With five games to play, the future of Plymouth Albion lies firmly in their own hands as they enter the final stanza of the National Division One league programme. With fixtures against all the teams around them, Albion has the chance to move up the table quickly and it starts this weekend against rock bottom Tonbridge Juddians.
Over the last few weeks, a depleted Albion has shown courage and commitment in spades against higher ranked opposition, but they now face teams with similar league ranking. If they can continue to play at the same level (and with a tranche of players returning) they have more than enough to get on a winning run and move out of the relegation picture. Standing in their way this week however, are a team who have already won once against the Ocean Cities finest and are most certainly in the last chance saloon.
With -354 points difference, it’s been a tough old year from Tonbridge and a loss this weekend will all but consign them to playing next year in National Two South. With their warhorse lock forward pairing of Toby Freeman and Perry Parker, Juddians have a wealth of experience at higher levels of the game and, along with fly half Tom White (who orchestrated proceedings in the reverse fixture) certainly pose a few threats. They are also travelling to Devon on the back of a strong performance in their narrowest loss of the season away at Darlington.
Albion themselves face a familiar challenge as the last few weeks with a reduced bench but have firepower across the field that should be enough to see them cause the visitors from Kent plenty of trouble.
Up front, things look solid with Ramaz Rukhadze, Jamie Salter and Dan Pullinger forming a formidable front row. It’s ‘as you were’ in the engine room with Dan Collier and Jake Clemson forming a familiar partnership. In the backrow, the selection of Danny Southworth on the blindside will raise a few eyebrows. Having been deployed at 8 for the Exeter Chiefs earlier in his career, this is not a total shock, and he joins George Mills and Torin Clarke who himself has shown some real form in the last few games.
After a stunning debut last week, Tom Cairns starts at scrum half and he will link up with Tom Putt at fly half. Captain fantastic Herbie Stupple forms a new centre partnership with young tyro Ben Parsons where a lot of ‘go forward’ will be expected. Out wide there is a huge amount of firepower as Frankie Nowell and Alex Ducker take up the wing spots and look to make use of the firm Albion track. Meanwhile, Connor Eastgate returns at fullback and will be expected to marshall proceedings accordingly.
The bench is certainly heavyweight but not complete as Harry Wilkinson joins James McFarlane and Luke Chapman. Sadly last minute call ups to the Navy XV has strewn the squad of Craig Duncan and Setareki Raumakita!
After the game, there is a presentation to club centurions Jamie Salter, George Mills, Herbie Stupple, Dan Collier and Dan Pullinger. There is no doubt all of their experience will be called upon this weekend and a win will set the tone for such a prestigious occasion!