BIG MATCH PREVIEW -
by PETER WOODROOFE
Saturday November 17, 2007, at Billesley,
(but come for
On Saturday we welcome to Billesley, Plymouth Albion, another club vying for Premiership status and realising how difficult it is to achieve consistency in National League One against other full-time professional sides and compete against the expertise and additional financial resources of the relegated side from the Premiership. Last season’s unbeaten relegated club, Northampton, illustrated the point last Saturday in beating one of National League Two’s leading and most ambitious challengers, Exeter Chiefs away 25-11.
Upward and downward.
Plymouth Albion started in the Courage Clubs Championship in 1987-88 in level 3 and won promotion to Division 2 with a 100% record in the following season. After three seasons in Division 2, the club hit a downward spiral with two successive relegations and only just avoided relegation by defeating Weston-super-Mare in the last match of the 1998-9 season – a sole away win in that season.
… and up again
In the following season, a 4th place was achieved in what became National Two South with CHRIS ATKINSON scoring a club record 260 points in that season and STEVE WALKLIN 15 tries.
There followed two seasons of promotion in 2000-1 and 2001-2 which lifted Albion back to level 2 (National One) in which the influences in terms of points were fly-half TOM BARLOW, 466 points, and DAN WARD-SMITH, just missing out on England because of injuries, with 43 tries over the two seasons.
After finishing 9th in the first season back, Plymouth became one of the promotion candidates from 2003-4 finishing 3rd, 3rd, 5th and last season 6th, with winger NICOLAS SESTARET scoring 28 tries and full-back WIHAN NEETHLING 162 points.
Behind this period of success, and still there, is the former England and Bath hooker, GRAHAM DAWE, signed as Director of Rugby in 1998-9 and making his debut on the field for Plymouth on his 40th birthday in September 1999. DAWE won five England caps, two in different World Cups, and was on the replacement bench on numerous occasions.
After playing each other occasionally in the old amateur days, usually when Moseley was visiting on the annual Easter tour, the two clubs first met in League rugby 1991-2 after Moseley had been relegated from National League One.
This first League game was at The Reddings on December 21 1991 and Moseley won a close game 15-10, with Plymouth scoring two tries and Moseley getting points from three SIMON PENNINGTON penalties and two drop goals from ALISTAIR KERR. It was a somewhat hollow victory at a time when a try was worth four points.
The Devon club was subsequently relegated and went into the aforementioned downward spiral until promotion from National League Three South 2000-2001.
The two clubs met each other again in September 2002 at Beacon Park, Plymouth when the Albion scored three tries through winger PAT SYKES, centre GRAEME KIDDIE and centre ROSS WINNEY between the 36th and 45th minutes to give control and ensure a 46-15 victory. DAN WARD-SMITH scored two other tries and centre JAMES SHANAHAN one. ROD MARTIN and JAMES HINKINS scored Moseley’s tries.
In the return game at Bournbrook, Moseley, in the relegation season following the prevention of the club’s move to Oxford, gained an unexpected victory, winning 25-24, thanks to two tries by ANDY GRAY and five penalties from STEPHEN NUTT, who is now at Sedgley Park. Plymouth, who led 19-8 at half-time, scored tries through flanker ANDREW PERRY, Tongan centre KERI FISILAU, full-back TOM BARLOW and No 8 DAN WARD-SMITH, BRETT McCORMACK converting two.
Since then, the two clubs have met on November 6, 2004 in the 4th round of the Powergen Cup when Albion inflicted on Moseley its heaviest RFU Cup defeat, 76-6 at a new ground, Brickfields Rec, in front of 1942 spectators.
Plymouth’s side on that day contained a galaxy of stars, with six of their eleven tries being scored by a back row consisting of Samoan international ALFIE TO-OALA, Argentinian squad member MARTIN SCHUSTERMAN and DAN WARD-SMITH. Further tries were scored by lock CHRIS LOWTIE and BRETT LUXTON, while wingers LUKE ARSCOTT, JON FABIAN and ex-Moseley winger NIGEL SIMPSON also scored one apiece.
ALISTAIR BRESSINGTON scored Moseley’s points and brother NATHAN went nearest to scoring a try. It is interesting to note that of the scorers in the Cup game, only NATHAN BRESSINGTON is still with his club, such is the peripatetic nature of professional rugby!
The club was started in 1876 by a group of apprentices from the Royal Naval Dockyard in Devonport, but rather than take that name, such was the ambition and enthusiasm that it was called Plymouth, incorporating the historical aura of the area and adding Albion to emphasise England and patriotism in a predominantly naval area.
The club played at the Rectory field in the course of its travels before the First World War, but the Navy purchased the field for use by Devonport Services so the Albion moved to Beacon Park where it has remained for forty-eight years before moving back to the Devonport roots at Brickfields in 2003, a ground that will be developed to meet the Premiership criteria. So “great hearts of oak from little acorns grow”.
This season the Devon club is lying 7th in National League One, having won six games and lost five, including losing to Coventry at Brickfields. Leading points scorer is ROSS LAIDLAW with 105 points and ADAM KETTLE and LIAM GIBSON have scored five tries apiece. Albion won 20-14 at Sedgley Park last Saturday.
Comings and goings
LAIDLAW, the former England U21, has joined the club this season from Saracens. Winger TOM ARSCOTT and fly-half ED BAINES have joined Bristol and utility back JON FABIAN has joined Cornish All Blacks.
Other newcomers include EMYR LEWIS, a centre from Bedford, BRAD DAVIES a fly-half from Gloucester, and back-row player JANNIE BORNMAN from Rotherham Titans. Last year’s top points scorer NICK SESTARET and WIHAN NEETHLING remain with the club.
Moseley will have to forget last season’s 50-5 defeat at Billesley and last week’s equally heavy defeat at Bedford when the Blues ran in ten tries. The players must look to Plymouth having an inconsistent day, or immediately raising their own defensive game. In other words, bounce back as they have done before.
We hope home support will turn the tables on our visitors. The Plymouth players and supporters face the usual long journey outside Devon and Cornwall and there is always a chance, dependent on attitude, that Moseley will earn some League points from the game. We hope that all spectators will enjoy the camaraderie at Billesley both in the clubhouse and in the hospitality boxes. Have a good day!
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