PLYMOUTH ALBION 34 LOUGHBOROUGH STUDENTS 27
NILE DACRES scored a hat-trick of tries for Plymouth Albion as they held off a late challenge from Loughborough Students to claim a third National One win in a row.
Albion, who totally dominated the scrums, looked to be cruising to victory at Brickfields when they led 31-12 midway through the second half with Dacres (3), Matt Shepherd and Herbie Stupple scoring tries.
But the home side had forwards Dan Collier and Sam Matavesi sin-binned in the final 20 minutes and Loughborough took advantage to score two tries and cut the gap to 31-24.
Billy Searle kicked an injury-time penalty to edge Albion 10 points ahead, but with the last kick of the game the students put over a penalty of their own to return home with two bonus points.
Albion, though, got the full five points, which has moved them up to sixth in the table and guarantees whatever happens next weekend at Hartpury College, they will reach the halfway mark of the season with more wins than defeats.
The one disappointment for Plymouth was that less than 1,000 attended their final home match of the year. Those that did turn up, however, witnessed a thrilling game of rugby with nine tries.
Albion suffered a blow before kick-off when captain Jake Murphy was ruled out with an ankle injury.
With fellow backs Marc Koteczky and Tom Putt also on the sidelines, Royal Navy player Seti Raumakita came in for his first start for the club on the wing, with 18-year-old Harrison Cully moving to centre.
Loughborough started the game well and won a penalty in the second minute but Will Edward hit the post with his kick at goal and Albion cleared the danger.
After that early scare, Albion came to life. On seven minutes they won a penalty from a great scrum and went for the corner.
They were just held short from the drive but recycled and after a minute of pressure scrum-half Shepherd managed to get over from close range. Searle converted to make it 7-0.
Albion had a really good spell after that but could not add to their tally, which they should have done.
They were totally dominating the scrums and enjoyed a really good spell of territory and possession.
Searle missed a penalty on 16 minutes and Albion wasted a great chance seven minutes later when they lost the ball 10 metres from the try line after some pressure.
Against the run of play, Loughborough scored a try on 27 minutes when they took a quick tap penalty and centre George Eastwell went over in the left corner to make it 7-5.
That gave the students confidence and they had a good five minute spell after that where Albion had to defend well.
But Albion finished the half on top and got the second try they were looking for thanks to their dominant scrum.
They got one penalty at the set play and went for a line-out. They pressed and Loughborough illegally stopped them. Lock Adam Peters was sin-binned and Albion, who had lost hooker James Penman with a calf injury in the build-up, opted for a five-metre scrum. It was obviously what was going to happen from it with Loughborough’s pack a man light.
Albion got the push on straight away and drove forward at a fast pace. The referee was ready to give a penalty try but Stupple managed to get the ball down before he did for his sixth of the season.
Searle was unable to convert but Albion led 12-5 at the break.
Graham Dawe’s side got a great start to the second period with a try within the opening two minutes.
Searle put a high kick it that Loughborough failed to gather. Robin Wedlake did well to pick up and Albion pressed before Dacres showed great strength to force his way over under the posts from 10 metres out. Searle converted to make it 19-5.
Raumakita, who came close in the first half, should have had his first try for Albion on 48 minutes when the home side did really well at a scrum and Shepherd broke. The Cornwall player had Raumakita free on the wing with the try-line at his mercy but the pass to him was just behind him and he couldn’t gather it.
But the all-important fourth try did come for Albion in the 54th minute after another dominant scrum inside the 22. Stupple was just held short after breaking from the set-piece before the ball came out to Dacres and he forced his way over in the right corner for his second of the match. Searle converted from the touchline to make it 26-5.
But six minutes later Loughborough got back into the game when they were awarded a penalty try after an impressive drive from a line-out. Albion had lock Dan Collier sin-binned as well and Edwards converted to reduce the gap to 26-12.
But straight from the restart Albion scored with Dacres picking up a loose ball after Loughborough failed to gather the kick and he went over for his third try of the game to make it 31-12.
The game looked won then for Albion but then it all went wrong for them. They gave away a couple of penalties and Loughborough went for the corner. Eventually Albion had Sam Matavesi sin-binned, so they were down to 13 men.
Loughborough immediately took advantage with replacement Tom James scoring from a maul from a line-out and he also converted to make it 31-19.
The students had started to use a driving game, which Albion found hard to defend and four minutes from time, Loughborough scored again with centre Jack Wardle going over to make it 31-24.
Suddenly the home faithful were worrying but those concerns were eased in the first minute of injury-time when Searle kicked a penalty from 47 metres to give his side a 10-point cushion.
But with the last play of the game, Loughborough got a second bonus point when James kicked a penalty.
Albion: Ethan Ford, Robin Wedlake, Harrison Cully, Tom Bedford, Seti Raumakita, Billy Searle, Matt Shepherd, Ollie Dawe, James Penman, Christian Judge, Dan Collier, Nile Dacres, Jarrad Hayler, Sam Matavesi, Herbie Stupple. Reps: Rupert Freestone, Ed Holmes, Gregory Sebastien, Cameron Setter, Ellliot Bale.
Loughborough: Jack Pons, Paolo Odogwu, Jack Wardle, George Eastwell, Yiannis Loizias, Will Edwards, George De Cothi, Ben Christie, Isaac Miller, Joseph Cave, Adam Peters, Ed Tayler (capt), Will Allman, Harry Nuttall, Charlie Kingham. Reps: Dan Hogan, Sam Harry, Andrew Boyce, Tom James, Jacob Fields.
Referee: Dave Parrot (RFU).
Scores: Albion: Tries: Dacres 3, Shepherd, Stupple; Cons: Searle 3; Pen: Searle.
Loughborough: Tries: Eastwell, Penalty, James, Wardle; Cons: Edwards, James; Pen: James
Cards: Albion: Yellow: Collier, Matavesi