Plymouth Albion welcome Blackheath to Brickfields this Saturday, April 28, for what should have been their final home game of the National League One season (KO 3pm).
As a result of postponements, the tie is the first of three consecutive home games for the Devon club, extending their season right up until the middle of May.
Blackheath, led by former Albion head coach James Shanahan, won the two sides’ most recent encounter at Well Hall on the first day of the 2017/18 season, when an eleventh-hour penalty handed the hosts the 32-31 win.
Albion, in fourth, are just one place and five points above the visitors in National League One, following last week’s victory over Old Albanian 24-21, a result which saw the St Albans club relegated to National League Two (South).
Head coach Kieran Hallett described the fixture as a tough game: “They were a different side from the one that has been picked all season as they brought in a few Saracens guys late on, so we knew it was going to be tough because of that. Those guys made a real impact for them but, to be honest, it didn’t ever feel like we weren’t going to win. Even when we were 14 nil down it was when we had Norts (Will Norton) in the bin and it felt pretty comfortable. It was a similar story to all season as it is our own errors that are giving teams opportunities to score. We knew if we cut those out we would be in with a shout. In the second half our defensive performance was much better and we were pretty comfortable.”
Albion were forced to make changes to their published team sheet after dual registered Harvey Skinner’s late call up for Exeter Braves in their Aviva A league Southern Pool semi-final against Newcastle Falcons.
As a result, Hallett had no option but to don the number ten shirt himself for the full 80 minutes at the Woollams Playing Fields.
There are further headaches for the fly-half this week following an injury to flanker Sam Daly, who left the field with his leg in a splint. An x-ray has since confirmed the popular number 7 has fractured his ankle, leaving him out of action until pre-season training gets underway in June.
Hallett explains: “This week the squad situation is even worse. We just don’t have enough players – it’s as simple as that.”
“We are down to our last 18 players but there is nothing we can do about it really and I have got to play again this week.”
Despite there being little to play for, Hallett expects Blackheath to mount a tough challenge: “It will probably be a similar game to the Moseley one with both teams going at it but without a whole lot to play for, apart from a bit of pride. It will probably be a fairly high scoring game. We will give it our best shot. We never want to lose at home. We said during the Moseley week that we wanted to start another home run and we are one game into that so that will probably be our focus.
“I am sure Blackheath will be up for it. They have had their own problems with injuries, having to bring in guys who wouldn’t normally have featured for them. Both teams are kind of on their knees a little bit but I am sure it will be an entertaining game and hopefully the weather is decent.
“They like to play a similar brand of attacking rugby to us so it should be interesting from a spectacle point of view.”
With a total of four home games postponed so far this year, Albion must fulfil an extended season, with two rescheduled fixtures in May, against Rosslyn Park (May 5) and Loughborough Students (May 12), a situation that is far from ideal for Hallett and his dwindling squad.
“There are a lot of tired guys out there. We know everyone else in the league is finishing this week but we have got to suit up and graft on.
“Mentally that’s tough but we have known that was the case for a while now so we just have to keep going and doing our best.”
The Blackheath game is designated a special family day in partnership with Babcock, involving students, teachers and families from Shakespeare Primary School and Weston Mill Community Primary Academy.
The club is also offering deals for this and the final two home games – on May 5 and May 12 – for students and serving and former military personnel.
Students can gain ground entry for £7.50 on production of an NUS card, representing a saving of 50% off the usual price of £15, while serving and former military personnel can gain entry for £10 with valid ID, saving £5 off the usual price.
Plymouth Albion team to face Blackheath at Brickfields on Saturday, April 28 (KO 3pm).
15 Matt Shepherd, 14 Jordan Gott, 13 Dean Squire, 12 Robbie Weeks, 11 Harrison Cully, 10 Kieran Hallett, 9 Cameron Setter, 1 Will Norton, 2 Jamie Salter, 3 Dan Pullinger, 4 Lewis Pearson, 5 Eoghan Grace, 6 Flynn Elworthy, 7 George Mills, 8 Herbie Stupple.
16 Luke Chapman, 17 Benjamin Phillips, 18 Dan Williams, 19 Luke Flack.