Plymouth Albion finished their long-winded season off in style to secure third in National League One with a powerful bonus point win over Loughborough Students at Brickfields.
It is an impressive end to an injury-riddled year for the city side, who finish the campaign with 20 wins, two draws and eight losses.
Loughborough, who barely scraped through the season, put up a surprising level of fight, providing the crowd with a close fought game for 50 minutes.
Head coach Kieran Hallett was not surprised with Loughborough’s spirited play, he said:
“I didn’t think it would be an easy game as there are no easy games in this league.
“Fair play to Loughborough, they played well, but in the end, were too much for them.”
“There were a lot of tired bodies, I think a few of the guys need to refresh mentally as well, it’s been a long old slog as we haven’t really had any time off since Christmas, so it’s been difficult.”
Captain, Herbie Stupple, agreed with his coach, saying:
“I think they were always going to bring something, I didn’t think it was going to be that much of a fight but that was probably a good thing since we didn’t want to finish the season on an easy note.”
“I think there were a lot of tired bodies, clearly mine included, but the boys deserve a bit of a wind down after the performance they put in today.”
Reflecting on a season marred by injury and poor weather postponements, Hallett stressed his praise for the side, while already eyeing the future, saying:
“I’m incredibly proud of what they’ve done, they’ve had to deal with a lot of stuff this year, but their focus on achieving goals has been unwavering.”
“Hopefully we should have some new signings to announce over the next few days and weeks, we’re trying to get that squared away as soon as we can, I’m really excited for the squad we’re putting together next year.”
Stupple also reflected on his own season, he said:
“It’s been brilliant, I just wish I could have led the side out on a few more occasions, but we finished strong and got third place which was really good in the end.”
Albion would go down early after a collision in the air from kick off posted Loughborough in the corner for a sustained attack, eventuating in a William Attfield try after three minutes of play. His kick would be converted by Owen Waters, to put the visitors up 7-0.
Hardly disheartened by the initial setback, Albion kicked for the corner after their first awarded penalty. Loughborough held for a time, but the plethora of attacks ran the visitors into trouble, culminating in Andrew Beywater seeing yellow.
The determination paid off for Albion as the side got the ball out with criss-crossing passes for Matthew Shepherd to win a foot race to the corner.
The well-rested students looked physical in the first half, taking the breakdown to Albion’s line, which led to early stops for injured players to regain their footing. With two weeks of rest comes slow hands though, as Loughborough dropped forward as many times as they could muster attacks towards the posts.
Dean Squire would unshackle his pace to threaten the touchline on the 30-minute mark, and his run had fans on their feet with the anticipation of a second home try, but poor offloading rushed any hope.
Some questionable penalty decisions set up Loughborough for extended stint in Albion’s 22, but the city side held commendably strong for 10 gruelling minutes of play before students used the help of one of the posts to send their number eight, Luke Frost over.
Thankfully, in what has become a habit for Albion over the last month, one try was immediately met with a reply. Enjoying a bit of green grass to play with, Harrison Cully would gather in to stretch his legs in a long break down the wing, with a smart offload popping its way out for Jamie Salter to score his second in two weeks.
The difference at the half was tight, with just a missed conversion separating the two sides 14-12.
The second half kicked off with both sides firing on all cylinders, but not quite having enough to pay dividends.
The breakthrough came after 10 minutes in favour of the home side. For the second week in a row, youngster Robbie Weeks, used intelligent play to intercept the ball swinging out wide. Nobody was home for Loughborough to stop the run, leaving Weeks to score an impressive fourth try in two weeks. Skinner would add the extras to give the five-point lead.
And so the momentum would swing back a last time to favour of the visitors, as two missed tackles from a lineout in Loughborough territory, would allow a pacey run to develop for the wing, Will Forster to score, the missed conversion would level the game and once again ramp up the pressure with 15 minutes remaining.
Needing a win to secure third place, Albion played with passion that begun to whittle down the students, and the older heads in the side shone through.
Shepherd would score his second on the afternoon with an outstanding run, followed by another score from Lewis Pearson three minutes later from a well worked back-line play. Both conversions found their mark to finalise the days score.
With the game out of reach, play would breakdown into a series of scrums and line-outs, before the final whistle would blow and end Albion’s exasperated season on a high.
15 Matthew Shepherd, 14 Jordan Gott, 13 Dean Squire, 12 Robbie Weeks, 11 Harrison Cully, 10 Harvey Skinner, 9 Cameron Setter, 1 William Norton, 2 James Salter, 3 Luke Chapman, 4 Lewis Pearson, 5 Sean Lonsdale, 26 Daniel Williams, 7 Jack Innard, 8 Herbie Stupple (C)
18, James Kenny, 19 Setariki Raumakita, 28 Benjamin Phillips, 20 Luke Flack, 21 Joe Snow
15 William Attfield, 14 Jack Stapley, 13 Richard Lewis, 12 Christopher Davies, 11 Will Foster, 10 Owen Waters, 9 Callum Watson, 1 Samuel Grahamslaw, 2 Harrison King, 3 George Davis, 4 Theo Vukasinovic, 5 Henry Wheadon, 6 Andrew Bywater, 7 Andrew Boyce, 8 Luke Frost
16 Jamie Cox, 17 Joshua Toms, 18 Samuel Bailey, 19 William Findlay, 20 Timothy Bitirim
Albion: 5 (Shepherd 2, Salter, Weeks, Pearson)
Loughborough: 3 (Attfield, Frost, Foster)
Albion: 4 (Skinner)
Birmingham: 2 (Waters)
Man of the Match: Matthew Shepherd