Brave Albion rally but fall short in tense Leeds loss
PLYMOUTH Albion's decision to appeal against their 34-16 defeat at Leeds last month proved worthwhile as they returned with a valuable bonus point from the replay at West Park yesterday.
Albion lodged a formal complaint over last month's result after the Championship match had to go to uncontested scrums on 13 minutes due to the state of the Headingley pitch.
Despite Leeds winning by four tries to one, the RFU felt the game had been affected by removing scrums from the contest and quashed the result and ordered the West Yorkshire side to pay for Albion to make another trip up north.
Unlike four weeks ago, Albion this time did not return empty handed from their long journey, claiming a bonus point for finishing within a score of their opponents.
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However, Albion could so easily have returned with five points. Having been 21-6 down after 29 minutes, Nat Saumi's side came back and were so close to snatching the win at the end in windy conditions.
Tom Bowen nearly ran the length of the field in the dying seconds but he was stopped by the last man.
Albion continued to press as Leeds did their best to throw the game away, but eventually the visitors were penalised for crossing and their hopes of winning disappeared.
Although Albion were unable to claim their first win of 2013 and their first victory in the league for three months, they will have taken some confidence from yesterday's game.
They scored three tries, having not managed one in their previous three matches, and they played a lot better than in their other games since the turn of the year.
However, their line-out still let them down – they lost three, five metres from the try line in 10 minutes in the second half.
Had they managed to win one of them, the result could have been different.
As it is they have fallen into the bottom four with this defeat, but at least Doncaster, presently in the one relegation spot, also failed to win so Albion stay 12 points ahead of them with eight games to go.
Neither Leeds nor Albion fielded the same XV that started at Headingley a month ago.
Albion made five changes to that team, with Sam Hocking, Herbie Stupple, Bevon Armitage, Ben Rogers and Lewis Warner coming in for Sam Matavesi, Aaron Carpenter, Keni Fisilau, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Paul Bailey.
Hocking and Stupple were unfit for the first game, but Cowan-Dickie was unavailable for this one due to his England Under-20 commitments, as were Henry Slade and Jack Arnott.
Leeds made four changes to the side which prevailed at Headingley.
They were without influential loan fly-half Rory Clegg, who has been recalled by Harlequins, lock Dominic Barrow, who was with the England Under-20 squad and prop Sam Lockwood, while fellow prop Ben Hooper dropped down to bench for Damien Tussac.
Albion changed their captain for the match, with Ruairi Cushion replacing Sean-Michael Stephen, who has skippered the club for the past two years.
Leeds, playing up the West Park slope, took the game to Albion straight away and scored a try after less than five minutes.
From a penalty, the home side went for the corner and from it they produced a great catch-and-drive move with Ryan Burrows getting the ball down. Joe Ford added the conversion from the touchline.
Albion did not get into Leeds' half with the ball until the 30th minute but they managed to close the gap to 7-6 after the home side were twice penalised in possession in their own half and Paul Roberts made them pay.
Leeds' pack looked really up for the game early on and they kept turning down kicks at goal to try and go for tries.
In the 17th and 20th minute they could not have come closer to scoring from five-metre line-outs, but somehow Albion held them out.
On the second occasion Leeds knocked on right on the line, but then destroyed Albion at the scrum and won the ball back. The home side got a penalty and Albion's Bevon Armitage was sin-binned for a professional foul.
Leeds made Albion pay immediately by going wide from the line-out and finding Steve McColl, who powered in to score near the posts. Ford added the conversion to make it 14-6.
That quickly became 21-6. Albion messed up the restart and Leeds nearly scored.
Albion had to give away a 22 drop-out and from it the home side ran the ball back to score a third try.
McColl made the first break before putting David Doherty clear on the halfway.
Doherty showed real speed and timing to cut through Albion's defence and score a great individual try. Ford added the conversion.
Albion had not been inside Leeds half with the ball, but the first time they managed it they scored a try.
From a line-out Albion won the ball – something they found hard to do generally in the first half – and pressed. They were five-metres out when the game was stopped for a head injury to Stupple.
Stupple had to go off but his replacement Carpenter came on and nearly scored from the resulting five-metre scrum before Sam Hocking did get the ball down.
Leeds finished the half strongly but could not add a fourth try and Ford missed a penalty with the last kick of the period.
After half-time there was only one team in it, with Albion dominating as Leeds lost their way.
The visitors pulled to within five points when hooker Jon Vickers went over from a good drive in the 46th minute. Roberts, like in the first half, could not add the conversion.
Albion then won penalty after penalty. Each time they went for the corner, but on every occasion they lost the ball.
Leeds had hooker Phil Nilsen sin-binned in the 59th minute.
Eventually Albion opted to go for goal from a penalty and Roberts put it over to make it 21-19.
The home crowd were getting on the backs of the Leeds players, but they thought they had the game won when David Doherty scored another great try in the 75th minute.
Ford, crucially, converted from the touchline to put his side nine points in front. But Albion refused to give up and in the last minute of normal time Stephen scored after Bowen had put him in. Roberts converted to set up a thrilling five minutes of injury-time.
It looked like Albion might win when Bowen broke through but he was stopped 22 metres out. Albion kept attacking but Leeds eventually turned them over only to fail to find touch with the kick.
Plymouth, with replacement Paul Bailey heavily involved, had one last chance but Sam Matavesi was penalised for crossing.