Cup provides precious little cheer as Albion suffer loss
WHEN it goes wrong for Plymouth Albion, it really goes wrong for them.
Just 14 days after conceding 55 points at Bedford Blues in the league, they conceded 59 at Rotherham on Saturday in their second pool match of the British & Irish Cup.
Although the Championship – where Albion currently sit fourth in the table having lost just two games out of six – is their priority, nobody at the club really wants to see a scoreline like this.
And it could have been worse had Rotherham, who scored nine tries, not had another disallowed and lost the ball right on the line on at least a couple of occasions.
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The only positive for Albion, who had not conceded this many points in a first-team game for more than 13 years, is that they did secure a bonus point for scoring four tries.
Nat Saumi's side, though, now face a tough task if they are to progress in a cup competition they have generally not liked since it was introduced in 2009.
Although Albion still have four games left to play in Pool Seven, they are going to need to have to win at least three of them to have even the slightest hope of topping a group in which Rotherham and Munster have both won their first two matches.
Saumi probably will not be too bothered if they don't progress, providing they can continue to fly high in the league.
However, Albion face the prospect of losing some of their international and dual-registered players next month and are going to need some of their squad players to step up for games against London Scottish, Bristol and Newcastle.
But some of the club's back-up players did not do themselves any favours on Saturday.
Albion had opted to leave out many of their key players – like Canadians Sean-Michael Stephen, Aaron Carpenter and Brett Beukeboom and fly-half Paul Roberts– from their squad on Saturday.
Only eight of the team had started a Championship game before, although three had made replacement appearances, with two players, fly-half Freddie Gabbitass and lock Will Carrick-Smith, coming in on loan for the game.
It was particularly hard for Gabbitass to slot in and play at 10 without knowing his team-mates and having been playing at a lower level for Taunton.
But Albion were not facing a full strength Rotherham side.
The Titans have also used the first two games of the cup to have a look at different players.
They had six players in their starting line-up who had never played for them in the Championship, which was more than Albion.
But Rotherham's side looked more at home with the pace and physicality of the game.
Yet there were a few good performances from some Albion players.
Fit-again winger Tom Bowen looked very sharp and scored two good tries, while Paul Bailey was at the heart of all Albion's good attacks.
Bailey, who has played at centre and on the wing for Albion in the league this season, gave Saumi a reminder of his versatility by starting at full-back and then moving to fly-half. He even showed he can kick goals with a touchline conversion.
But generally as a team Albion were no match for an inspired Rotherham side, even though the home club were slow starters.
Albion, who had beaten the Titans 15-3 at Brickfields three weeks earlier, dominated the opening 15 minutes.
They should have taken the lead in the third minute when they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts 35 metres out, but young Gabbitass pulled his kick wide.
However, Albion did take the lead on 10 minutes when Bowen managed to get the ball down in the right corner after intense pressure. Gabbitass did convert to put the visitors 7-0 up.
But it all went wrong for Albion when they conceded two quick tries from bad errors.
First Albion, trying to play risky rugby, were penalised for a forward pass in their own 22 and Rotherham scored from the resultant scrum through winger Michael Doneghan. James McKinney converted to level the scores.
Albion then went and gifted Rotherham a second try by kicking straight out at the restart and not defending well from the scrum on halfway. Rotherham scrum-half Charlie Mulchrone made a great break before putting his brother Fergus in to score. McKinney again converted.
The Mulchrone brothers, who were playing for Macclesfield last season, were making their home debuts for Rotherham and they were both constant thorns in Albion's side.
Rotherham then had three great chances to add a third try. They were stopped one-metre from the line.
A minute later McKinney dropped the ball within inches of it and Lee Blackett had a try ruled out for putting a foot in touch.
Albion lost Ruairi Cushion after half-an-hour due to injury, leaving them with a makeshift half-back pairing of Gabbitass and fellow youngster Joe Bartlett.
Rotherham scored two more quick tries just before the break with Doneghan getting them both to complete a first half hat-trick. McKinney converted one of them to make it 28-7.
Albion, though, gave themselves hope going into half-time when Bowen scored a second try in injury-time. It came after Albion took a quick tap penalty and Bailey made a great break down the right wing. Gabbitass converted to reduce the gap to just 14.
But any hopes Albion had of getting back into the game after the interval were hit with two tries in two minutes by powerful Titans centre Eamonn Sheridan.
That made it 40-14 and with 34 minutes still to go it looked seriously worrying for Albion.
But the visitors never let their heads drop and Bailey scored a third try for his side on 49 minutes to at least stop the tide for a spell.
However, it did not stop it for long as three minutes later Rotherham scored a seventh try through Charlie Mulchrone which was quickly followed by an eighth courtesy of replacement hooker Ted Stagg.
Stagg was just gifted the ball 15 metres from the line by Rupeni Nasiga, who tried an off-load in his own 22.
Albion did pay on a number of occasions for trying to be too risky in their own half, which you cannot afford to do away from home. The match at Bedford two weeks early had shown them that.
That made it 52-19 to Rotherham with 23 minutes still remaining.
Both teams made replacements and it took the momentum out of Rotherham.
Albion secured themselves a bonus point in the 65th minute with a fourth try.
The visitors won a penalty in their own half and Bailey, now at fly-half, put in a monster kick to earn Albion a line-out just five metres from the line. From it the visitors drove and replacement Jamie Salter touched down for a try.
With Gabbitass having gone off, Bailey took over the goalkicking duties. It has been 10 years since he had last done it, but you would not have known that as he coolly stepped up and converted from the touchline.
Although Rotherham had taken their foot off the pedal they did finish the scoring when Blackett added their ninth try six minutes from time, which McKinney converted.
Albion were just glad McKinney had missed a couple of other conversions or otherwise Rotherham would have surpassed the 60-point mark, which would have been even more embarrassing.