DARLINGTON MOWDEN PARK…17 PLYMOUTH ALBION…24
HERBIE STUPPLE scored his first Plymouth Albion hat-trick as they came back from 17-7 down to claim a stunning 24-17 victory at the Northern Echo Arena.
Only National One leaders Richmond had beaten Darlington Mowden Park since October.
But Albion’s away record has been impressive this term and they continued that form in the North East on Saturday..
Graham Dawe’s side, who have now claimed 12 wins from their last 13 matches, remain in fifth place in the table despite the win, but they are now only three points behind second-placed Hartpury College and one point behind third-place Blackheath, who they play next.
Plymouth’s victory at Darlington’s impressive 25,000 all-seater stadium was built around their scrum, which was outstanding on the day.
Albion suffered a blow before kick-off when lock Dan Collier was deemed not fit enough to play due to illness.
His absence meant Andy Chesters came in for his second successive start, with Nile Dacres returning to the second-row.
Albion were without suspended centre Marc Koteczky after his red card against Henley.
Straight from the start it was clear Albion had the edge in the scrum. They pushed the home team off their own ball twice in the opening 10 minutes.
Fly-half Warren Seals went for a long-range penalty from just short of the halfway line on 12 minutes but his effort fell short.
Ethan Ford intercepted a pass on 18 minutes but just could not get away and was stopped just over halfway. That was to be his only real action as he was forced off not long later with injury.
Darlington then had a good chance but they lost the ball 15 metres out.
And that was about it for a cagey opening quarter of the game with both teams trying to find their way but making lots of errors.
Shepherd had the chance to put Albion in front on 25 minutes when they got another penalty at a scrum, but he just missed.
Three minutes Darlington went in front when fly-half Warren Seals scored after Albion failed to deal with a grubber kick through allowing the home side to build pressure on their line.
Mowden Park pressed and pressed. It looked like there might have obstructed in the build up to Seals try but the referee played on and the fly-half went over for a touch-down he also converted.
Albion thought they had scored a try of their own on 35 minutes after good pressure following a break by Billy Seale. However, the referee ruled they had been held up and only gave a five-metre scrum.
But from the set-play, the visitors did get the try they threatened when Stupple went over from the back of scrum. Shepherd converted to make it 7-7.
That looked like it was how it was going to stay at the break but in first-half injury-time it all went wrong for Albion.
Darlington were ruled to have been held up in the right corner and Cameron Setter was penalised for being offside following the resultant five-metre scrum.
The home side tapped the penalty. Albion defended well but eventually the referee penalised them again and sin-binned Stupple for a professional foul
Darlington tapped again with time up on the clock. Albion defended heroically but eventually Park’s extra man told and hot-shot flanker Simon Uzokwe went over on the right, which Seals converted to give his side a 14-7 lead at the break.
The home team increased that to 17-7 straight after the interval when Seals kicked a penalty.
At that point Darlington were looking in control, but suddenly Albion, who had struggled with their line-out, came to life.
They got the lift they needed when they were awarded a penalty at a scrum, which Shepherd put over to pull them within a score.
Albion suffered another blow on 62 minutes when Ollie Dawe was forced to go off after taking a knock to the head. The game had to be stopped for him to receive treatment and it was restarted with a Darlington scrum. Albion pushed them off the ball and after good pressure eventually scored a second try when Stupple went over from close range after Ed Holmes was stopped short.
Shepherd converted to level the match.
Replacement Seti Raumakita then got Albion in a good position by winning a kick forward. The visitors got a penalty and Darlington had centre Ben Frankland sin-binned.
Albion opted for a scrum but were not able to initially make it tell, but kept the pressure on and eventually Stupple went over for his third in the left corner. Shepherd brilliantly converted from the touchline to crucially put Albion seven points in front.
Darlington tried their best to recover the game but Albion showed great control in the final few minutes to hang on and claim a 12th win in 13 matches.
Darlington: J Woodhouse, G Wacokecoke, J Barnard (T Appleton 56), B Frankland, J Henry, W Seals, B Bravo (M Walsh 67), R Appleby, S Socino (J Craggs 67), I Darkintis (T Harrison 50-57, 77), R Conquest (capt, Mackenzie 73), S Ferreira, S Uzokwe, C Mackenzie (G Demergasso 37), O Hodgson.
Albion: M Shepherd, E Ford (S Raumakita 24), J Murphy (capt), T Bedford, R Wedlake, B Searle, C Setter, O Dawe (G Sebastien 62), R Freestone, C Judge, E Holmes, N Dacres, A Chesters (J Penman 49), S Matavesi, H Stupple. Reps not used: D Pullinger, H Cully.
Referee: Keith Allen (RFU).
Scorers: Darlington: Tries: Seals, Uzokwe; Cons: Seals 2; Pen: Seals
Albion: Tries: Stupple 3; Cons: Shepherd 3; Pen: Shepherd
Yellow cards: Darlington: Frankland: Albion: Stupple.