Plymouth Albion made one of their longer trips of the season and came away with a bonus point-earning 0-26 victory over a gutsy Fylde side. If the one-sided score rather flattered Albion, there was no denying their superiority.
Albion had the best possible start as in the 3rd minute they powered down their right before switching play left as flanker Sam Daly raced clear to score with ease. Fly-half Dan Mugford converted the try for a 0-7 lead. A casualty of the move was loose head prop Will Norton who was helped off the pitch to be replaced by Jack Owlett.
Fylde battled hard for possession but were coming off second best as the slick visiting backs looked particularly dangerous. Missed tackles didn’t help the Lancastrians’ cause as Albion pressed forward. In the 20th minute Albion extended their lead when winger Harrison Cully broke down the left touchline to score a good try. Mugford was unable to add the extras but his side had a clear 0-12 advantage.
Fylde upped their game and came back strongly, competing well in the scrummages, where Dan Richardson, Tom Burtonwood and Adam Lewis gave them an advantage, and in loose play. But small mistakes littered their play, with several knock-ons and kicks going astray.
On the half hour Albion lock John Kelly was sinbinned by referee Matt Turvey for foul play. Fylde struggled to take advantage on the extra man and at the break still trailed by 0-12.
The initial period in the 2nd half followed the pattern of the first 40 minutes. There was lots of ‘grunt’ by Fylde but not too much to show for it as they struggled to mount consistent, penetrative attacks. On the other hand, their defence was immense as they protected their line with intensity and bravery.
Into the final quarter the home side stepped up their efforts and started to press their opponents back inside their own half. A lovely move up the left touchline featured a break by the ever dangerous Tom Carleton. The Fylde pack battered their way to the line, moved the ball left and right yet couldn’t find a hole in the Albion defence.
At last they created space down the right and Henry Hadfield was set free along the touchline. He evaded the first tackler and dived in the corner to score. Mistakenly, the Assistant Referee adjudged him to have stepped on the line. Subsequent photographic evidence showed this wasn’t the case so it was ‘the try that never was’. Whether at 0-12 down it would have made any significant difference to the final result is doubtful. But it certainly was frustrating for the home players and supporters – and seemed to sum up the team’s luck this season so far.
In the 66th minute following a collapsed scrummage in Fylde’s half, Adam Lewis was sinbinned. As the home side tried to re-organise, Plymouth took due advantage. They threw everything forward, earned numerous penalties and spurned penalty kicks to go for tries.
The Fylde defence was heroic and earned a couple of turnovers. But they couldn’t clear their lines decisively and back came Albion. In the 72nd minute fullback Matt Shepherd found a way through a packed defence to score near the posts. Mugford kicked the conversion for a 0-19 lead.
Albion were back close to the Fylde line in the closing minutes. They went through several phases as the forwards drove to the line. Still the Fylde defence held before scrum-half Cameron Setter spotted a gap and plunged through it to secure the bonus point fourth try to the delight of his team and the band of visiting supporters. Mugford converted from in front of the posts and soon after the final whistle was blown. In a nice, thoughtful touch, the Albion players retraced their steps to the side terraces to thank their supporters.
The Fylde players had put in a hard shift and the pack had matched their opponents in most respects. It was the small errors which undermined the home side’s attempt to break out of their own half and mount continued pressure in Albion’s half. The lack of penetration in attack is a continuing concern.
Meanwhile, Albion move up to 3rd place in National One and must have looked askance at the results as it came through that overwhelming leaders Coventry had been whipped at Blackheath by 69-21. The race for the championship may not yet be over after all.
15 Alex Dolly; 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Luke Fowden, 11 Tom Carleton; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Greg Nicholls ©; 1 Dan Richardson (Mark Irving 53), 2 Tom Burtonwood (Ben Gregory 61), 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Nick Ashcroft (Harlan Corrie 61), 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Ben Vernon (Adam McCarthy), 7 Will Hopwood, 8 David Fairbrother.
Non-playing replacement: Jake Foster.
15 Matt Shepherd; 14 Matt Crosscombe (Setaraki Raumakita 65), 13 Dean Squire, 12 Harvey Skinner, 11 Harrison Cully; 10 Dan Mugford, 9 Cameron Setter; 1 Will Norton (Jack Owlett 4), 2 James Salter (Rupert Freestone 56), 3 Dan Pullinger, 4 Sean Lonsdale, 5 John Kelly, 6 Ed Holmes, 7 Sam Daly (George Mills 65), 8 Eoghan Grace ©.
Non-playing replacement: Jordan Gott.