National League One champions Coventry are the visitors at Brickfields today (Saturday, March 24) for their National League One fixture with Plymouth Albion (KO 3pm).
The event coincides with the St Luke’s Hospice Men’s Day Out, involving nearly 2,000 walkers, and the launch of the Maylower 400 sports week in partnership with Plymouth Argyle and Plymouth Raiders.
Albion go into the game following last week’s home win over Bishop’s Stortford, 17-10, despite fielding a depleted squad.
Captain Herbie Stupple, who took to the field in the second half to replace the injured Dan Williams, says: “We were very happy with that, seeing the injuries we had and me having to come on earlier than was expected.
“They are a side that has come up, done really well and managed to secure themselves this year They have had some good away wins and we wanted to keep that 100% home record which was exactly what we did.”
Albion’s match squad featured two youngsters from the Exeter Chiefs under-18s team – centre Luke Flack and second row Lewis Pearson – and 27-year-old Stupple was nothing less than impressed with their performances.
“We said how well they did and in a way they saved us after all these injuries. They came on, put in big performances and impressed the boys, the coaches and the fans, so that’s huge for the future.”
This week’s opponents have already secured the National League One title and promotion to the Championship with five of their fixtures still remaining.
The influential number eight recognises the extent of Coventry’s achievement.
“It is amazing and it says a lot for them. They may have a little more money, but they have still had to work hard for it and put the graft in.
“I am pleased for them – as well as having one of our old boys, Nile Dacres, playing for them, which is brilliant.”
Coventry have named a strong side with only limited changes to the first XV that beat Caldy 55-12 last week to win the league title.
Stupple says: “They can send whoever they want, they will still be in for a battle.
“I don’t want it to be an excuse that we have got some youngsters in. It should be more exciting to see these guys come through and show what they’ve got and see what adult rugby is all about.
“Yes, we have got injuries, but it is not going to faze us. We have still got a huge pack and a strong side.
“There is no pressure on us apart from the home record. For me, it is the one game I wanted to be fit for.”
With his squad ravaged by injuries, head coach Hallett has been forced to name no fewer than five youngsters in his match day squad, Luke Flack, Robbie Weeks, Lewis Pearson, Flynn Elworthy and Devon Jewsbury.
Despite the changes, Stupple says: “The team’s heart, skill and everything else is there.”
Supporters will also notice that some familiar faces are to feature in unfamiliar positions, with Dan Williams moving forward from the back row and versatile back Dean Squire wearing the number 10 shirt.
Stupple is not concerned with the shake-up: “Dean has a 100% record at fly half! And DW says he prefers the second row. He played there for England Counties so it is not new to him. Dean has slotted in well at 10. He is a good defensive player and mighty in attack with the ball in his hands.”
The Albion captain was quick to pay tribute to three players who are each celebrating 50 games for the club – wing Matt Crosscombe, back row forward George Mills and hooker Jamie Salter.
“It is brilliant. Matt came from Brixham for two seasons and has played nearly every game. It is huge for him as a guy who hasn’t played top flight rugby and all of a sudden has come in, done so well and scored many tries.
“As for Salts, he has been around for ever which is why we call him dad in the changing room. He doesn’t complain and he knuckles down and does his jobs, starting week in week out.
“Millsy is the same, nothing but brilliant. I chose him last year as one of my stand-out players.
“It is a real achievement for all three.”
Saturday’s game will be played in front of the largest crowd of the season, thanks to more than 1,800 St Luke’s Hospice’s Men’s Day Out participants and Stupple says his team will benefit from the increased support.
“It gives you that extra buzz and I am sure they will all be behind us 100%.”
He is pleased to be back in action after a season marred by a succession of injuries: “In a way I have had one of those seasons from hell! I started well but couldn’t help the spinal injury and then knocking my head but I haven’t let it affect me.
“I am fit in spirit and body but whether the lungs will take a toll I don’t know.”
The 27-year-old sported a new look last week following his return to action after being sidelined with concussion symptoms. Stupple says the head gear is likely to make another appearance this Saturday.
“I am trying to prolong my career as long as possible and if that means me wearing a scrum hat then so be it. I am up for anything. I have turned it down in the past but thought I would give it a go, as everyone says I should, including my mum.
“Actually, it went alright. I felt more confident and it keeps me playing for Plymouth as long as I can!”
Popular Coventry forward Nile Dacres, who spent two seasons at Plymouth Albion, is relishing his return to Brickfields.
“It’s the game I have looked forward to most since signing for Coventry. The Brickfields fans were always amazing during my time at Plymouth and, with it being the St Luke’s Men’s Day Out, I’m sure the ‘Albi, Albi, Albi’ chants will be as big as ever at the weekend!
“The post-match entertainment is always great as well and I can’t wait to see some familiar (if maybe not quite as friendly) faces on and off the pitch while I’m there!”
Plymouth Albion team to face Coventry at Brickfields on Saturday, March 24 (KO 3pm).
15 Matt Shepherd, 14 Matt Crosscombe, 13, Luke Flack, 12 Robbie Weeks, 11 Jordan Gott, 10 Dean Squire, 9 Cameron Setter, 1 Luke Chapman, 2 Jamie Salter, 3 Dan Pullinger, 4 Lewis Pearson, 5 Dan Williams, 6 George Mills, 7 Sam Daly, 8 Herbie Stupple
16 Will Norton, 17 Rupert Freestone, 18 Flynn Elworthy, 19 Devon Jewsbury, 20 Setareki Raumakita