Brave Plymouth Albion go down fighting at runaway leaders Newcastle
PLYMOUTH Albion suffered a predictable defeat against runaway league leaders Newcastle at a bitterly cold Kingston Park last night – but it was not the one-sided affair most people expected.
Albion gave the Falcons a major fright by scoring two first half tries, the first after just three minutes.
The Falcons had only conceded one try all season at home so the crowd were stunned when first Aaron Carpenter went over and then Tom Bowen.
Albion, playing with pride and passion and miles better than the week before, only trailed 16-12 at the break.
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But the Falcons, unbeaten all season, did not panic and scored two second-half tries – the final one coming six minutes from time – to eventually overcome an Albion side showing seven changes from their home match against Bristol the previous week.
Albion can certainly take pride from their performance last night, which is what coach Nat Saumi wanted.
The players who came into the team took their chance to impress, denying the Falcons a bonus point.
However, despite their encouraging display in freezing temperatures in the North East, the fact remains that Albion have lost seven of their last eight league and cup matches.
After such a great start to the season, where they won four out of their first five matches during September, Albion have since claimed just one further victory – a 24-20 home triumph over London Scottish.
It means they have reached the halfway mark of the campaign with just one more win than they had at the same stage last season – and this year they have not had the World Cup or as many injuries to deal with.
Coach Saumi will just be hoping his team can re-find their winning formula once the second half of the Championship starts after Christmas.
Albion, who face an RFU disciplinary hearing on Tuesday night for conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game following last weekend's mass brawl with Bristol, now have two British & Irish Cup matches against Welsh side Aberavon coming up which hopefully they can use to rebuild some confidence, although they will have gained some from last night's performance.
Newcastle have reached the halfway mark with a 100 per cent record, claiming 11 wins from 11 games.
Last night, though, was only the third time they had not collected a try-scoring bonus point.
Although the Falcons always looked like they had too much about them not to lose yesterday, Albion did give them food for thought by scoring almost straight from kick-off.
The Falcons messed up taking the kick-off, giving Albion a line-out 25 metres out. Albion, who handed first league starts to forwards Sam Matavesi and Tom Cowan-Dickie, won it and pressed. They kept the ball for nearly three minutes before Carpenter, back from international duty with Canada, was driven over in the left corner. Henry Slade, playing his first game of the season at fly-half, brilliantly converted.
That shocked the home crowd who had only seen one other team – Leeds – score at Kingston Park this season.
But Falcons hit back with two Jimmy Gopperth penalties to close the gap to one point.
Albion frustrated the Falcons for 24 minutes but eventually the home side's pressure paid off.
Newcastle kicked well down the line and Albion were forced to give away a five-metre line-out from which they scored a try with flanker Mark Wilson breaking off the maul to dive over. Gopperth converted to make it 13-7.
Many thought that would open the floodgates, but Albion actually hit back with a good try by Tom Bowen in the left corner following pressure from a line-out. Slade could not convert so Albion trailed 13-12.
No team had scored more than 10 points at Kingston Park this season, which is probably why the scoreboard broke down for the visiting team at that score.
Albion's line-out miles better than it had been against Bristol, but they were being destroyed by the Falcons in the scrums.
It was from a scrum that the Falcons got another penalty in first half injury-time that Gopperth kicked to make it 16-12 at the break.
The Falcons just did not get going in the opening 40 minutes.
You expected them to come out all guns blazing after the break, but it was actually Albion that nearly scored a third try straight after the interval with a cleaver kick forward following a freekick.
Unfortunately, Newcastle just got a hand to the ball first to ground it. But Albion kept up the pressure from the resultant drop-out and got a penalty. Slade stepped up and put the ball between the posts to reduce the gap to just one point.
But Falcons finally got going and scored a second try through Luke Fielden in the 49th minute after turning Albion over at a line-out in their own 22. The home side switched play to the other side quickly and they had an overlap. Gopperth hit the post with the conversion.
Gopperth kicked a penalty on 55 minutes to edge his side nine points in front.
Falcons started to up the pressure. Bowen stopped what looked like was going to be a certain length of the field try in the 59th minute.
A third try was coming, but Albion did well to keep Falcons out until the 74th minute when Jamie Helleur went over under the posts after the Falcons had stolen an Plymouth line-out. Gopperth converted to make it 31-15.
The Falcons went looking for a fourth try to earn the bonus point, but Toby Howley-Berridge denied them with a great tackle late on.
Newcastle: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Luke Fielden, 13 Alex Crockett (Suka Hufanga 55), 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Andrew Higgins, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Grant Shiells (Scott Wilson 37), 2 Matt Thompson, 3 James Hall, 4 Sean Tomes (James Goode h/t), 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Chris York (Taiasina Tu'ifua 50), 7 Mark Wilson, 8 Ally Hogg (capt). Reps: Michael Mayhew, Rory Lawson, Joel Hodgson.
Albion: 15 Rhodri McAtee, 14 Lewis Warner, 13 Toby Howley-Berridge, 12 Keni Fisilau, 11 Tom Bowen (Jack Arnott 75), 10 Henry Slade, 9 Ruairi Cushion, 1 Luke Cowan-Dickie (Ben Rogers 71), 2 Tom Cowan-Dickie (Jon Vickers 22), 3 Lloyd Fairbrother (David Morton 63), 4 Brett Beukeboom, 5 Harrison Tovey (Ien Ascroft-Leigh 74), 6 Sam Hocking (cap, Rupeni Nasiga 52)), 7 Sam Matavesi, 8 Aaron Carpenter. Reps: Paul Roberts
Referee: John Meredith (RFU)
Scorers: Newcastle: Tries: Mark Wilson; Fielden; Helleu; Cons: Gopperth 2; Pens: Gopperth 4
Albion: Tries: Carpenter, Bowen; Con: Slade; Pen: Slade
Last night: Championship: Bristol 43 London Scottish 16, Doncaster 22 Jersey 17