BIG MATCH PREVIEW - PLYMOUTH ALBION
by PETER WOODROOFE
We welcome Plymouth Albion to Billesley on Saturday, another of the clubs in National 1 who are striving to reach the Premiership.
Up, down, up…
After starting the Courage Clubs Championship in 1987-88 in level 3, they reached level 2 in the following season, winning Division 3 with a 100% record.
After three seasons in Division 2, they hit a downward spiral with two successive relegations. In 1998-9, they only avoided relegation from National League rugby by defeating Weston-super-Mare in the last match, their only away win in the season.
In the following season, they moved up to 4th and from there they won promotion in two successive years, taking them into National 1 in 2002-3, back to level 2.
Plymouth Albion was started in 1876 by a group of apprentices from the Royal Naval Dockyard in Devonport.
Rather than take the name Devonport, such was their ambition and enthusiasm that they called themselves Plymouth, incorporating the historical aura of the area and adding Albion to emphasise England or Britain and patriotism in a predominantly Naval area.
Incidentally, Devonport Services still survives, now in the Western counties West league with ALAN BERRY R.M. (ret’d) as Honorary Secretary and playing at The Rectory Field.
Plymouth played at the Rectory Field in the course of their travels before the First World War, but the Navy purchased the Rectory for use by Devonport Services and Plymouth Albion moved to Beacon Park where they were for 84 years before moving back to their Davenport roots, to Brickfields Stadium at Brickfields Recreation Ground, in 2003.
Brickfields will be gradually developed to meet the Premiership criteria. Last season, working with Davenport Regeneration Community Partnership, Plymouth City Council, Sport England and the RFU, a new grandstand, an additional changing room block and a floodlit, rubber-crumb training pitch were completed.
Nearly 6,000 people attended the NEC Harlequins and Penzance (Cornish Pirates) games last season.
On the playing side, it was GRAHAM DAWE of England and Bath who lit the spark of recovery after the 1998-9 season.
In the following seasons, he was appointed Director of Rugby and at 40 years old, he started in 23 League games.
He brought in full-back CHRIS ATKINSON from Nottingham who scored a club record 260 points and such as DAN WARD-SMITH, now at Bristol and centre RUSSELL THOMPSON, both from New Zealand, and fly-half TOM BARLOW, now with Nottingham, from Sale.
Winger STEVE WALKIN returned to the club from Redruth and was the lading try scorer with 15, equalling his own club record set in 1997-8. They rose from 12th to 4th in the League.
Promotion to National 1 came in the next two seasons, with TOM BARLOW scoring 466 points and DAN WARD-SMITH 44 tries, leading scorers in both seasons.
In their first season in National 1, they finished 9th, a creditable performance, as we in Moseley realise as we endeavour to cross the emerging chasm between National 2 and National 1.
Scrum-half New Zealander BRETT McCORMACK who joined from Weston-super-Mare scored 166 points and once again DAN WARD-SMITH was top try scorer with 21. They won 10 games, drew one and lost 15.
In the next two seasons they finished 3rd behind Worcester, promoted, and Orrell in 2003-4, and Bristol, promoted, and Exeter in 2004-5.
Last season they dropped to 5th, behind NEC Harlequins, promoted, Bedford, Penzance & Newlyn and Rotherham Titans, all with Premiership aspirations.
Moseley first met Albion in League rugby in 1991 at The Reddings. Previous to that, they used to meet each other occasionally on Moseley’s Easter tour to the South West.
In 1991-2, after Moseley had been relegated from National 1, Moseley won 15-10 after a closely contested game. Plymouth scored two tries (worth four points each in those days) by centre BARRIE VALLANCE and flanker IAN RUSSELL, one converted by MARK SLADE, but it was the pressure play by Moseley that brought three penalties by SIMON PENNINGTON and two drop goals by ALASTAIR KERR, that won the day.
After three seasons in Division 2, Plymouth were surprisingly relegated and went down two divisions before a recovery was made and the two clubs met again in September 2002 at Beacon Park. Plymouth ran out winners 46-15. Three tries between the 38th and 48th minutes turned the game.
Albion’s tries were scored by winger PAT SYKES, centres GRAEME KIDDIE and JAMES SHANAHAN, fly-half ROSS WINNEY and DAN WARD-SMITH (2). BRETT McCORMACK converted four tries and kicked two penalty goals and TOM BARLOW converted one try.
ROD MARTIN and JAMES HINKINS scored Moseley’s tries, Martin converting one try and kicking a penalty.
In the return game at Bournbrook, Moseley, in their relegation season, pulled off an unexpected 25-24 victory, thanks to two tries by ANDY GRAY, and five penalties by STEPHEN NUTT, now at Waterloo, with Plymouth’s points coming from tries by TOM BARLOW, centre KENI FISILAU, flanker ANDY PERRY and DAN WARD-SMITH, with BRETT McCORMACK converting two.
Moseley must focus their memories (Binns, Cox, Macdonald, Taylor, Hadley, Thomas, Buxton, McIntosh and Aston were in the Moseley squad then and now) on that victory rather than the last match the two clubs played, the 4th Round Powergen Cup game at Brickfields in November 2004 when Plymouth gained their most emphatic Cup victory, 76-6 and inflicted on Moseley their heaviest-ever Cup defeat.
Their back row of Samoan international ALFIE TO’OALA, Argentina 7s international MARTIN SCHUSTERMAN and DAN WARD-SMITH scored six of their 11 tries and the others were scored by winger JON FABIAN, LUKE ARSCOTT and replacement NIGEL SIMPSON, who scored six tries in 15 appearances for Moseley in 1997-8, and locks CHRIS LOWRIE and BRETT LUXTON, who scored one apiece. ALISTAIR BRESSINGTON kicked Moseley’s points.
It is interesting to note that of the scorers in that game, To’oala, Arscott and Ward-Smith are now at Bristol, Schusterman is at Leeds, and Luxton and Simpson are with Launceston, the Cornish All-Blacks. Alistair Bressington is at Stourbridge. Only Fabian and Lowrie are still at Plymouth. The peripatetic nature of professional rugby!
Every club has to have a consistent kicker to succeed at every level of rugby. Moseley have had such as ALASTAIR KERR and SIMON HODGKINSON in the past and now have OLLIE THOMAS whom we found out from Moseley Matters was the best kicker in the League, up to and including the Doncaster game, on 85.7% success rate.
Plymouth have the aforementioned CHRIS ATKINSON, TOM BARLOW and BRETT McCORMACK and in 2004-5 JAMES PRITCHARD, now returned to Bedford Blues.
Last season kicking duties were shared between Tongan NAT SAUMI 106 points, including two tries, and fly-half ED BARNES, 70 points, including three tries, with occasional contributions by NICK DEFTY, JON FABIAN and TOM HAYES.
This season they have recruited South African WIHAN NEETHLING from Stellenbosch University who has had a short spell with the London Irish Academy and three seasons in France. He has scored 127 points to date this season.
The leading try scorer last season, Frenchman winger NIC SESTARET with 12, has scored seven tries this season to date.
Newcomers, in addition to NEETHLING, include locks BEN GULLIVER from Coventry and COLIN STEWART from Borders, hooker RICHARD OXLEY from Sedgley Park, four tries this season, and Argentinian flanker FEDERICO GENOUD from Los Tordos.
These players join winger ED LEWSEY who has returned from injury after joining from Exeter last season, centre Tongan KENI FUSILAU, over 90 appearances, centre REGARDT VAN EYK, a regular at the end of last season, a half-back partnership of ED BARNES, who has represented England Counties and NIGEL CANE, over 100 appearances, prop MARTIN RICE and lock, now No 8 TOM HAYES, both 25 appearances in their first seasons and flanker DANNY THOMAS (capt), over 150 appearances.
After last week’s 30-6 defeat of Sedgley Park, Plymouth are lying 3rd in National I, having won nine of their 11 games, losing only at Nottingham 14-13 and Exeter 18-14.
At home they have beaten promotion challengers Doncaster 14-13 and Earth Titans 14-11.
This all adds up to another difficult game for Moseley on Saturday. They have missed the cutting edge of the injured NATHAN BRESSINGTON, who should resume training this week, and CARL COLVIN, who needs another week of recuperation.
When thing’s are difficult on the pitch, it’s Sod’s Law that injuries will increase – and in Moseley’s case, Murphy, the originator of the law, would be pleased how well the law is being proved.
JAMES ASTON, another winger, is out with a broken thumb, and NEIL MASON (knee) and TOM WARREN (ribs) are also out.
However, PAUL ARNOLD returned against Doncaster and played for 74 minutes and NICK BUCKLEY, a centre from Manawatu, New Zealand, and UCHE ODUOZA, a winger from the Worcester Academy, made their 1st XV debuts last week.
Also back on the scene and looking fit is ANDY GRAY after training as a fireman and getting married to Tracy with a honeymoon in the Caribbean. In their last home League game against the Albion, which as previously mentioned Moseley won 25-24, Andy scored Moseley’s two tries suitably inspired by the presence of the said Tracy watching at the end where his winning try was scored.
Moseley’s first half performance in difficult conditions against Doncaster last week was good, restricting the Knights to 10-0 and creating chances, but after conceding tries in the 50th and 55th minutes, Moseley saw very little of the ball in what the players agreed was a disappointing second-half. However, they showed good defence, robbing Doncaster of a try-scoring bonus point.
Moseley will be striving for a more even performance against redoubtable opponents on Saturday with the sound of the Moseley supporters at Billesley drowning the Plymouth Drum.
We hope supporters of both sides have an enjoyable day at Billesley with the usual camaraderie in the clubhouse and hospitality boxes before and after the game.
Thank you for your support during the additional attraction of the Winter International season.
Note to members re parking
Members using Swanshurst School Parking are advised that access is now along the Tennis Centre Road, (park in the big car park half way up on the left) - it will be signposted. This park will be closed at 7.30 pm. For all other visitors please continue to approach from the south along Yardley Wood Road.
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