PLYMOUTH Albion boss Graham Dawe has challenged Andy Chesters and Robin Wedlake to make statements this weekend after handing them starts against Henley Hawks.
The duo will come into Albion’s team for the National One match at Brickfields (3pm).
Chesters has only started one previous league game for Plymouth – away at Hull in September – but he gets his chance this weekend with Ed Holmes and Gregory Sebastien injured and Jarrad Hayler on Royal Navy duty.
Cornwall winger Wedlake, meanwhile, comes in for his sixth start and first of 2016, with teenager Harrison Cully dropping out through illness.
Wedlake, a summer signing from Redruth, began Albion’s opening three matches but injured his ankle in their away match at Hull which ruled him out for a couple of months.
When he did return he found it hard to get his place back. However, the 21-year-old has impressed director of rugby Dawe in training recently.
The Albion boss said: “It’s great that Robin has persevered and has been working on parts of his game.
“He is a tremendous rugby player and athlete and he’s trying to become the best all-round footballer that he can be.
“Hopefully, he comes in and makes good decisions, challenges defenders and demands to keep his place in the team.”
He added: “The back three has been very competitive this season. Tom Bedford’s been good for us because he’s filled in on the wing from midfield and his experience has been invaluable to us getting some good wins.
“Robin had that niggling injury that took a long time to heal and sprinters can’t operate 100 per cent unless they are injury free.”
Former Launceston man Chesters is another summer arrrival that has had to be patient after injury.
“He’s had some fleeting appearances off the bench, but with Ed Holmes and Greg Sebastien going down it’s an opportunity for him to make a statement,” said Dawe.
Holmes suffered an ankle injury last weekend after scoring a try against Cinderford. In his absence, Nile Dacres moves from flanker to the second-row, with Chesters taking over in the number six shirt.
Apart from Chesters and Wedlake coming into the team for Holmes and Cully, Albion stick with the rest of the side that beat Cinderford 34-22 away. That means Dan Pullinger and Rupert Freestone keep their places in the front-row despite the return to fitness of Christian Judge and James Penman.
Prop Judge was ill last weekend, which gave Pullinger a chance, while hooker Penman has been out since December with a calf injury, allowing Freestone an extended opportunity to impress. Both Judge and Penman will be on the bench on Saturday, along with the experienced Bedford.
However, the rest of Albion’s replacements will be decided on the day with doubts over Cully, Elliot Bale and Cameron Thompson.
Henley, who will be making their first trip to Brickfields since April 2005, sit second-from-bottom in National One and were beaten 36-3 by Albion at Dry Leas in November.
That is Plymouth’s biggest win of the season, but director of rugby Dawe, whose fourth-placed side have won 10 of their last 11 games, says that result and current league standings will count for nothing on Saturday.
Dawe says Henley, just like Cinderford last week and Blaydon the previous Saturday, will be battling for everything against his side.
“This league is really tough,” said Dawe. “Teams are fighting for their lives to try and stay in this division and Henley will be no different.
“They have certainly got some good components to their game. They have got a 15 and a 10 who are good distributors and runners and a good back-row.
“They do want to play the continuity game – they want to attack from deep and try and stretch our defence.
“We will have to be careful. We’ve got to maintain our shape and, hopefully, we get some opportunities even if we go periods without that ball.
“Our focus this week is our set-piece game. We want to get that right so that we get at least 50 per cent share of the ball and then we can execute a balanced game with or without it.
“But this is certainly a game we are looking forward to as we are back at Brickfields and home games are running out.
“We also have a weekend off after this game, so we really want to give a good account of ourselves if we can.”
Henley are set to include former Albion back Jamie Davies in their side. The former Cardiff and Neath player endured an injury-hit season at Brickfields in 2013/14. However, he did finish that campaign strongly and scored tries in his final two matches for the club.
After Saturday’s game, Albion face tough fixtures against in-form Darlington Mowden Park, Blackheath and Ampthill.
The next four weeks will be a crucial period in National One. This weekend, Darlington facing leaders Richmond and second-placed Blackheath face third-placed Hartpury College.
Dawe, though, would not be drawn about forthcoming games. He said: “All we are looking and talking about is this weekend, nothing else.”
ALBION TEAM TO FACE HENLEY
15 Matt Shepherd
14 Ethan Ford
13 Jake Murphy (capt)
12 Marc Koteczky
11 Robin Wedlake
10 Billy Searle
9 Cameron Setter
1 Ollie Dawe
2 Rupert Freestone
3 Dan Pullinger
4 Dan Collier
5 Nile Dacres
6 Andy Chesters
7 Sam Matavesi
8 Herbie Stupple
Replacements (from): Christian Judge, James Penman, Tom Bedford, Cameron Thompson, Dean Brooker, Elliot Bale, Harrison Cully, Jon Dawe.