Albion suffer late pain in derby thriller at Brickfields
MANY supporters had probably already arrived at Brickfields for Saturday's West Country derby with chewed finger nails and feeling emotionally drained after watching England's tense World Cup match with Scotland.
And it did not get any easier for them watching Plymouth Albion and the Cornish Pirates battling it out in a now customary tense showdown at Brickfields.
The weather might have been abnormal for clashes between the sides, but, despite the sweltering conditions, the match was as close as the last seven league meetings at Brickfields.
And just like in the World Cup match hours earlier in New Zealand, it was a late try that decided the fixture.
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Albion, after soaking up a load of earlier pressure, had led for 47 minutes of the game.
But just when it looked like they might become the first team to beat the Cornish Pirates this season, the visitors produced a well-worked try through David Doherty to go four points in front with just eight minutes to play.
Albion did have a couple of chances to steal victory back in the dying minutes, but they just could not manage it.
The loss was Albion's first defeat at home this season, but if they keep playing like they have been doing then not many teams are going to win there.
Albion have now played the top three sides in the table – Pirates, Bristol and London Welsh – and have pushed them all close.
But it is important now they try to pick up points in their forthcoming games against Doncaster, Leeds and Moseley.
On Saturday, Albion, already without back-five forwards Herbie Stupple, Aaron Carpenter and Tyler Hotson, could have done without losing Sean-Michael Stephen so early in the game to a broken hand.
Sam Hocking came on and did a great job, but on a boiling hot day it left Albion short of experienced fresh legs later on in the game.
Albion will certainly be glad to get World Cup players Aaron Carpenter and Tyler Hotson back and Stupple, just to increase their options in the pack.
They were also missing the experienced Paul Bailey on Saturday, but he may find it hard to get back into the team after the performances of Albion's backs at the weekend.
Albion handed full league debuts to winger Tyson Lewis and 18-year-old fly-half Henry Slade, who grew up watching the club.
Slade's inclusion meant Albion started with three teenagers in their side.
In front of nearly 3,000 people, it was the Pirates, fresh from their 52-10 win over Leeds, who took early control.
They pinned Albion in their half for the first 15 minutes.
But Albion, despite losing Stephen after less than seven minutes of the match, defended brilliantly.
They soaked up all the Pirates' early pressure.
Lewis was brought into the Albion team to score tries, but twice he had to save his side in the opening minutes, once with a great tackle and then beating Rhodri McAtee to a kick through.
Eventually the Pirates did go in front when Grant Pointer kicked a penalty on 18 minutes. It came after Albion had kicked straight out at a 22 drop-out, giving the Pirates the chance to attack from a scrum.
But those three points were little reward for all the Pirates' possession and territory.
And straight away Albion equalised. From a great restart, the home side eventually got a penalty that James Love put over.
But after all their hard work, Albion then gifted the Pirates a try.
Slade knocked on 22 metres out, giving the Pirates a scrum.
From the set piece the Pirates were awarded a freekick, which they took quickly and influential scrum-half Gavin Cattle dived over. Pointer converted to make it 10-3.
Slade had endured a tough couple of minutes, but the youngster showed his character by not allowing it to get to him.
Albion cut the gap immediately with Love kicking a penalty after good play by Keni Fisilau, who is enjoying an impressive season.
And two minutes later Albion went in front.
Bevon Armitage brilliantly rescued a poor Slade pass and broke straight through the Pirates' defence. Slade had supported well and Armitage fed him just over halfway and the youngster charged away to dive under the posts for a dream try. Love converted to edge Albion 13-10 in front.
Love and Pointer both surprisingly missed kicks towards the end of the half.
But five minutes after the interval, Albion increased their lead to six points with another Love penalty after a great break down the left involving Fisilau, Addison Lockley and Lewis.
The Pirates reduced the gap to three again with a Ceiron Thomas penalty on 49 minutes.
The Pirates' replacement then missed one on 52 minutes before the visitors were lucky not to find themselves down to 14 men.
Albion full-back Love was caught with a shocking-looking high tackle by Pointer as he tried to break from his half.
Surprisingly rookie referee Matthew Carley did not pull out a card.
Luckily Love was not injured and seconds later Albion broke through when Fisilau put Mick McGrath clear.
The Irish winger looked like he might go all the way, but 22 metres out he lost his footing and the chance went begging.
That minute, though, was decisive as Albion could have been a man up and 10 clear.
Yet the Pirates are not unbeaten this year for nothing.
They brought on all their forward replacements and threw everything at Albion.
However, the home side's defence looked good, but they paid for not clearly their lines properly in the 72nd minute after turning the visitors over.
Under pressure, Albion could only kick clear to the 22 and from the resultant line-out the Pirates drove.
It was a good drive and Albion struggled to stop it. When they did, the Pirates quickly threw it wide and eventually the ball came to Doherty, who dived over in the corner.
It was the fourth game running Albion had conceded a late try.
Thomas brilliantly converted from the touchline.
That kick by the Welshman proved crucial as Albion did get a kickable penalty later on but they had to go for the try rather than the posts as they were four points down rather than two.
Pirates supporters must have had their hearts in their mouths when Albion went for the five-metre line-out with five minutes to go. The home side caught it and drove, but they dropped the ball with the line in their sight.
Albion, only previously beaten twice in 10 home league meetings by the Pirates, did keep going and Slade, who enjoyed an encouraging debut, nearly set up replacement Jack Nowell to score with a kick through under the posts. It was not to be and Albion had to make do with just a bonus point for their efforts.