GRAHAM DAWE is hoping his Plymouth Albion team can play with the same enthusiasm and desire they showed against Hartpury College in their last match when they travel to Rosslyn Park on Saturday in National One (3pm).
Sixth-placed Albion produced their best performance of the season at Hartpury on December 19, winning 22-17 to end the Gloucestershire side’s unbeaten home record.
Director of rugby Dawe, though, expects last season’s runners-up Rosslyn Park, who sit one place and one point above Albion, to be fired up for the opening fixture of 2016.
“It is certainly going to be a challenge,” said Dawe, whose team were beaten 16-15 by the Londoners at Brickfields in September.
“Rosslyn Park made their intentions known when they came down and beat us at our place. Now we are looking forward to the challenge of playing them on their own pitch.”
That pitch is an artificial one and Albion have spent the last two days training on the 3G pitch at the University of St Mark and St John to try and get used to the different surface.
“We are very grateful to the University of St Mark and St John,” said Dawe. “It is important that we know what we are going into on Saturday. We don’t want any surprises.”
Albion have not played since December 19 and Dawe is hoping his team can carry the form they showed before Christmas on. They have won their last four matches.
However, the Plymouth boss knows Rosslyn Park will be wary of his side after their win over Hartpury.
“Hopefully, after a week’s break the team can replicate the enthusiasm and desire they showed at Hartpury to give ourselves a chance of getting a good start and then maintain the pressure on Rosslyn Park for 80 minutes.”
In the corresponding game at Brickfields in the second match of the season, Albion found themselves 13-0 down to Rosslyn Park before hitting back and nearly snatching victory at the death.
Dawe is hoping his team can start better this weekend.
Albion have opted to make just one change to their team that stunned Hartpury College before Christmas.
Boss Graham Dawe admits it was tough to leave Pullinger out of the starting line-up, but feels against Rosslyn Park it is best to begin the game with a specialist loose-head.
“It is very hard on Dan not to keep his place,” said the Albion boss. “But Ollie has established himself as a very good loose-head prop and scrumming at the beginning of the game could be very important to the team.
“Dan’s not played many games at loose-head but he showed up very well against Hartpury and we’d have no hesitation in playing him there again.”
Experienced lock Dan Collier is fit again after recovering from an infection in his hand but has to make do with a place on the bench after the performance of Ed Holmes against Hartpury.
Holmes had missed the Wharfedale match and in his absence Albion moved Nile Dacres to the second-row and brought in Jarrad Hayler at six alongside Sam Matavesi at seven and Herbie Stupple at eight. They have since kept with the same back-row for the last three matches.
“The back-row has worked particularly well the last few games,” said Dawe. “Ed came in and had a particularly good game at Hartpury.
“But Dan’s return has created viable options during the match, but we want to start with the same second and back rows as Hartpury for this game.”
Captain Jake Murphy has returned to training this week after missing Albion’s previous two games due to an ankle injury, but he has not been included in the squad for Saturday’s match.
“Jake has trained all week and is 99 per cent fit,” said Dawe. “But the back line performed to a man exceptionally well against Hartpury. Although Jake is captain of the team we feel we need to reward the backs that played so well in the last game.
“Jake will be there to support the whole team and drive standards up.”
The fitness of back Marc Koteczky had been a concern, but the Australian has recovered from a hamstring problem to keep his place.
ALBION TEAM TO FACE ROSSLYN PARK
15 Ethan Ford
14 Seti Raumakita
13 Tom Bedford
12 Marc Koteczky
11 Harrison Cully
10 Billy Searle
9 Matt Shepherd
1 Ollie Dawe
2 Rupert Freestone
3 Christian Judge
4 Ed Holmes
5 Nile Dacres
6 Jarrad Hayler
7 Sam Matavesi
8 Herbie Stupple (capt)
Replacements: Dan Pullinger, Dan Collier, Gregory Sebastien, Cameron Setter, Elliot Bale.