PLYMOUTH Albion’s 13-year stay in English rugby’s second tier has come to an end after they lost 29-0 at relegation rivals Moseley on Saturday.
It was always going to be a long shot for the club to stay up after failing to win one single league game prior to January 10.
It was actually quite a surprise that they still had a chance of survival with two fixtures to go, having been 10 points behind having played a game more on New Year’s Day and only claiming three wins since them.
Statistics don’t lie and Plymouth have just not been good enough this season. They have struggled all year to score tries and have let far too many in.
Those problems were evident at Billesley Common on Saturday, where they had as much possession and territory as Moseley but could not convert it into points.
It is hard to believe at the start of this campaign head coach James Shanahan, the board and players were all talking about a top six finish and possibly even pushing for the top four.
To be so far off where they expected to be after a major summer recruitment policy is quite staggering and there are a lot of questions that need to be asked of the previous board.
But the main job now for the new board, who saved the club from going out of business a couple of months ago, is to try and rebuild and push hard for a return to the Championship, where they have been the second-longest servants.
Many of the current squad will move on, with a number having already signed for other clubs, but it will give Plymouth a chance to rebuild and start a fresh.
As sad as relegation is for Albion, fans have to remember that there nearly wasn’t a club left for them to support a few weeks ago.
Playing in National One is better than Devon Two, where they could have found themselves if a rescue package had not been put together.
Hopefully, the club will get a good crowd this weekend when they bid their final farewell to the league with a home match against Doncaster.
Doncaster themselves know what it is like to drop out of the division, but they came back up last year and Albion need to look at them as an example.
Although Saturday’s defeat in Birmingham might look like a one-side contest given the scoreline, in reality it wasn’t. It was just silly mistakes cost Albion at crucial times and Moseley took full advantage in front of a good crowd of 2,306.
Plymouth made five changes to their team that had lost 65-7 against leaders Bristol the week before.
Lawrence Rayner, Tom Harrison, James Penman, Brett Beukeboom and Iain Grieve came into the starting line-up, with Mark Kohler, Tom Fidler, Ted Stagg, Tom Hicks and Alistair Bone dropping out.
Former Cambridge front-rower Penman was handed his first Albion start, while prop Harrison earned his first league start of the season.
Albion, playing into the wind, made the worst possible starts – doing everything the coaching staff didn’t want.
Declan Cusack kicked straight out from the kick-off, then Albion gave away a penalty at the resultant scrum on halfway and Moseley went for the corner and scored.
The Plymouth players had been told not to allow their opponents to score with the first drive, but that is what happened with prop Nathan Williams getting the ball down.
Will Hooley, who is joining Exeter Chiefs this summer, missed the conversion.
Albion thought they had hit back quickly when they drove over from a line-out, but referee Tim Wigglesworth ruled they had been held up and only awarded them a five-metre scrum. From it they were turned over.
If that try had been given, who knows how the game would have ended up but seven minutes later fly-half Hooley made it 8-0 with a penalty.
Albion were their own worst enemies at times. They twice missed touch with penalties and were then penalised for a not-straight line-out in a good position.
Hooley kicked a second penalty on 29 minutes to give his side an 11-0 up lead, which they held until half-time.
Albion suffered a blow on the stroke of the interval when player-coach Rhys Oakley went down with a suspected broken leg. He received treatment on the pitch during the break before he was taken to hospital.
Plymouth also lost winger Jake Henry with a muscle injury and his replacement, Toby Howley-Berridge was sin-binned moments after coming on as he tried to stop Moseley scoring under the posts after a good break by Chris Brightwell.
Hooley kicked the resultant penalty to make it 14-0.
Albion then took control of the game, but just could not get the try they threatened.
Eoghan Grace made a great break which looked like it was going to lead to a try but he attempted to be unselfish and pass wide to Ben Woods but the referee ruled the ball had gone forward. That break really should have led to a score.
Replacement Josh Davies also looked certain to score but tripped five metres from the line and that gave Moseley time to stop him.
Albion continued to push for a try, but as they did they were intercepted and Moseley full-back Tom Collins ran the length of the field to go over in the corner and end Plymouth’s hopes.
That really was a killer blow, coming in the manner it did and just when the visitors were dominating. That made it 19-0 with 10 minutes to go.
Hooley kicked a penalty in the 79th minute before Albion ended up short of numbers after number eight Iain Grieve had to go off after suffering a head injury.
And with the last play of the game Moseley scored a third try with replacement Ed Siggery touching down on the right and Sam Olver converting.
Moseley: 15 Tom Collins, 14 Drew Cheshire, 13 Will Owen, 12 Anthony Carter 11 Mike Penn, 10 Will Hooley, 9 Sam Brown, 1 Nathan Williams, 2 Adam Caves, 3 Craig Voisey, 4 Greg Charlton, 5 Mike Powell, 6. Neil Mason, 7 Ben Nutley, 8 Chris Brightwell. Reps: Aaron Gardiner, Scott Tolmie, Nile Dacres, Buster Lawrence, Ed Siggery, David Brazier, Sam Olver
Albion: 15 Lawrence Rayner, 14 Jack Arnott, 13 Ben Woods, 12 Marc Koteczky, 11 Jake Henry, 10 Declan Cusack (capt), 9 Cameron Setter, 1 Tom Harrison, 2 James Pennam, 3 Andrew Tiedemann, 4 Neale Patrick, 5 Brett Beukeboom, 6 Rhys Oakley, 7 Eoghan Grace, 8 Iain Grieve. Reps:Ted Stagg, Dan Pullinger, Tom Fidler, Tom Hicks, Alistair Bone, Josh Davies, Toby Howley-Berridge
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth (RFU)
Scores: Moseley: tries: Williams, Collins, Siggery; Con: Olver; Pens: Hooley 4
VIEW PICTURES FROM THE GAME HERE http://www.ppauk.com/event/Moseley-v-Plymouth-Albion-180415/
READ MORE ALBION STORIES HERE http://plymouthsportsgazette.com/category/plymouth-albion/