Preview to Plymouth (A) 15.03.14


Frozen tundra, sunset and Shanners' eye for goal

Jersey and Plymouth Albion are set to play their fifth Championship contest of the past two seasons, with the score currently locked at two-apiece.

The Islanders did the double over the men from Devon last season, but had the favour returned by the time the current season was six weeks old.

Plymouth -albion -kit

Albion's main concern this season has been home form, with no league win at Brickfields all season until the final weekend of January. That was the day it all clicked and high-flying London Welsh were downed by 36-15. It then became two in succession when Nottingham were defeated a few weeks later.

Jersey have improved gradually since new Head Coach Harvey Biljon was appointed in January, but have only managed a single victory during this time, albeit that four of the six matches have been against the top four. The last two weeks have brought bonus points against Cornish Pirates in the mud of Penzance, and on home soil against a Leeds Carnegie side who many felt were there for the taking.

The match is a rearranged affair, having been called off on Valentine's Day due to the horrendous and incessant rain that blighted much of the British Isles, notably SW England. In 11 years since Albion moved to Brickfields, this was the first time a game had been cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch - the only other cancellation was due to frozen tundra conditions for the Boxing Day derby against the Pirates in 2010.

News from the Jersey Camp

The Jersey squad will be confirmed late on Friday morning. Winger Grant Pointer may be struggling after sustaining an ankle injury against Leeds, and it's possible the rule about English-qualified players may influence the selection. Prop Sam Lockwood missed the game against Leeds, the club who he is on loan to Jersey from, due to the terms of the loan agreement, but should return.

Albion in 2013/14

James Shanahan was appointed a few days before Albion concluded their 2012/13 season, altho' the new man completed the season as Player-Coach of Old Albanians, steering the club to a creditable fifth spot in SSE National One. Shanahan played for Albion during 2002/03 - one stop of a career that also took in Exeter, the Cornish Pirates, Bedford and Cambridge.

The season started with the Double Header match with Jersey, and the following Friday Albion looked to be cruising to their second win of the season, 31-6 up over Moseley just before half-time at Brickfields. Somehow the visitors got back into it, and the match finished 34-all with Plymouth gaining three points.

The final weekend of September saw Albion head to the Kassam Stadium in Oxford, where they were well-beaten by London Welsh, before another Friday night home game featuring a lead that was lost, London Scottish replacement Jamie Stevenson scored a late try to clinch a 20-22 win for his side.

After coming to Jersey on the weekend the clocks changed, Albion gave Bristol a very good game at Brickfields in losing 31-38, and claiming two bonus points, but the home supporters felt a win was there for the taking. Ealing were defeated away from home, but Nottingham held on for a 15-10 win at Meadow Lane.

Arguably Albion's most disappointing game of the season was the 16-27 home defeat by Bedford in November, the start of a four-match Championship losing streak that also took included defeats to Rotherham (17-28) and Leeds (14-15) on home soil and a Boxing Day battle in Cornwall by 10-3.

At the start of February, having beaten Welsh the week before, Albion were at the RAG taking on London Scottish in a game of three thirds: hosts go 19-0 up in 35 minutes; visitors score four tries (Stevens, Mugford, Warner, Langley) to take a 19-27 lead; Exiles hit back with three more tries to seal a topsy-turvey 38-27 win.

The match against Nottingham was an attritional affair, with Heath Stevens claiming the only try in a 22-12 win, but Albion then lost heavily against Bristol, conceding seven tries in losing 43-12 at the Mem.

Last weekend Albion went to Goldington Road and managed an impressive win. Eoghan Grace's try helped the visitors to a 10-16 lead at the break. The second half was more eventful, with tries for Albion from an intercept (Chris Elder seizing possession and feeding Rhys Oakley) and Tom Bowen, and yellow cards for Rob Langley and Toby Howley-Berridge. Playing with 13 men didn't seem a problem and Plymouth hung on to win 18-33.

The British & Irish Cup has seen Albion claim a quarter-final spot, winning five of their six games and losing 23-9 to Munster 'A' in Waterford. Albion pipped Munster to the pool winners' title on goal difference, and it could have been a home QF too apart from a new regulation that allowed a best runner-up (Bristol) to claim the crucial fourth spot in the qualifiers' ranking. Albion are away to Leeds in early April.

'Shanners' has overseen a significant change in personnel over the summer, with a number of new signings, including centre Pale Nonu from Rotherham, full-back Chris Elder (Esher) fly-half Dan Mugford from London Scottish and prop Tom Harrison from French side Auch. Centre Heath Stevens arrived from Coventry but recently confirmed a move to the Premiership this summer. There have also been departures, including Tongan veteran Keni Fisilau for Oxford Harlequins, and Canadian skipper Aaron Carpenter to Cornish Pirates.

Two Canadian internationals remain - former captain Sean-Michael Stephen (whose neck injury could force him out of a league match for the first time this season), and lock Brett Beukeboom, who faced Jersey's Elvis Taione in the Pacific Nations Cup tie between Canada and Tonga in June (Albion team-mate Sam Matavesi made his debut for Fiji in the same tournament) but was not required by his country as they secured a World Cup 2015 berth by beating their US neighbours in a two-leg show-down in August. Beukeboom missed this season's trip to Jersey after being sent off in the match against London Scottish and subsequently suspended.

Perhaps the most interesting position for Plymouth is fly-half where, like guests making for the Ferrero Rocher at the ambassador's party, they are truly spoiled. Supporters are divided whether Mugford or the Irishman Declan Cusack is the preferred option. Cusack joined during last season and had his first start in the game against Jersey at Brickfields in March, but was injured for the opening league game against Jersey. To complicate matters, Shanahan is also a fly-half and utilised his own services from the bench in eight league matches early in the season.

Cusack with 86 is Albion's top points scorer in the league this season, while Mugford has 66 - this included 19 of his first 20 kicks of the season, but he's been less prolific since a five-week absence following an injury sustained against Jersey at St Peter. Tom Bowen is top try-scorer with 12 in the league and two Cup efforts.

South African hooker Jared Saunders is the newest signing for Albion, who had no cover in this position for their game against London Scottish a month ago. Saunders played alongside Shanahan for Old Albanians, but also has Premiership experience with Saracens.

Any Previous?

Most recent of the team's four encounters was at St Peter in October 2013. Toby Howley-Berridge scored within three minutes (pictured below), Nicky Griffiths did likewise within another three and the hosts led 13-12 at the break in spite of Mugford crossing for Albion. Cusack put his side in front with two penalties and Chris Elder's try sealed the game altho' Tom Brown scored late on to give his side, beaten 18-23, a bonus point. Match report is HERE


South-west 'neighbours' Albion and Jersey were paired together in the ground Plymouth fans refer to as Shandy Park for the double-header match that kicked off the 2013/14 season in September 2013. Brown claimed the Islanders' first try of the season; this was cancelled out by Ien Ascroft-Leigh, but Ed Dawson's try enabled his side to lead 15-13 at the break.

When Aaron Penberthy stretched his side's lead with two early penalties, it looked like a done deal given the strong wind behind Jersey. Instead, the wheels came off - Elder and Bowen scored tries, and although Penberthy was able to level the scores at 27-all, Albion pulled clear with two more tries. The full match report can be found HERE

In March 2013, a Guy Thompson try was all Jersey had to show at half-time, leading only 3-5 in spite of having much of the play. Captain Nicky Griffiths scored twice in five minutes early in the second half but his side still had to encounter a late fightback, and the loss of front row players Jon Brennan and Dave Felton to hospital, before claiming their first away league win at level two. Final score 15-19 - report's HERE.

Jersey claimed their second Championship win in defeating Albion 16-14 at St Peter in November 2012. James Copsey's try after three minutes put the Islanders in front, but the visitors recovered to lead 10-14 early in the second half before two Mike Le Bourgeois' penalties edged Jersey into a winning lead. The match finished with a rain shower and a glorious sunset, (captured by Sue Trower below), and no apologies are proffered for using it again. The match report is HERE.

JRFC Clubhouse At Sunset

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 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 2011/12. 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, a former Fijian 7s international who joined Plymouth as a player in 2003, took control.

Under Saumi's leadership Albion made a strong finish to 2011/12, registering four wins out of six in the relegation play-offs to pull clear of danger.

Albion in 2012/13

Four wins from five games saw Plymouth jostling for position at the top end of the Championship at the end of September, but the remaining seven months of the season were tough for Nat Saumi's men. After defeating London Scottish at home on November 9, Albion lost a record nine straight league matches, and after losing to Jersey in early March, Nat Saumi announced he would leave the club at the end of the season.

Championship status was by no means secure at this point, but in the next game after Saumi's announcement a hard-fought 9-16 win in the reverse fixture against the Exiles was enough to take Plymouth clear, and they achieved a seventh league win of the season on the final day, 22-26 at Castle Park against relegated Doncaster.

Following the game

Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Plymouth v Plymouth through the following channels:

• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey on Friday from 5.30pm, and live commentary on Saturday afternoon (available online and on your transistor-wireless device). The redoubtable Richard Collinson will partner Dick Straughan, moonlighting across the Tamar from his regular gig covering the Pirates
• There's a novel way of following the action with the scrolling text commentary from the Plymouth Herald, complete with 'clickety-clack' sounds effect for the regularly-typed (as in every 10 seconds or so) updates. Not everybody's cup of tea, but they don't miss much
• Preview in Friday's JEP, more coverage in Saturday's paper (on sale from 7am) and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 on Saturday afternoon
• 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 Greene King IPA Championship this weekend

Jersey fans will be keeping an eye out for news from Ealing - not only are the West London side the next opponents for the Islanders, but they are currently hovering above the relegation trapdoor, with 11 points to Jersey's 19. The Trailfinders haven't taken a point on home soil so far this season, but a win against Bedford on Saturday (3pm) would give real hope and leave the visitors, who have 26 points, looking anxiously over their shoulders (along with Nottingham, who are without a game this weekend).

Albion will probably be more interested in Sunday's score from the Mennaye Field, where the Pirates host London Welsh (KO at 3pm). The men from Devon are seeking to overtake their 'cream tea' rivals in sixth place, and go into the weekend just six points behind the Cornishmen.

And Finally

Other action involving Jersey sides this w/e are sadly all away, so there'll be little chance of live rugby: instead just updates from the away games, and of course some pivotal 6N action on the TV. Away from the Island, Jersey Athletic continue their quest to take the Zoo Sports Shield title in their first season with an away game at Esher on Saturday. On the same day LQ Lydian Lions travel to play Guernsey 2s, while on Sunday the Banks Ladies travel to Lewes and Jersey Colts go to Petersfield.

The Brickfields cancellations triv referred to in the opening paragraphs could have been stat of the week, until Plymouth Player-Coach dropped a cheeky goal at Bedford last Saturday - his first points at level two since he converted a James Owen try for Cornish Pirates in their 26-12 defeat to Exeter on January 3rd 2004.

James _Shanahan _250.ashx

'Shanners', the only Player-Boss in the division, hasn't played much rugby of late - just 29 minutes since late November in two appearances as a replacement - but showed that match sharpness doesn't affect a good player's eye for goal, or their nerve to follow it through.

Enjoy your weekend's rugby!
Tom Innes

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