RICHMOND 39 PLYMOUTH ALBION 40
PLYMOUTH Albion’s players produced another sensational display to end their season with a bonus point win away at champions Richmond.
A week after becoming the first team to do the double over second-placed Hartpury, they achieved the same feat against Richmond.
The spirit and the rugby they produced to come back from 22-7 down after 25 minutes in west London was outstanding.
Since the new owners shocked everyone by asking popular coach Graham Dawe to stand down two games before the end of the season, the players have been determined to prove a point – and they have certainly done that.
They dug incredibly deep at the end with 14-men on Saturday to deny Richmond a winning try. They celebrated by lifting Dawe aloft afterwards.
Their victory was their 22nd of the season. Only Championship-bound Richmond claimed more with 23.
Had Albion not had 30 points deducted for going into administration they would have finished with a staggering 102 points, which considering the loss of 32 players in the summer following relegation was a stunning effort by players who were largely brought in from lower leagues.
Prior to Saturday’s match, the Albion players had still not had any offers from the club’s new owners. Some have already accepted other contracts elsewhere and if Albion do not act quick they might lose even more.
Matt Shepherd scored three of Albion’s tries on Saturday, with Nile Dacres, Ed Holmes and Harrison Cully also going over, but the whole team were outstanding in a thrilling end of season affair.
Albion were forced to make one change to their starting line-up from last weekend’s win over Hartpury College with Cameron Setter breaking his leg in that match. That meant Shepherd started at nine, which is where he finished against Hartpury, with Tom Putt wearing the number 15 shirt.
Richmond failed to find touch with two penalty kicks to the corner in the opening two minutes but they did take the lead in the fourth minute.
Albion had a scrum on halfway and as they pushed forward the ball came loose according to the referee. Richmond scrum-half Sam Stuart cheekily picked up and fed half-back partner Rory Lynn and the former Nottingham man ran in from 50 metres to score.
But Plymouth, watched by Dawe and Simon Lane, did not let their heads drop and they went in front 12 minutes later with a try by Shepherd after his half-back partner Billy Searle had been heavily involved.
Searle had turned Richmond over in his own half and put in a great tactical kick which found touch on the home side’s 22. Dacres stole the Londoners line-out and Albion pressed. After some good pressure, Searle made a half-break before off-loading to Shepherd, who crossed in the right corner. He also brilliantly converted.
But Richmond went back in front three minutes later with a Lynn penalty before the hosts scored two tries in the space of two minutes.
The first came when Albion dropped the ball on halfway and Richmond kicked it forward. Lynn won the race for it, with Dan Collier nearly catching him, and he also converted.
And straight from the restart the home team scored again when they picked up another loose ball and flanker Jack Allcock ran in from 45 metres. Lynn again converted.
That made it 22-7 and the visiting supporters must have been thinking about what happened at Ampthill when the Bedfordshire side scored two quick tries to go three scores up.
But Albion responded this time, scoring two converted tries within four minutes.
First, Dacres, who had an impressive game, went over after winger Harrison Cully broke down the right before feeding Tom Bedford, who unselfishly put his back-row colleague in to score his 12th of the season.
Shepherd converted and he then added a second try with a great move by Albion down the other wing, involving Herbie Stupple and Ed Holmes. Shepherd added the extras to put his side to within a point.
The match certainly had an end of season affair about it and just before the break Richmond claimed their fourth try when Lynn ran in from distance to complete his hat-trick and give his side a 29-21 half-time lead.
Lynn kicked another penalty after the interval to put Richmond 32-21 ahead.
Albion then had a good spell of territory but could not convert it into points.
However, on 53 minutes they did get a fourth try thanks to lock Holmes, which was made by his second-row partner Collier, who made a great break before producing a lovely off-load. Shepherd, who has really been on-form with his goalkicking in recent weeks, again converted to pull Albion to within four points.
Albion had really upped their game and were forcing Richmond into mistakes.
And they got their reward with a fifth try in the 61st minute – and it was another great one.
The visitors, cheered on by a large and vocal travelling support, had free ball after a high tackle. Shepherd chipped over the top, which Dacres read brilliantly. He won the race to the ball and then off-loaded to Robin Wedlake. The Cornish winger looked like he might score himself but with one man to beat he fed teenager Cully, who went over and put Albion 33-32 in front.
And it got better for the visitors in the 71st minute when Shepherd collected his hat-trick after the outstanding Collier was just denied the try he deserved. Albion’s giant lock looked like he was going to score but was just held short. However, Shepherd was there to finish off.
Shepherd brilliantly converted to put Albion 40-32 in front.
After dominating the half, suddenly Richmond got some pressure and they were awarded a penalty try in the 76 minute to pull them within a point.
Richmond then threw everything at Albion in the dying seconds. Jon Dawe, a replacement, went down injured for Plymouth but they defended amazingly with 14 men to keep their hosts out.
Richmond: C Reakes, W Browne, C Mitchell, R McLean-Dents, H Brown, R Lynn, S Stuart, T Walford, R Grimstone, A Lyon, W Warden (capt), C Osazuwa, J Thompson, J Allcock, C Davis. Reps: C Pike, A Wood, T Sargent, J Small-Edwards, R Kirby.
Tries: Lynn 3, Allcock, Penalty; Cons: Lynn 4; Pens: Lynn 2
Albion: T Putt, H Cully, T Bedford, M Koteczky, R Wedlake, B Searle, M Shepherd, O Dawe, J Penman, C Judge, D Collier, E Holmes, N Dacres, S Matavesi, H Stupple (capt). Reps: D Pullinger, R Freestone, C Thompson, A Chesters, J Dawe.
Tries: Shepherd 3, Dacres, Holmes, Cully; Cons: Shepherd 5
Referee: Chris Ridley (RFU).