Report by Chris Bentley / Photography by David Cunningham
Plymouth Albion overcame challenges on and off the field last weekend to mark their first bonus point win of the season against a very industrious Taunton Titans side. With traffic severely delayed along the M5, the ‘Cornish Connection’ of Herbie Stupple, Jack Oulton, Torin Clarke and Isaak Welch and the Albion supporters coach; who travelled up independently of the team, spent nearly all of their afternoon stuck in what turned out to be an eight-hour traffic jam.
Prior to the game, having delayed the kick-off by nearly an hour waiting for supporters and players stuck on the gridlocked M5, there was a brief service and minutes silence followed by a rousing rendition of the national anthem as the passing of Queen Elizabeth the second was marked impeccably by the crowd at the Veritas Park.
To the game, a much-changed Albion XV started with bench men Jamie Salter in at hooker (moving Harry Wilkinson to the backrow), a run-on debut for Bryn Edwards and the early return of the Welsh Wizard Phil Jones. With little wind and with two teams who like to attack, the stage was set for a humdinger and the sides didn’t disappoint. From the kick-off, Albion’s Frankie Nowell opted to go off on a mazy run rather than take the option of a clearing kick and the tone was set.
With play very much set in the midfield, a transgression from Albion allowed Taunton to kick for the corner and, although Albion defended the initial lineout, the one that followed saw former Exeter Chief Charlie Wright barge over. It took just five minutes for Albion to respond with a trademark lineout drive of their own, Jamie Salter rising last with the ball.
Taunton had certainly done their homework and spent a lot of time on the edge of the Albion 22 launching repeated attacks that the Albion fought manfully to stop. Sadly, they were once again adjudged to have transgressed, and Gott slotted a penalty to give the home side a 10-5 lead on 14 minutes. On a rare foray into Taunton territory, the ball was coughed up and the home side launched a spectacular break up field that equally tenacious defence just about managed to repel.
The home side however went again and looked all in to score only for the final pass to be dropped. Albion failed to clear and a penalty resulted in another successful kick to take the score to 13-5. This seemed to spark the Albion team who scored a magnificent try from a lineout on halfway. Jake Clemson secured the ball, Henry Clement fed the midfield who worked some intricate passes to release Alex Ducker who weaved his way in from 30.
Taunton were the next to strike after getting back to the Albion try line, their pack repeatedly drove and after a good couple of minutes, Brett Harvey squeezed in to edge back in front. Not to be outdone, Albion responded almost from the kick-off as they put a few phases together before the impressive Tom Putt kicked across field to Ducker.
The ‘Prince of Plymouth’ is certainly a danger man for Albion and sensing the threat, the home winger tackled Ducker in the air. With the ref seeing he was the last man, he had no choice but to run straight under the posts to award a penalty try and leave Albion 18-26 to the good!
As the half was taking place, whispers came through the crowd that three of the ‘Cornish Connection’ had managed to exit up an embankment and were being whizzed to the game to reinforce the bench. With such an attritional game, there was no doubt the benches would be pivotal to the result!
Into the second half and Albion had a spring in their stride as they took the game to their hosts in attack and defence. The ‘Bude Bulldozer’ Angus Hodges and stand in captain Dan Pullinger were stand out in the effort. As they drove hard for the line, the ball was coughed up and the home side broke from depth to score and narrow the gap to three points.
Soon after Taunton kicked another penalty to level the game with 20 minutes to play. It was of no surprise to see the referee then take a moment to allow water on for both teams as players on both sides were throwing the proverbial kitchen sink into the game! No quarter was being asked and none was being given, those lucky enough o be there were witnessing a true Westcountry derby.
With ten minutes remaining in the game, it was Albion who struck the killer blow. From a scrum in the midfield, the pack got the shoulder up, a Polynesian wedge of To’a and Raumakita battered the gainline to create a quick ball, Clement whizzed the ball out and Frankie Nowell barged through two defenders to edge Albion in front. Once again, the nerveless Tom Putt slotted the kick to ensure a 7-point lead.
Suddenly there was a furore on the Albion bench as three lots of kit were laid out and Clarke, Oulton and Welch got kitted up and thrown into the fray! With the reinforcements on, Albion played out the remaining game skilfully and seal a solid win considering the difficult circumstances 26-33.
Speaking after the game, backs coach Ryan Lamb said “To go there and get the five points under that adversity is a massive credit to the lads. But shows how far we’ve come that we’re talking about the performance being under par. This is a good start to the campaign and the work the lads have put in over preseason is starting to show on the field”
With a much changed starting XV, it’s a testament to the newly discovered resilience of Albion that they stood firm in the face of repeated Taunton incursions in what became a fantastic advert for National League One rugby. Tom Putt certainly directed the Albion team with a new found maturity, on Debut Bryn Edwards showed he is up to the rigours of the national league and the return of the ever popular Phil Jones all augured well.
It may well be a bit too early to say it just yet, but green shoots certainly seem to be sprouting at Brickfields after this victory and the next acid test will come this weekend with the visit from top of the table Sale. Be sure to join us at Brickfields for what promises to be a big old game of rugby!
Plymouth Albion v Sale RFC, Saturday 17th September – K/O 3 PM