A buoyant Plymouth Albion make one of their shorter trips this weekend as they head to Reading to take on an enigmatic Rams outfit. On the back of two bonus-point wins at the Brickfields, the visiting team is starting to fulfil early-season expectation and will certainly be looking to upset the apple cart!
Following a very promising start to the season, Rams have lost four of their last six games and will certainly face a considerable challenge at Old Bath Road. In the reverse fixture, the Rams took an early lead against an injury-ravaged Albion and survived a strong fightback to edge a 19-26 victory. After the game, there was very much a ‘what could have been’ feeling around Brickfields and the weekend game certainly provides a chance for Albion to set the record straight.
Rams lost to Blackheath and then Caldy in December before a narrow victory over basement club Tonbridge last week saw them reverse a worryingly increasing losing habit. Indeed, they won six of their first seven games to top the table through the early season only to see the dramatic loss of form and a plummet to sixth on the log.
A very direct team, Rams put a lot of pressure through the midfield with repeated forward carries and there will be a big emphasis on Jeremy To’a and the back row triumvirate to win the battle of the gainline. If some parity can be gained there, the Brickfields faithful will be delighted to see the return of Cornish flyer Frankie Nowell who returns from England U20 duty. He completes a back three with ‘find of the season’ Royal Marine Craig Duncan and Shea Cornish.
Up front Danny Southworth has been moved to Doncaster in the Championship (as Exeter Chiefs are keen to progress his rugby education a division higher) and he is replaced by the Georgian powerhouse Ramaz Rukhadze. He is joined by Max Norey who steps straight back in while Jamie Salter takes a week out to rest a slight niggle. Dan Pullinger completes the front row and will be expected to set the standard as the senior man in the rank.
The second row of Sherrif and Clemson returns, and they will be required to rule the air with similar aplomb to last week where the Bishops Stortford team got very little return. The Welsh Wizards Clement and Jones continue in the halfback positions where many will expect another big performance from the pair from the principality.
Indeed, it must be noted, how on the filthiest of days, the halfbacks along with Connor Eastgate kept the Albion team very much on the front foot and in control of territory. The greater maturity in their play has been a real boon for Head Coach Damien Welch who said “it was a very heartening performance from the boys in the conditions, especially how we managed the game on a very heavy pitch with a lot of rain to contend with. We were especially pleased to see the learns from the previous game (especially Tonbridge) of coping in the wet.” He added “Rams this week will present another great challenge and it will be interesting to see how the learns extend to an away trip. There is a nice bit of confidence-building in the squad which will hopefully stand us in good stead”.
With three home games on the bonce following this week, Albion have a real chance to start to move up the table and there is a fair bit of pressure for this week’s game as national one hits the mid-point.
Rams V Albion Saturday 15/1/22
Old Bath Road Reading