TEENAGE second-row Jim Massey is on stand-by to make his Plymouth Albion debut on Saturday when they travel to fourth-placed Blackheath in National One (3pm).
The University of St Mark and St John student (pictured above) will come into Albion’s team if experienced lock Dan Collier does not recover from an illness which has forced him to miss training this week.
“Dan’s been sick all week,” said director of rugby Graham Dawe. “We are hopeful he’ll make the game, but we can’t be too expectant.”
Dawe, without fellow second-rows Dave Fisher and Shek Sherrif due to injury, would have faith in former Lydney player Massey if he was called upon.
“Jim’s a talented forward who is comfortable playing anywhere in the back five of the scrum,” said Dawe. “He is a natural ball player, but like all young players there’s still aspects of his game that he needs to improve on, but he’s got all the ingredients. He’s also had a taste of senior rugby with Lydney, where he learned the art of good forward play.”
Although Massey’s only on stand-by, another teenager, Harrison Cully will definitely start at Rectory Field. He replaces fellow youngster Tom Putt, who misses this weekend’s match due to a foot problem.
Putt is Albion’s top points scorer, but in his absence Australian Ethan Ford will move to full-back and 18-year-old Cully will come in on the left wing.
Cully (pictured) started Plymouth’s opening match of the season against Richmond, but then suffered a back injury which ruled him out of a while.
“Harrison has looked very nimble, very athletic and very explosive in training,” said Dawe. “He is a very good rugby player.”
The Albion boss admitted it was a tough call between Cully and Robin Wedlake, who has also recovered from injury, to replace 18-year-old Putt, who has started eight of Albion’s 10 matches this term.
“Both have come back at roughly the same time from injury and have been pushing hard,” said Dawe.
On Putt’s absence, the Albion boss added: “Tom’s done exceptionally well with his all-round displays and goal-kicking. In his absence, someone else will have to step up and kick the goals.”
That someone else is likely to be 19-year-old fly-half Billy Searle, although Marc Koteczky can also kick.
Apart from Cully for Putt and possibly Massey for Collier, Albion stick with the same team they have fielded for the last four matches.
Although a three-match winning run came to an end last weekend against Darlington Mowden Park, Dawe was reluctant to make too many changes.
However, he has not yet named a bench. That is likely to depend on the fitness of Collier.
Albion will be making their first league trip to Blackheath in nearly 15 years. The last time they visited Rectory Field was during their unbeaten 2000-01 campaign.
Blackheath, England’s oldest rugby club, have enjoyed an impressive start to the season. They have only lost twice so far and have not been beaten yet on their own patch.
The Club, as they are known, do have an experienced squad which includes former Albion star Geoff Griffiths, ex-Bedford and London Scottish forward Greg Gillanders and former Worcester, Cornish Pirates and London Welsh centre Simon Whatling.
Their top scorer is fly-half Freddie Gabbitass, who played for Albion during the 2012/13 season. Gabbitass, son of former Albion back Charlie, started a British & Irish Cup match at Rotherham and kicked two conversions while on loan at Brickfields from Taunton.
Dawe said: “We don’t look on this match as any harder than any other game in this league. It is a very even league and most teams have the ability to get wins either on their own pitch or away.
“This is a tough league, you can play well sometimes and lose and equally you can be distinctly average and win. We’ll just have to see what 5pm brings on Saturday.
“But there is a genuine appetite in the team to do well.
“They know they have to keep their physicality going. They also know they have to keep their set-piece as good as it possibly can be against good opposition and they know if they don’t front up defensively then it could be a long day at the office.
“From what we’ve seen of Blackheath, they have got an outstanding back-row who given a good platform can cause havoc in the tackle area and defensively, so our set-piece game needs to be top-notch to tie these guys in.”
15 Ethan Ford
14 Tom Bedford
13 Jake Murphy (capt)
12 Marc Koteczky
11 Harrison Cully
10 Billy Searle
9 Cameron Setter
1 Ollie Dawe
2 James Penman
3 Christian Judge
4 Dan Collier/Jim Massey
5 Ed Holmes
6 Nile Dacres
7 Cameron Thompson
8 Herbie Stupple
Replacements: To be confirmed