Preview to Plymouth (A)

08/03/2013

Green shoots, gin and 'Jiffy' Davies: Islanders look to shake off 'perfect guest' tag on Plymouth pilgrimage

Jersey supporters didn't know whether to laugh or cry in the aftermath of last weekend's match against London Scottish. Their team had looked pacy and inventive on a firm pitch, more than trebling a season's average of 1.6 tries per match to belie perceptions they could only play a forwards-based game on heavier surfaces. And yet...

The team in red still showed sufficient flashes of indiscipline to earn two yellow cards and give the dead-eye kicker James Love five penalty shots at goal, of which the full set were converted. This, and four tries, meant the Exiles won 41-33 and Jersey didn't even have a losing bonus point to show for their troubles.

A week later, and the Islanders will face Mr Love's former club in another crucial Championship encounter. Plymouth Albion have had a strange season, and at the end of September were rubbing shoulders with Dean Richards & Co at the top of the Championship after four wins from five. But it's been a tough campaign since then, with just one more win, and a barren run of eight straight defeats that has equalled the club's worst-ever league run, set in 1997/98.

Plymouth -albion -kit

The run of defeats has included seven bonus points to keep Albion reasonably well clear of the relegation trapdoor, but they aren't safe yet and will be desperate to get back on track, and secure their Championship status, in front of their home fans.

The home support should be able to out-shout the visiting contingent, which is likely to be far smaller than the noisy bunch who made it to the Athletic Ground in Richmond last weekend, adding more than 300 to the Exiles' average gate and earning praise from the home club's ticket office: "by some distance the friendliest, most cheerful, most pleasant to deal with and on occasion the most understanding of all those we've met in recent times."

So - by allowing their hosts a win on each of the Championship 'road-trips' so far this season, are Jersey the perfect guests? Will the post-match G&T's (made with Plymouth Gin of course, none of that London rubbish) be celebratory, or sorrow-drowning? Have Jersey got what it takes to break the mould in Devon?

While Ben Harvey points out that he has yet to encounter an under-motivated side in the Championship, it's nevertheless the case that both sides will be especially keen for victory, setting up an enticing clash at Brickfields.

News from the Jersey camp
Director of Rugby Ben Harvey saw enough green shoots in the defeat to London Scottish to resist major changes to his squad for the trip to Plymouth.

There are two changes to the starting pack, with hooker Dave Felton coming in to replace Charlie Clare and flanker Kingsley Lang returning in place of Fred Silcock. Silcock and Clare are among Jersey's replacements.

In the three-quarters, new signing Mark McCrea has a minor calf strain and so Mark Foster, another February signing - on loan from Exeter - switches to centre with Donovan Sanders added to the mix.

"There are some difficult calls in selection with a number of players putting their hands up and making the selection part of my job difficult," said Harvey. "But that's what you want at this stage of the season, everyone is driving each other forward and that should leave us well-prepared for the challenge of Plymouth."

Nathan

Jersey's side includes lock Nathan Hannay (above), who learned his rugby at Honiton RFC and subsequently played for Sidmouth. Hannay will be making his first appearance in his home county since turning professional in 2009/10.

Jersey squad, sponsored by Locate Jersey and jersey.com
1 Sean McCarthy
2 Dave Felton
3 Jon Brennan
4 Nathan Hannay
5 Dave Markham
6 Charlie Walker-Blair
7 Kingsley Lang
8 Guy Thompson

9 Nicky Griffiths (capt)
10 Michael Le Bourgeois
11 Ed Dawson
12 Mark Foster
13 Max Stelling
14 Donovan Sanders
15 Barry Davies

Replacements
Richard Barrington
Charlie Clare
James Gethings
Rob Anderson
Fred Silcock
Dave McCormack
Glenn Bryce

Any Previous?
Just as Jersey are playing back-to-back away games, so the London Scottish and Plymouth matches were successive home games back in late October/ early November.

Copsey

Before anyone had the chance to settle, Jersey went 7-0 up when James Copsey pounced on a loose ball and raced 75 metres to score (above). The home side were on the back-foot for most of the rest of the first half, with Aaron Carpenter scoring a try and Paul Roberts adding five points from his trusty boot.

Trailing 10-11 at the start of the second half, Jersey went further behind to another Roberts strike, but then pressed determinedly for points and were rewarded when Mikey le Bourgeois nailed two penalty opportunities to clinch a 16-14 win.

More details on the game can be found HERE.


Plymouth Albion in 2012/13
Albion began the season with a narrow 27-22 victory over Doncaster, and a week later the winning margin was even smaller, and not in their favour, Pirates scraping home 19-17 in the local derby.

The third Championship game against Leeds hung in the balance as Carnegie fly-half Joe Ford lined up a late conversion as his side trailed 31-32 at Brickfields. He missed, and Albion had another success, augmented a week later by their first - and so far only - away win thus far, a narrow 24-22 encounter against Moseley.

Rotherham were then despatched 15-3 on their trip to Devon, but after that Albion's form dipped: October saw four defeats and an alarming total of 25 tries conceded, and another try was notched as soon as November's action got underway, Jersey's James Copsey setting his side on the way to a narrow success (as described already, sorry to rub it in).

Albion's last league success was on Remembrance Weekend, with London Scottish beaten 24-20, but since then the pickings have been restricted to bonus points, with narrow squeaks in the last six games where Plymouth have only been outscored by a total of 21 points. Two of these matches, Rotherham and Bedford, featured double bonus points in defeat, and 14 tries in the past four games suggests the team haven't lost sight of the white line.

Albion did achieve back-to-back wins in December against Aberavon in the British & Irish Cup, but could only finish third in pool 7.

There was a fairly high turnover in personnel at Brickfields over the summer as Director of Rugby Nat Saumi looked to remould a squad that he had inherited midway through the previous season.

There were several new signings, including four dual-registration deals with Exeter - winger Jack Arnott, props Luke Cowan-Dickie and Lloyd Fairbrother and full-back Henry Slade. Exeter have no game this weekend, which might have increased Saumi's options, were it not for the fact that Arnott, Slade and 'LCD' are playing for England Under 20s against Italy at Northampton.

The Albion party includes an eclectic range of international experience, starting with the Director of Rugby who played sevens for Fiji alongside greats such as Tomasi Cama and Waisale Serevi. The most prominent country is Canada, with three representatives among the Albion forwards having made the opposite journey to the Pilgrim Fathers- skipper Sean-Michael Stephen (see below), fellow lock Brett Beukeboom (who made his Canuck debut last summer) and No 8 Aaron Carpenter (47 caps and nine tries in an eight-year career to date).

Bevon Armitage, the oldest of five brothers (Delon, Steffon, Guy and **** - he told me in the Boathouse in November but I never wrote it down) who could give the Tuilagis, or Cornish neighbours the Vyvyans, a run for their money in a contest between siblings, has represented his native Trinidad. Second row Rupeni Nasiga has 11 caps for Fiji and played at the 2011 World Cup.

By far Albion's most experienced player is Keni Fisilau, a threequarter who is now in his 12th season and played against Jersey's Ben Harvey back in the day when Ben was at Stourbridge in the early noughties. Fisilau, 36, has now racked up a club record of more than 240 competitive appearances, and also earned six caps for Tonga between 1999 and 2005.

This season the Albion kicking duties have fallen mainly to fly-half Paul Roberts, who had the big boots of James Love (247 points last season) to fill. Roberts has landed 120 league points thus far, 15 ahead of his likely rival Mikey Le Bourgeois.

The Plymouth squad features two Irish scrum-halves: former Munster player Paul Rowley, and the more experienced - some might say comfortable - Ruari Cushion, now in his fifth season. Not to mention notably high quotients of double-barrelled surnames and - according to their friends from Leeds - mullet haircuts. The latter perhaps serves as tribute to the legendary Irish haircut, I mean hooker, Shane Byrne (below). Or perhaps not.

Shane -byrne

Another Irishman, Declan Cusack will make his first Plymouth Albion start when they welcome Jersey to Brickfields for the first time.

Declan c

The former Munster back (above) joined Albion last week from Spanish side Bizkaia Gernika [he played in an Amlin Challenge Cup tie against Worcester earlier in the season, with Jersey centre Max Stelling scoring a hat-trick in a big win for his 'parent' club] and made his debut as a late replacement at Nottingham last Sunday.

Tomorrow he is handed a starting berth, lining up at full-back in the crucial Championship match.

Albion make three changes to their team that lost 30-22 at Nottingham last weekend. As well as Cusack coming into the starting line-up, Albion also recall club record holder Keni Fisilau and prop Jack Andrew.

Lewis Warner, Tom Bowen and David Morton drop to the bench, where they will be joined by fit-again back-row forward Herbie Stupple.

ALBION STARTING LINE-UP
15 Declan Cusack 14 Toby Howley-Berridge 13 Keni Fisilau 12 Bevon Armitage 11 Rhodri McAtee 10 Paul Roberts 9 Ruairi Cushion (capt) 1 Jack Andrew 2 Jon Vickers 3 Lloyd Fairbrother 4 Brett Beukeboom 5 Harrison Tovey 6 Sean-Michael Stephen 7 Sam Hocking 8 Aaron Carpenter
Replacements: Paul Rowley, Tom Cowan-Dickie, David Morton, Sam Matavesi, Herbie Stupple, Lewis Warner, Tom Bowen.

Players to watch
Sean-Michael Stephen - Canadian international (22 caps and five tries) Stephen is in his third season at Albion.

Sean _Michael _Stephen

Stephen, 30, (pictured above in rather tiny form - he's similar in size to Nathan in reality) who played in the 2007 World Cup, can play flanker, number eight or second row and leads from the front.

Sam Hocking - 28-year-old Hocking has been one of Albion's stand-out players this season, playing 16 of his side's 17 league games and scoring seven tries.
A former Bath Academy player, Hocking is also a regular for Cornwall in the County Championship

History of Plymouth Albion RFC
Plymouth Albion RFC (then Devonport Albion) were formed in 1875 and their team originally comprised of Dockyard apprentices taken from the local harbours.

Plymouth's first home was Devonport Park before they moved to Home Park, which is now the home of Plymouth Argyle FC. In 1925 the club relocated to Beacon Park, which remained their home until 2003 when they moved to their current ground Brickfields.

In the late 1980s Albion were one of the leading lights in the setting up of the National Leagues. In 1988-89, the first season that promotion was available, Albion won Courage League Three with a 100% record that saw them promoted to the second tier of English rugby.

After two seasons at that level, Albion went into a period of decline and were nearly relegated from the National Leagues altogether. In 2000 former England and Bath hooker Graham Dawe was appointed as Chairman of Rugby in order to try and turn the clubs fortunes around.

Promotion came in Dawe's second season and a unbeaten run of 43 leagues games saw Plymouth gain another promotion, this time to level two (now the Championship), in 2002. A year later Albion moved from the Beacon Park ground where they had played for almost 50 years to the Brickfields site in Devonport.

Dawe

Dawe (above) put together a formidable squad which included players such as Dan Ward-Smith, Luke Arscott and Will James, and in 2005 Albion finished third, were just 11 points off promotion to the Premiership.

After finishing fifth and sixth in the next two seasons, Albion went into another period of decline, which eventually led to Dawe leaving the club midway through last season. He was replaced by former Exeter Chiefs' Head Coach Pete Drewett, but when a proposed financial backer failed to materialise, Drewett left and assistant coach Nat Saumi took control.

Saumi, 42, who has played 7's for Fiji, is in his tenth season at the club and under his leadership Albion made a strong finish to 2011/12, registering four wins out of six in the relegation play-offs to pull well clear of danger - along with Moseley - and leave London Scottish and Esher to their final day shoot-out.

Plymouth probably have less high-profile players over their history than most Championship sides, but several demand a mention, notably Dawe, one of rugby's hard men, who carried on in a unique Player-Chairman role until he was 51. The former Bath hooker won five England caps, including an eight-year gap between 1987 and 1995 while an equally driven character, Brian Moore, was England's incumbent hooker.

Others of note include the dual-code Welsh international William 'Avon' Davies at the start of the 20th century and, more recently Canadian winger Justin Mensah-Coker and back-row men Dan Ward-Smith (almost an England cap, but not quite) and Argentine Martin Schusterman.

Links with Jersey are few, but Jersey-born centre Ross Allen played for Albion in the late noughties, making more than 30 first team appearances. His only try for the club was against Manchester in December 2008.

Thanks to Paddy Marsh for his help with much of the Plymouth info in this preview.


Following the game
Following the game?Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Jersey v Bedford through the following channels:

• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey from 5.30- 6pm on Friday, and live commentary on Saturday afternoon (available online and on your transistor-wireless device
• Preview in Friday's JEP and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 soon after the final whistle on Saturday, plus updates during the match
• Preview, reports and match action on Channel TV on Friday and Monday evenings from 6pm; and a report on BBC Channel Islands TV on Monday evening at 6.30pm


The Championship this weekend
In Saturday's only other Championship game, Doncaster host Yorkshire rivals Rotherham, while Jersey's other main relegation rivals, Moseley, are away to Cornish Pirates on Sunday.

The top four sides meet tonight, with Newcastle hosting Bedford and having the chance to seal first place in the table, while Nottingham, the only team who can mathematically overtake the Falcons, travel to Bristol.

The final game is Sunday's clash between Leeds and London Scottish which takes place at Hull Ionians ground, Brantingham Park.

And finally
After recent wet weather, the local JRA league is desperately playing catch-up in a bid to complete the season by the end of April. Saturday's games see Banks travel to Guernsey to play St Jacques, while LQ Lydian Lions host Jersey Athletic at Les Quennevais at 12noon. On Sunday, 6th-placed Banks Ladies travel to play the team immediately beneath them, Tonbridge Juddians, in Women's National Championship South East South Division 1. Jersey's Under 14s should  be worth watching too - they have a big game against Worthing at St Peter on Sunday

Ben Harvey is approaching the end of his fifth season in charge of Jersey. Interesting news about the man he replaced, with New Zealander Barry George, who has recently been appointed as Head Coach of the Cook Islands ahead of the Oceania Rugby World Cup qualifying tournament which takes place in Papua New Guinea in June. There's no word of the news on the Cook Islands RU website, the splendidly-addressed www.rugby.co.ck, so thanks to Harry Swift for the tip-off from the Cook Islands News site.

Last word: With the RBS 6 Nations resuming this weekend, and BBC pundit Jonathan 'Jiffy' Davies coming over to the Island next week for the Lord Jersey Schools Tournament, I thought I'd share Giles Smith's take on Davies's performance when called to step in for BBC commentator Andrew Cotter, who was suddenly indisposed soon after kick-off of the Italy/ Wales match in Rome: "For Davies, though, this sudden bequeathing of sole responsibility was not a golden moment. Indeed, you would have got a less flappy reaction from someone charged with landing an Airbus after the captain had passed out."

Enjoy your weekend's rugby
Tom Innes

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