albion throughout the second half were ruthless in the scrum, gaining penalty after penalty and ripping through the heart of the away pack with ease.
Albion also looked slightly ill-disciplined at times, conceded multiple penalties in dangerous areas and giving Darlington opportunities to claw back. The northern side then added another try through scrum-half Euan McKirdy. After a succession of penalties, McKirdy ran with the forwards in support and was able to pounce when the defence was lacking and dot down in the left corner, with the conversion being missed again by Seals.
Ducker then grabbed a try of his own, after an excellent play from prop Dan Pullinger. The forward managed to break through the line and in on goal, drawing two defenders for the tackle. A cheeky offload to Ducker left him virtually open for the try, skipping past the fullback to secure another score under the posts which Eastgate converted easily.
Darlington responded immediately with another McKirdy try. This time he followed on the back of a driving maul down the left-wing which collapsed on the line. After discussing with his assistant, referee Ben Russell gave the try and Seals’ attempted conversion rattle the outside of the left post, cutting the deficit to 12 with 25 minutes left to play.
The game became scrappy again, with Darlington making a lot of errors particularly with ball handling as well as not being able to find touch from penalty kicks. The coaches were clearly animated and frustrated with some of the decision making from the half-back, who poorly executed box kicks, which piled more pressure on their defence.
The final quarter of the game was closely fought as both teams searched for wins and bonus points. The away side closed the deficit again through a Brandon Asher-Wood try, following an excellent take from a Joe Snow box kick. After a couple of pop passes, Asher-Wood turned on the jets and flew past the Albion defence and over the whitewash. Seals slipped during the conversion and again rattled the left post, unable to add the extra two points.
Albion substitute hooker Max Norey counteracted the try with one of his own, a simple play allowing him to bundle through the defence and under the posts. Eastgate was substituted, leaving Sam Morley with kicking duty and making no mistake with his first effort.
With the match in the dying embers, the Durham side added a losing bonus point after Jarvis bagged his second of the afternoon. Albion fans will feel hard-done-by with the try however after the ball was clearly knocked on in the build-up, but referee Russell awarded the try after conferring with the touch judge. The conversion from Seals was successful and the tie was ended, with both sides coming away with the luxury of a bonus point apiece.
Albion fans will have mixed responses to the result, despite the excellent offensive work they showed there are still some kinks in the defence which Darlington were able to expose and capitalise upon. As well as this there has been a recent theme of fouls being consistently conceded, which provided massive opportunities for the away side to close the gap. Ultimately it was a deserved win for the hosts, however, they will feel that the scoreline flattered their opponents who were clearly not in top gear.
15. C. Eastgate 14. S. Cornish 13. D. Squire 12. J. Pohe 11. A. Ducker 10. S. Morley 9. J. Snow 1. J. Kenny 2. J. Salter 3. D. Pullinger 4. D. Collier 5. L. Pearson 6. J. Kelly 7. G. Mills 8. H. Stupple
16. S. Makepeace 17. M. Norey 18. C. Setter 19. A. Smith 20. D. Powell
Tries: G. Mills, J. Kelly, J. Salter, A. Ducker, M. Norey
Convs: C. Eastgate (2), S. Morley (1)
Pens: C. Eastgate