High flying Plymouth Albion visit the Woodlands to take on Fylde in a National One fixture on Saturday (ko 3pm). Albion, currently 4th in the table but with games in hand, have promotion ambitions but, like a few other candidates, are trailing in the wake of the outstanding Coventry squad. They bring a professionally prepared squad north on one of their furthest away trips.

Albion have had a good season, with ten wins, two draws and just three defeats. They have a superb record at their Brickfields ground and remain unbeaten there, including a 68-15 hammering of Fylde in September. Their defeats have been away at Coventry, other promotion rivals Darlington Mowden Park, and Blackheath on the opening day of the season.

After a ten year gap, the clubs restored fixtures in 2015-16. Albion hold the clear bragging rights with four out of five victories since then. Over more than 20 years of games between the two clubs, the Devonians have the Indian Sign over Fylde with ten wins in 12 matches. Last season’s superb 39-37 Fylde win at the Woodlands will stay in the memory. Fly-half Greg Smith ghosted through the Albion defence for a last minute try (see photo above) which earned the win in spectacular fashion.

Plymouth Albion was founded in 1876 by a group of apprentices from the Devonport Royal Navy Dockyard. Perhaps the ‘glory days’ of the Club were between the World Wars when they contributed sometimes four of the England pack. The beginnings of league rugby saw them at level three, along with Fylde, and they moved between levels three and four until 2001/2. Under inspirational player coach Graham Dawe who took up the coaching reins in 1999, they built a solid and thriving level two club which vied with Exeter Chiefs to be Devon’s top club. Earlier financial difficulties saw Dawe stand down from the Club in 2011 only to return in 2014/15.

Albion maintained level two status for 14 seasons before their ‘annus horribillis’ in 2014/15 which ended in relegation from the Championship. Almost all of their full-time squad departed and, under Director of Rugby Graham Dawe, they re-built pretty much a new group of players.

Their fortunes took another turn for the worst when they hit financial problems late in 2015. The Club went into administration and new owners, former players David Venables and Bruce Priday, moved in to purchase it. A 30 point deduction by the RFU had little affect on their future as they had already secured enough points to keep well clear of the relegation zone. Apart from any creditors, another casualty of the new management was Graham Dawe who left the Club.

With a new coaching group, the new owners moved to establish a close relationship with Exeter Chiefs which has seen an influx of young Chiefs players either on dual registration, loans or straight signings. Head Coach is now Kieran Hallett (ex-Bedford Blues, Nottingham & Cornish Pirates).

Hallett was busy in the close season and brought in a group of talented newcomers, some of whom have played in the past for the Club. These include back five forwards Eoghan Grace (ex-Coventry, Ealing Trailfinders, Plymouth Albion & Connacht) and Ed Holmes (ex-Exeter Chiefs), prop Luke Chapman (ex-Cornish Pirates, Redruth & Launceston) and locks Sean Lonsdale (ex-Taunton) and John Kelly (Exmouth).

The most high profile newcomer to the back division is goalkicking playmaking fly-half Dan Mugford who joined the Club after a season at Sale Sharks. Prior to that he was with Nottingham, Plymouth, and London Scottish. Other new backs include half-back Gott Jordan (ex-Cornish Pirates, St Ives, London Irish Wild Geese) and former England U’20s Jack Arnott (ex-Cornish Pirates, Exeter Chiefs & Plymouth).

More familiar faces recognisable by Fylde players will be Cornish County scrum-half or fullback Matt Shepherd, winger Matt Crosscombe, utility back Setareki Raumakita and no 8 George Mills.

Leading points scorer is Dan Mugford with 152, including 8 tries. Mugford is just two points behind Coventry’s Will Maisey in the ranking for top scorer in National One. Hooker Rupert Freestone also has 8 tries to his name, followed by Matt Crosscombe with 7 and Jack Arnott with 5.

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Fylde have named the following line-up: 

15 Alex Dolly; 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Luke Fowden, 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Carleton; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Greg Nicholls; 1 Dan Richardson, 2 Tom Burtonwood, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Nick Ashcroft, 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Matt Garrod, 7 Will Hopwood, 8 Dan Vernon.  

16 Mark Irving, 17 Ben Gregory, 18 Harlan Corrie, 19 Adam McCarthy, 20 Jake Foster.