Preview to Plymouth Albion (H)01/11/2012
Pilgrims, both barrels and the cream tea derby
Setting sail into the unknown has been a Plymouth speciality since 1620 when the Pilgrim Fathers set off for the New World. Playing in a national league, and situated towards the south-west corner of England's green and pleasant, the city's rugby team are no strangers to long journeys. But this weekend it's time for something different, as Plymouth Albion RFC make their first trip to play in the Channel Islands.
An eight-place chasm separates the Devon visitors from the Jersey hosts in the RFU Championship, with Albion having burst from the blocks like the Jamaican sprint relay squad, racking up four wins before September was out, while Jersey's campaign began with six straight defeats.
However a form table for clubs in England's second tier would turn the league table on its head. The artists formerly known as 'winless Jersey' are unbeaten in their last three games, with wins over London Scottish in the league and Leeds in the B&I, plus the cup draw with Pontypridd. Meanwhile Plymouth had a miserable October: thrashed on the road by Bedford (league) and Rotherham (cup) and robbed of an unbeaten home record by Munster 'A' (B&I) and Nottingham (league).
So the stage is fascinatingly poised for the first game of November, with Jersey keen to commence the rebuilding work of their home fortress at St Peter - the battlements were stormed three times in September, following just a single defeat in two seasons, but withstood a late comeback last Saturday by London Scottish.
Talk of a home fortress is unlikely to impress the visitors, who
need only look at their shirts if they are in need of a rousing
catch-phrase: the name of Jehovah is the Strongest Tower. This may
sound like something Samuel L Jackson might have quoted in Pulp
Fiction before striking down his victim with "great vengeance
and furious anger" but is in fact the motto (turris fortissima
est nomen Jehova in Latin) for the city of Plymouth, and
shared by Plymouth Albion.
News from the Jersey camp
It may only be a bijou unbeaten run, but Jersey's three-game stretch without defeat has enabled Ben Harvey to reduce the turnover in personnel between one week and the next.
Players who have performed in a winning cause have generally been retained for the following weekend, and with a few exceptions this looks likely to be the case for the Albion match.
Michael Le Bourgeois (above), who is expected to retain the number 10 jersey, has recently entered the top 10 scorers in the Championship, with two tries, nine conversions and nine penalties. He also has 33 B&I Cup points to his name after two outings.
In seeking the perfect hand this season, Ben Harvey has been more likely to 'twist' than 'stick' thus far. A run of defeats and significant injury problems have contributed to regular changes of personnel, but this week Jersey's Director of Rugby has revealed an unchanged starting XV, for the first time this season, as he prepares for the visit of Plymouth.
The same cast members will take to the stage at St Peter as were on duty for the 20-17 victory against London Scottish last weekend, Jersey's first league win of the season.
'The boys who turned out last week really stood up and although we allowed Scottish back into the game, they got the job done and deserve another chance,' stated Harvey. 'There are some players back in contention after injury, but they are going to have to force their way back into the starting line-up.'
The Jersey bench is bolstered through the return of specialist cover at scrum-half - Nicky Griffiths is fit again - and at hooker, with Dave Felton returning to the fray. Ed Tellwright and Nick Trower are the players to miss out.
Former Coventry centre Donovan Sanders, who joined Jersey in
2009 and has missed just one game in the two previous seasons, will
make his 100th appearance in all games for the club this
Jersey squad, sponsored by Locate Jersey and jersey.com
1 Sean McCarthy
2 Steve Boden
3 James Gethings
4 Rob Anderson
5 Nathan Hannay (capt)
6 Paul Rodgers
7 Kingsley Lang
8 Guy Thompson
9 Brendan O'Brien
10 Mike Le Bourgeois
11 Ed Dawson
12 Ashley Maggs
13 Donovan Sanders
14 James Copsey
15 Glenn Bryce
16 Dave Felton
17 Richard Barrington
18 Jon Brennan
19 James Voss
20 Dave Markham
21 Nicky Griffiths
22 Barry Davies
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. (And yes, there is a fierce rivalry between the 'neighbours', even though the two clubs are nearly 80 miles apart. This mainly stems from a long-running Cornwall v Devon argument about whether you put the jam on your scone before the cream - the westerners' preference - or vicky-verky.)
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 since then Albion's form has dipped, as described above: four defeats and an alarming total of 25 tries conceded during that spell.
Last weekend at Brickfields, two tries by winger Jack Arnott, a dual-registered player with Exeter, helped Albion to a 15-0 lead against Nottingham, but the visitors hit back to reduce the half-time margin to 15-12. Notts then struck twice early in the second half, and although Bevon Armitage scored a third try for Plymouth, the hosts ended up 22-31 losers, denied the brace of bonus point that one more try would have delivered.
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 - Arnott, props Luke Cowan-Dickie and Lloyd Fairbrother and full-back Henry Slade.
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 this summer) and No 8 Aaron Carpenter (45 caps and nine tries in a seven-year career to date).
Bevon Armitage, the oldest of five brothers (Delon, Steffon, Guy and - prize for the missing name - 'AN Other') who could give the Tuilagis 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 last year's 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 230 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 54 league points thus far, although his success rate for conversions is 83%, as against 61% for penalties.
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 a notably high quotient of double-barrelled surnames - no fewer than four in the recent B&I squad against Rotherham.
Albion make just one change to their starting line-up as they bid to return to winning ways in the Championship at Jersey.
The Brickfields club are able to welcome back England Under-20 prop Luke Cowan-Dickie from injury and he replaces David Morton, who drops to the bench.
Albion have suffered back-to-back league defeats against Nottingham and Bedford, but head coach Nat Saumi is hoping his fourth-placed side can re-find their winning formula in Jersey.
"When you go away it is always tough," he said. "Jersey got their first league win last week. They also beat Leeds in the cup, so their confidence will be high.
"It will be a good challenge for us, like it is every week, but after playing well and losing some games the boys really want to make a point this Saturday."
15 Henry Slade
14 Lewis Warner
13 Paul Bailey
12 Bevon Armitage
11 Jack Arnott
10 Paul Roberts
9 Paul Rowley
1 Luke Cowan-Dickie
2 Jon Vickers
3 Lloyd Fairbrother
4 Brett Beukeboom
5 Sean-Michael Stephen (capt)
6 Sam Hocking
7 Wayne Sprangle
8 Aaron Carpenter
Replacements: 16 Ruairi Cushion, 17 Keni Fisilau, 18 David Morton, 19 Jack Andrew, 20 Tom Cowan-Dickie, 21 Rupeni Nasiga, 22 Harrison Tovey
Players to watch
Sean-Michael Stephen - the Canadian international (22 caps and five tries) is in his third season at Albion and skippers the side.
Stephen, 30, who played in the 2007 World Cup, can play flanker, number eight or second row and leads from the front.
Sam Hocking - 27 year old Hocking has been Albion's stand out player this season scoring six tries in the first seven league games, most of them from close range catch and drive moves.
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 1980's 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 National League One (now the Championship).
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.
Coming to St Peter
Don't forget we're back to the usual 3pm start. Tickets for the match are £15 for adults, £10 for Jersey members on production of a membership card, £3 for juniors (13 to 16 inclusive) and free to those aged 12 and under. These will be on sale at the club shop between 10am and 1pm on Friday. Later on Friday (5.30 to 7.30), the Barclays Pavilion will be open for an eve-of-match reception open to all supporters, with the chance to have a pint, enjoy some free nibbles and pick up your tickets. Tickets will then be on sale on the gate from 12noon on Saturday, with the ground and facilities open from then onwards.
Following the game
Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Jersey v Plymouth through the following channels:
• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's 'Sportscene' from 6- 7pm on Friday, and live commentary on Saturday afternoon (available online and on your transistor-wireless device). BBC Devon are also sending a team to St Peter
• Preview in Friday's JEP, more rugby in Saturday's Inside Centre pull-out, 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
• Reports and match action on Channel TV online and on Monday evening at 6.15pm; and on BBC Channel Islands on Monday evening at 6.30pm
The Championship this weekend
Saturday: Bedford v Newcastle (can the Blues ruffle the leaders' feathers?), London Scottish v Leeds, Moseley v Cornish Pirates, Rotherham v Doncaster
Sunday: Nottingham v Bristol
There's one other game on Saturday, with Banks hosting Beeches in a JRA game at Grainville at 11.30am. Jersey Athletic v St Jacques was postponed. On Sunday LQ Lydian Lions play a 'west-of-the-island' friendly against HMP Panthers at 11.30am at LQ, while Jersey Colts travel to Winchester for a Hampshire League encounter.
While talk of split loyalties might be going too far, I am
pleased to see Jersey play against a city where I have some strong
family ties. My paternal grandmother was Lord Mayor of Plymouth in
the 1970s, the first female to hold that position, and experiencing
the trappings of office such as limousines, chauffeurs and
mace-bearers was an unexpectedly thrilling addition to the annual
family holiday that year.
'Scuse the self-indulgence, and enjoy your weekend's rugby
Action from the London Scottish game, this and the pic of 'Le Booj' courtesy David Goodenough