PLYMOUTH Albion legends Danny Thomas and Keni Fisilau have spoken of their sadness at the club’s current plight.
With just three games of the season to go, Albion sit at the foot of the Championship table, seven points adrift of second-from-bottom Moseley.
Plymouth’s 13-year stay in English rugby’s second tier could end next weekend (April 11) if they fail to beat Bristol at home and Moseley were to win at Bedford.
Both Fisilau and Thomas, the club’s top two league appearance holders, are hoping it does not come to that and Albion can overcome off-the-field problems and somehow pull off an unlikely escape.
Since losing to the Pirates last weekend, Albion have suspended three players for an incident that happened in the hours after that defeat, which the police are investigating, and head coach James Shanahan has left the club.
Shanahan was ‘released’ early from his contract on Tuesday. His deal at Brickfields had been due to end anyway later this month.
These latest events follow on from the club going on a 17-game losing run, nearly going into administration in January and a new board taking over the following month.
Tongan centre Fisilau, who made more than 200 league appearance for Plymouth, had been optimistic at the start of this season that the club could be pushing much higher up the table.
“It is tough to take,” said Fisilau, who spent more than a decade at Albion, having joined them when they were in the lower league. “I did not expect this.
“I thought they had a strong squad this season and so I’m surprised where they are.”
Fisilau is certainly hoping the team can somehow beat the odds and stay up, particularly for the fans and for all the people who worked so hard over the years to get Albion to this level and stay there for was so long. Only Bedford have been in the league longer than Albion.
“There’s been a lot of hard work gone into the club,” said Fisilau. “But there’s still a chance (of them staying up).”
Thomas, who captained Albion to two successive promotions and to the verge of the Premiership, admits he is ‘hugely’ frustrated to see what has happened at the club. However, he is also hoping the team can somehow escape.
“Hopefully, the players that are there at the moment can try and put some pride back into the club over the next three games,” said Thomas.
“I would like to see a reaction, especially after this week. Let’s see what these players are made of.
“I think they can still get something from the Bristol game. I have watched Bristol a number of times this year – probably on seven or eight occasions.
“Away from home they have had quite a lot of points scored against them. If you can stop them playing, you could definitely get at least one or two points.
“They (Albion) just need to get some momentum (from the Bristol game) and then go to Moseley with a bit of confidence and chuck the kitchen sink at it.
“That Moseley game would be like a cup final. Then Albion would have another cup final after that.”
However, Thomas admits Albion have been pushing their luck for the last few years, with a number of relegation battles.
“It’s not just been this year,” he said. “It’s been a combination of a number of years now.
“If you look at it over the last four or five years, it is probably where Albion maybe should be, I guess. They have been hanging by the skin of their teeth for the last few years. They have not been able to kick-on.
“It’s frustrating because of all the hard work, not just from when I was playing, but previously.
“The biggest frustration must be for the supporters who are down there week-in, week-out.”
Thomas, who skipped Albion in their only Twickenham Cup final, believes the club would find it tough if they were relegated to National One.
“If they don’t stay up then it is going to be very tough to get back, unless someone comes along and bankrolls them.
“You’ve got teams like Rosslyn Park with their history and the player base around them and Hartpury College with all their players and infrastructure there. It would be very difficult.
“That’s the worry. Plymouth have had to rely on bringing players in. Can they rely on just local lads? I don’t know if there is enough talent around the local area.”
Albion used to run a development team, which players like Lee Robinson, Luke and Tom Arscott, Mike Denbee, Rory Watts-Jones and Matt Hopper came through, but that was disbanded in November 2011 after the club partied company with Graham Dawe, who has now returned to the club and will be in charge of the team for the final three games
Thomas feels not having a second/development team has not helped the club.
Meanwhile, next Saturday as Albion are battling for their Championship status, Thomas will be hoping to guide his Chippenham team to the South West One East title.
Leaders Chippenham need just a draw against second-placed Towcestians, who are eight points behind them, to win the league and claim a return back to National Three South West.
If they do that, Thomas will be once again swapping places with Fisilau’s Oxford Harlequins side.
Last year, Oxford came up and Chippenham went down but it is set to be role reversal this year.
Fisilau will take over as Oxford’s head coach this summer and he is keen to get them back into National League rugby in 2016.
“We have got to try and bounce back,” said Fisilau, who played in the Oxfordshire Cup final on Wednesday. “This year has been tough as we lost a lot of players from last season.”
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