Preview to Plymouth - Sun Sept 1512/09/2013
Greene King, green grass and the proof of the
A number of giant leaps for rugby-kind are being made as the 2013/14 season kicks off.
The second tier of the English league structure is entering its fifth season, but now has a sponsor for the first time, brewer Greene King stepping up to the bar and ordering pints of IPA for all.
The new sponsor is looking to innovate, which is why the Greene
King IPA Championship begins with 1 Big Rugby Weekend - an extra
game for all 12 clubs, who are grouped together into three regional
The new concept hasn't been entirely popular with the purists, who complain that it's unfair and will distort the traditional home-and-away format (a bit like the play-offs?!) and that some clubs will get easier opposition than others for their 23rd game.
But it's certainly different, and the proof of the pudding will partly be evidenced by the numbers who go to Castle Park in Doncaster, Allianz Park in North London, and Sandy Park in Exeter. The combined audience won't approach the 63,000 who watched the Aviva Premiership Double Header at Twickers last Saturday, not least because the combined capacity of all three grounds is around 26,000, but it's to be hoped there won't be too many empty seats.
Jersey find themselves paired against Plymouth in the South-West event on Sunday. Both clubs have seen changes over the summer, Jersey switching to an entirely full-time set-up, while Plymouth have a new Head Coach.
Albion have the shorter journey, a 50-mile hope across Devon, but they have not won a league match in their home county since early November 2012, while Jersey will be looking to achieve what they could only manage once in the league last season - a win away from home. Success was achieved on the green green grass of Albion's Brickfields ground in March, helping Jersey's climb to Championship safety.
Jersey's match at Sandy Park on Sunday, k-o 1.15pm, will be the club's first-ever appearance on Sky TV, who will also screen the subsequent game between Cornish Pirates and Bristol, who are many people's favourites to claim the Championship crown when the season concludes.
News from the Jersey camp
Director of Rugby Ben Harvey, starting his sixth season in charge on the Island, looks to have all but two of his 33-man squad, pictured below on a trip to the South-West (of the Island) available for selection for the season opener. Although if you gave Jersey's opponents the chance to nominate a player who they wouldn't have to face, it's a fair bet that tight-head prop Jon Brennan might be their choice. Fortunately Brennan's achilles injury, sustained in pre-season against Leicester Tigers, shouldn't keep him out of action for more than another month, while fellow prop Myles Landick shouldn't be far behind 'JB.'
Jersey have had two friendlies at St Peter, starting with a 7-69
defeat at the hands of the Tigers - who included four of their
Lions players, one of whom, Tom Croft, subsequently suffered a
season-ending knee injury against Worcester last weekend. Coventry
were beaten in unconvincing fashion by 31-21, and the players also
had a training match in France - scoreline undeclared, so deep
undercover was the game - against Breton side Le Rheu.
Almost half of the squad are new additions for 2013/14, so there will be a large number of league debuts, plus the first real idea to see Harvey's chosen starting XV, when the squad for Plymouth is announced on Friday morning.
New Coach leads Albion into 2013/14
James Shanahan (below) 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 has made no commitment to hanging up his boots - at 36 he's unlikely to be first choice in his chosen fly-half position, but he could yet add to the appearances he made for Albion during 2002/03 - one stop of a career that also took in Exeter, the Cornish Pirates, Bedford and Cambridge.
Albion have had a disjointed pre-season, not helped by Worcester
cancelling a planned fixture due not having sufficient players
(implausible excuses such as 'our coach caught fire on the
motorway' just won't cut it any more). Plymouth did give a mixed
Gloucester squad a decent game, losing 22-13 at Kingsholm, had two
run-outs in a triangular match-up with Aberavon and Exmouth (wins
by 24-15 and 55-14 respectively), and hammered Redruth in Cornwall
'Shanners' has overseen a significant change in personnel over the summer, with a number of new signings, including centre Pale Nonu from Rotherham, fly-half Dan Mugford from London Scottish and prop Tom Harrison from French side Auch. 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, and lock Brett Beukeboom, who faced Jersey's Elvis Taione in the Pacific Nations Cup tie between Canada and Tonga in June, 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 last month.
Albion have a few more injury concerns than their opponents, and are likely to be without dual-registered prop Lloyd Fairbrother (knee), back row Harrison Tovey (bicep) newly-signed centre Ben Woods and fly-half Declan Cusack (shoulders).
A number of dual registered players could be involved this weekend, especially as the match takes place at 'parent' club Exeter. Subject to the Chiefs' requirements for their home game with Wasps on Saturday, wing Jack Arnott, scrum-half Rob Coote and the front row Cowan-Dickie brothers Tom and Luke could feature. Luke, the younger of the two (shown below), was part of the winning England squad in the Under 20 World Cup in France this summer.
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 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, 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.
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 Allan 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. Back-row player Charlie Walker-Blair was linked with a move to Brickfields this summer after a move from Jersey to Sale fell through on medical grounds, but CWB suffered a further knee injury in August requiring surgery; it's to be hoped he may recover to return to pro rugby later in the season.
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.
Jersey claimed their second league win in defeating Albion 16-14 at St Peter in November. 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 as the floodlights took hold, captured by Sue Trower (below). The match report is HERE.
In March, 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. Final score
15-19 - report's HERE.
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 on Friday from 5.30pm, and live
commentary on Sunday afternoon (available online and on your
• Live coverage on Sky TV
• Preview in Friday's JEP, and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match preview 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
Both the other BRW double-header events are on Saturday. At Saracens' Allianz Park home, both the new sides in this season's league will be in action: firstly Ealing, who take on London Scottish (1pm) and then London Welsh, who meet Bedford at 3.15pm. The same KO times apply at Castle Park, Doncaster, where Moseley play Rotherham, followed by Nottingham against Leeds.
Saturday sees the first English league match for the newly-formed Jersey Athletic side, an amateur outfit containing many former members of the semi-pro JRFC 1st XV squad. The team has entered The Shield competition and on Saturday will entertain Richmond's 2nd XV on the main pitch at St Peter. Kick-off is at 3pm, admission is free and a decent crowd is expected.
Jersey United Banks Ladies take on Newbury at St Peter on Sunday
at St Peter, k-o 12.30pm.
Enjoy your season's rugby