PLYMOUTH ALBION 35 HARTPURY COLLEGE 26
PLYMOUTH Albion’s players paid their tribute to Graham Dawe before the game by wearing specially produced T-shirts with his name for the warm-up before then doing him proud with a stunning bonus-point win over Hartpury College.
Albion became the first team this season to complete the double over Hartpury, who started the day in second place.
Their victory in their final home match also means no other team other than champions Richmond can finish with more wins than them this season.
Saturday’s success was their 21st out of 29 matches and showed just how good the team Dawe put together in the summer has become in the last nine months.
The players asked Dawe to turn up and the former England hooker paid to get into Brickfields after been asked six days earlier by the new owners of the club to step down as coach.
Having helped selected the team, Dawe was also issuing instructions and making changes via phone from his lofted position on the north terrace on Saturday at the players and the backroom staff’s request.
The spirit Albion produced to get the win, showed exactly what his young team has been about this season.
They found themselves 12-0 behind after 14 minutes, 20-14 down at the break and 26-21 behind with 15 minutes to go, but they still came back, scoring five tries to end their home campaign on a real high.
The pleasing thing was that more than 1,800 people turned up to thank the players for their efforts this season.
The only disappointment on the day was a horrible-looking ankle injury to scrum-half Cameron Setter, who was taken to hospital.
Albion kept the same team that narrowly beat Loughborough last weekend. They even had the same referee – James Clark, who had sin-binned four of their players seven days earlier.
Hartpury opened the scoring in the fifth minute. Albion were penalised twice and on both occasion they set up catch-and-drive moves, with impressive flanker Daniel Thomas scoring from the second line-out. Hot-shot fly-half Gareth Thompson converted.
And it got worse for Plymouth nine minutes later when Hartpury’s top try scorer Jonas Mikalcius added another to his season’s tally by going over in the left corner after Marc Koteczky had made a great tackle in the other corner to stop Thomas. That made it 12-0 to the visitors.
But suddenly Albion woke up and went 14-12 in front with two tries in six minutes.
The first came courtesy of Billy Searle after James Penman had earlier made a great break to get Albion inside the 22. Searle, Robin Wedlake and Herbie Stupple had all been held just short before they went inside and there was Searle to cross under the posts. Shepherd converted.
That seemed to inspire Plymouth and prop Judge powered over for his third of the season on 27 minutes after good pressure from a scrum. Shepherd again converted.
Setter had come close before Judge went over and the Albion scrum-half got injured in the tackle and had to be stretchered off.
Frustratingly for the home team they could not keep hold of their lead as just before half-time full-back James Forrester went over in the right corner after good play, although the home support felt there had been a knock-on earlier in the move.
Thompson was unable to convert but he did add a penalty with the last play of the game after Albion were caught crossing. That gave the visitors a 20-14 half-time lead.
Albion made a great start to second period. They turned Hartpury over and Dan Collier was just held short. However, Albion got a penalty and Shepherd tapped it and managed to dive over the line. He also converted to edge his side one point in front.
But Thompson then kicked two penalties to edge Hartpury 26-21 in front.
Albion, though, suddenly came to life. You could tell the team were determined they were not going to lose the match.
And they went back in front in the 66th minute with a great team try. They built phase after phase from their own half and after pressure in the 22 the ball eventually went right and there was Chesters to score against his former club. It was his first try in Plymouth colours. Shepherd also converted.
It got better for Albion four minutes later when Shepherd went over for a second after a great play by captain Herbie Stupple. Stupple did all the hard work but unselfishly off-loaded a metre from the line. That try showed what the current Plymouth team are about.
Shepherd also converted to crucially edge Albion nine points in front.
Hartpury blew a great chance on 75 minutes but after that Albion took control and you could tell they were not going to let the result slip.
Plymouth: Matt Shepherd, Harrison Cully, Tom Bedford, Marc Koteczky, Robin Wedlake, Billy Searle, Cameron Setter, Ollie Dawe, James Penman, Christian Judge, Dan Collier, Ed Holmes, Nile Dacres, Sam Matavesi, Herbie Stupple (capt). Reps: Dan Pullinger, Rupert Freestone, Andy Chesters, Tom Putt, Jon Dawe.
Hartpury: James Forrester, Elliot Creed, Steve Leonard, Luke Eves, Jonas Mikalcius, Gareth Thompson, Harry Cochrane, Des Merrey, Will Tanner, Alec Clarey, Ben Chan, Joe Dancer, Jake Polledri, Daniel Thomas, Rhys Oakley (capt). Reps: Nathan Taylor, Alfie Barron, Jack Spencer, James Voss, Jacob Perry.
Referee: James Clark (RFU)
Scorers: Albion: Tries: Searle, Judge, Shepherd, Chesters, Shepherd; Cons: Shepherd.
Hartpury: Tries: Thomas, Mikalcius, Forrster; Cons: Thompson; Pens: Thompson 3