By Jack Guthrie
Plymouth Albion head coach Ben Gulliver expressed his relief after his side scraped a narrow 33-27 victory over National League One rivals Rotherham Titans, scoring a converted try in additional time.
Gulliver feared the win might be beyond their reach after the Titans scored a converted effort in the 78th minute to take the lead. But a late score from George Mills, converted by Dan Mugford sent the home crowd home happy and Albion into the top half of the table.
After two league defeats from two, Gulliver admitted he was just glad to get a foothold in the league. He said: “It’s just nice to get the win, just about, and five points after being on the losing end of two of these types of games.”
Despite the scoreline Gulliver felt that his team’s defence has improved massively since their previous fixtures. “Although we’re conceding tries, I think our defensive shape is looking a lot better.”
Albion started the game the much brighter side, winning a lineout from the kick-off and playing down the line to Josh Skelcey who ran the ball into the corner with under 40 seconds on the clock. But the try was not converted by fly-half Mugford, and the away side started to press.
Some excellent passing plays were halted by the bullish defence of Albion, forcing turnovers and penalties. Just shy of 20 minutes and Skelcey had his second try of the game, mirroring the first as the ball was played down the line again for him to run it into the corner, this time it was converted by Mugford.
Albion continued to force Rotherham into mistakes and gained crucial field position, before crossing a third time, as a driving maul heaved its way through the whole 22-yard-area and over the line for Sam Daly to touch down. Mugford again converted, and with a 19-point lead the hosts were looking comfortable.
A lack of discipline however allowed the Titans to regain the ball from kick of just five metres from the goal line. Some powerful pick and drives battered the home side’s defence, and flanker Zak Poole reached over the whitewash for their first score of the game. Sam Hollingsworth converted and Albion led by 12 at the half.
This time Rotherham were much brighter from the kick-off, getting two scores in the first 10 minutes with a penalty from Hollingsworth, who then converted a Connor Dever try, after an excellent chip and chase.
Mugford was then able to respond with a converted try of his own shortly after, following a drive with Daly who offloaded it cleverly, allowing Mugford to break over the try-line.
The South Yorkshire side came back instantly, as Hollingsworth hit the post with an audacious drop goal attempt, but referee Ben Russell called back the advantage and he converted a kick at goal, bringing them within one score with 20 minutes left.
From that moment the tension grew, both sides attacking and defending for their lives as the game went from end to end. A knock-on decision was given against Hollingsworth, which was then overturned after the referee consulted with his assistant and deemed the action as intentional, leaving the Titans a man short as Hollingsworth was sin-binned.
Rotherham fans thought they had won the game as Poole went over the try-line, only to knock it forward as he placed the ball down. Albion turned over the following five-metre scrum and No. 8 Anthony Maka capitalised, shrugging of two defenders to carry it over for a try, converted by Morgan Bunting.
The away side has a chance to seal the game with a penalty kick which was missed by the returning Hollingsworth, and touched down for a 22-yard drop out.
An infringement from a lineout saw Plymouth receive a free-kick which was taken quickly. Barraging runs from the forwards hammered the opposition defence, and Mills was shoved over by his team-mates to score a try at the death, the win sealed with another Mugford conversion.
Cheers of jubilation and sighs of relief rang around Brickfields as the final whistle was blown, Albion securing the win they deserved after heartache in their previous outings, and will be looking to take this form into their next game against a tough Old Elthamians outfit.
15.C. Eastgate 14.J. Skelcey 13.D. Powell 12.J. Pohe 11.A. Ducker 10.D. Mugford 9.P. Thompson 1.L. Chapman 2.M. Norey 3.D. Pullinger 4.D. Collier 5.J. Kelly 6.S. Daly 7.G. Mills 8.H. Stupple
16.J. Salter 17.P. Ingoldsby 18.C. Setter 19.J. Higgins 20.D. Squire
TRIES: J. Skelcey (2); S. Daly; D. Mugford; George Mills
CONVS: D. Mugford (4)
15.T. Bacon 14.B. Robbins 13.J. Cooke 12. H. Dunne 11.D. Leake 10.S. Hollingsworth 9.C. Dever 1.T. Williams 2.H. Newborn 3.W. Dennis 4.E. Ward 5.D. Preston-Routledge 6.L. Wilson 7.Z. Poole 8.A. Maka
25.A. Defelitto 17.H. Whitfield 18.R. Ward 19.A. North 20.M. Bunting
TRIES: Z. Poole; C. Dever; A. Maka
CONVS: S. Hollingsworth (2); Morgan Bunting
PENS: S. Hollingsworth (2)
YELLOW CARDS: S. Hollingsworth 67′
REF: Ben Russell