LOUGHBOROUGH STUDENTS 24 PLYMOUTH ALBION 28
PLYMOUTH Albion showed incredible character to somehow survive with 12 men in the final few minutes at Loughborough to claim an impressive 20th win of the season.
Graham Dawe’s young side were 25-10 up early in the second half after Robin Wedlake (2) and Cameron Setter scored tries.
But it all nearly went wrong for them late on after Nile Dacres, Matt Shepherd and Billy Searle were sin-binned in the final 10 minutes.
Albion, who’d also had Marc Koteczky sin-binned midway through the second half, amazingly kept Loughborough out.
The students were held up over the line before then failing to make the five-metre scrum tell, despite having a three-man overlap.
Considering how unsettled the Albion players have been with the 30-point deduction for the club going into administration, the takeover and concerns over their own and the coaching staff’s futures, the victory really did show the spirit and character of the squad Dawe has put together this season.
Albion made one change to their starting line-up that beat Wharfedale 30-10 last week. That was in the backs where fit-again Setter returned at scrum-half after injury, which meant Shepherd reverted back to 15 with Tom Putt dropping to the bench.
Plymouth made a good start and Sam Matavesi and Dan Collier both came close to scoring before the visitors were turned over on the line.
On 10 minutes, though, Albion did take the lead when Shepherd kicked a penalty after a good scrum by the Devonians.
But after that Dawe’s side lost their way slightly and Loughborough camped in Albion’s half for 15 minutes.
Tom James pulled his side level on 13 minutes and winger Rotimi Segun should have put them in front five minutes later with a good move. He dived over the line but knocked the ball on in the process.
That was a let off for Albion but eventually the home team did score when prop George Davis went over on the left and James converted.
That put Loughborough 10-3 up, but within minutes Albion turned that totally around and went 20-10 in front.
Shepherd kicked a penalty from the restart after Davis’ touch-down and then straight from that Plymouth scored their first try.
Cornwall star Shepherd broke and looked like he was going to put Wedlake in to score but he delayed the pass too long. However, Albion kept the ball alive and eventually it came back to the left-hand side and there was Wedlake to go over in the corner. Shepherd brilliantly converted.
And within two minutes, Wedlake scored a second try in the same corner after a great break by Billy Searle. Shepherd again converted from the touchline to give his side a 10-point half-time advantage.
Albion made a great start to the second period with Setter scoring a try in the opening two minutes after great play by the impressive Matavesi.
That made it 25-10, but just when it looked like the visitors might run away with the match, centre Jack Wardle scored for Loughborough and the prolific James converted.
That try lifted the home team and on 56 minutes Albion had Koteczky sin-binned for what the referee deemed a deliberate knock-on, but Plymouth showed some great defence while a man short. They kept the students out and increased their lead to 28-17 with a Shepherd penalty.
But just like at Brickfields in December, Loughborough refused to give up. They pressed and Dacres, who went into the match having played every minute of the season, was sin-binned for kicking a ball he thought was out of the ruck.
Within seconds of his departure, Blair Hutchinson scored for the home team and James converted.
Shepherd was then shown yellow for a high tackle two minutes later. If that was not bad enough, Searle then joined him in the bin for a professional foul.
It looked like Loughborough had scored but Albion had held them up over the line. It appeared certain the students were going to score a winning try from the five-metre scrum, but somehow they managed to blow a three-man overlap on the right and Albion turned them over to win the game.
Loughborough: Y Loizias (B Hutchinson 15), A Beckett (Dobinson h/t), J Wardle, G Eastwell, R Segun, W Edwards, T James, J Lasis (J Boyce 62), I Miller, G Davis (J Cave 61), M MacPherson (J Fields 35), E Taylor, A Peter, G Carroll, M Rogerson.
Tries: Davis, Wardle, Hutchinson; Cons: James 3; Pen: James
Yellow cards: Peters
Plymouth: M Shepherd, H Cully (J Dawe 66), T Bedford, M Koteczky, R Wedlake, B Searle, C Setter, O Dawe, J Penman (R Freestone 69), C Judge, D Collier (E Holmes 46), E Holmes (R Freestone 21, A Chesters, 32, D Collier 61), N Dacres, S Matavesi, H Stupple (capt). Rep not used: T Putt.
Tries: Wedlake 2, Setter; Cons: Shepherd 2; Pens: Shepherd 3
Yellow cards: Koteczky, Dacres, Shepherd, Searle
Referee: James Clarke (RFU)