Plymouth Albion came away victorious over Blackheath, after a scrappy National League One bout at the Brickfields on Saturday.
In a game that was comfortably in Albion’s grasp all 80 minutes, five yellows and a red card marred the afternoon, as the game descended into a series of extracurricular contact after the whistle.
Taking on a player-coach role for a second week running, Kieran Hallett felt the first half was enough to seal the win. He said:
“When you’re that dominant, and score that many points in the first half, it’s always hard carrying that over to the second half.
“They retained the ball pretty well after the half, we had a couple of set pieces that could have got us in the game, but we couldn’t take them, but we got so many points in the first half, the game was over by halftime really.”
Although the forwards enjoyed freedom to score two tries, Hallett still believed the backline had a strong part to play, he said:
“We played with tempo and with a lot of width, that try we scored in the corner is one of the best you’ll see, so it’s not all just about the forwards’ play.
“In weeks gone by we perhaps didn’t take those maul opportunities, this week we did, and it paid off.”
Forced to play as a result of his heavily depleted side, Hallett reflected on his position heading into the last games of the season, he said:
“I don’t think there was any point in the season where I thought I’d love to play again, I’m only playing out of necessity, I’m not back as a player, I’m still the coach.”
It was all Albion in the first half, as the city side got ahead early, then settled in to trample Blackheath backward.
The forwards were truly the stars of the show, completely out showing their counterparts as the ball was driven forward with ease.
In their first drives inside the 22, Albion’s line played a little too flat at times, stalling any attacks before they began, as players struggled to gather in balls passed behind them whilst being met by heavy tackles.
In what would become a running problem for Blackheath, three penalties were given up in a row, setting Albion up in the corner. The well-oiled veteran forward pack took in the lineout and showed clinical precision to allow Jamie Salter to score and take a 5-0 lead after nine minutes.
Just three minutes later, Albion found themselves on the attack once again. After a lot of muddied play around the half way line, Albion grabbed possession and tumbled forward down the left touchline. The ball was then passed through the centres at speed, giving Eoghan Grace the opportunity to show off his pop-pass skills to hand off around the back, leaving youngster, Lewis Pearson to score at the flag.
Shepherd struggled to bend the ball from the left throughout the half, and missed his second of three conversions to leave the score 10-0.
The half was marred by poor scrummaging, as both sides struggled to set properly, giving numerous free kicks and penalties to either team. It was Albion, though, who found the most advantage from pitch positioning, with great looks at the line.
A penalty lineout gave Albion’s Dan Pullinger his side’s third try, as yet again the forward pack marched onward, at brisk pace. This time around, Matthew Shepherd found his mark to make his first of two conversions on the afternoon.
With all the scoring going Albion’s way, Blackheath looked down and dominated in most phases of the game. Through the half, any attempts of attack wound up going backwards, as Albion’s line was quick to meet the ball.
Hallett commanded his men from the centre, willing the ball out wide, to speed the rate of play up and match Albion’s preferred play style.
Any penalties given Albion’s way were put into touch and it was clear that, until Blackheath could prove they were capable of stopping Albion’s forwards, they would continue to exploit them.
Dean Squire would score twice with a minute to spare either side of the half, his best coming after the break when the centre sniffed out an intercept, taking advantage of predictable passing, as Blackheath struggled to clear their 22. The ball was plucked out of the air for the try, with Shepherd adding the extras for Albion’s last points of the game, and a 29-point buffer.
Playing their last game on the season, Blackheath looked to be on holiday already in the first half, but the side found new energy as replacements rolled on in the second.
With fresh legs came ample opportunity, but most attacking runs wound up short, either because of selfish play, or missed ball placement.
Blackheath, who lost Harry Bate to a yellow before the half, returned to full strength just as Albion lost Eoghan Grace to his first card of the afternoon. Keen to take advantage of the man difference and begin the unlikely comeback, Blackheath came on strong, and found themselves making Albion’s forwards look ordinary.
Without the strong body of Grace, Blackheath had little trouble mauling over for their own solitary try of the afternoon, courtesy of Harry Fry.
The last 20 minutes of the game were disjointed and hard to watch. Play constantly broke down, and both sides showed real frustration with each other, which often boiled over.
Both captains were warned to keep their men in check, but the cards became an inevitability to stem unruly behaviour.
Albion would lose skipper Herbie Stupple to a yellow, before seeing Grace exit the game with a straight red for contacting a player’s face.
Blackheath would also loose Keiron Scutt and Chukwuma Osazuwa to the bin, but neither side looked close to scoring again before the final whistle.
Albion will need to play catch-up on previous fixtures, before the long-winded season comes to a close, hosting another two games at the Brickfields in early May.
15 Matthew Shepherd, 14 Jordan Gott, 13 Dean Squire, 12 Robbie Weeks, 11 Harrison Cully, 10 Kieran Hallett, 9 Cameron Setter, 1 William Norton, 2 James Salter, 3 Daniel Pullinger, 4 Eoghan Grace, 5 Lewis Pearson, 6 Flynn Elworthy, 7 George Mills, 8 Herbie Stupple (C)
17 Luke Chapman, 18 Benjamin Phillips, 28 Daniel Williams, 20 Luke Flack
15 Leo Fielding, 14 Geoffrey Griffiths, 13 Markus Burgham, 12 Mark Cooke, 11 Jake Lloyd, 10 Sam Evans, 9 Jack Walsh, 1 Hayden King, 2 Michael Perks, 3 Danny Herriott, 4 Neale Patrick, 5 Devin Montgomery, 6 Fredrick Owen, 7 Harry Bate, 8 Thomas Baldwin
16 Harry Fry, 17 Kieron Scutt, 18 Chukwuma Osazuwa, 19 Joshua Davies, 20 Joseph Tarrant
Albion: 5 (Salter, Pullinger, Pearson, Squire 2)
Blackheath: 1 (Fry)
Albion: 2 (Shepherd)
Albion 2: Grace (53’), Stupple (75’)
Blackheath 3: Bate (35’), Scutt (75’), Osazuwa (77’)
Red – 1
Albion: Grace (77’)
Man of the match: Dan Pullinger
Referee: George Selwood