Fortune favours Albion in nine-try Brickfields thriller
THE difference between winning and losing can be miniscule – as Plymouth Albion's last two matches have proved.
Six days before Saturday's one-point win over Leeds at Brickfields, Albion had lost 19-17 at the Cornish Pirates in a game they should have won.
That day they out-scored the Pirates by three tries to two but lost after Rob Cook kicked an 80th-minute penalty.
But on Saturday they won a thrilling match where they had been out-scored five tries to four after Leeds missed a last-gasp kick to claim the spoils.
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They say luck equals itself out over a season and Albion's supporters will feel they deserved this week's bit of fortune after what happened at Mennaye Field.
Saturday's win, which secured Albion their first try scoring bonus point of the season and moved them up to third in the table, was due to the players' never-say-die attitude.
The team have built on the spirit they showed last season to stay in the league despite all the club's off-the-field problems and at no time on Saturday did their heads look like dropping even when Leeds looked to have the game won.
In the first half Leeds went 11 points up only for Albion to close the gap to just six at the break.
And in the second period Leeds again looked to have the game in the bag when they went 26-18 in front with Albion down to 14-men after Jon Vickers had been sin-binned.
But Albion would not give up and in the 54th minute Leeds well and truly shot themselves in the foot with a nightmare minute that let Nat Saumi's side back into the match.
Leeds had just gone eight points up with their fourth try of the game and had a one-man advantage.
But they messed up the restart and Albion scrum-half Ruairi Cushion made a great break before chipping over the visitors' defence.
Leeds full-back David Doherty stupidly and cynically blocked off Cushion for which he was rightly yellow carded.
Referee Ross Campbell resisted the temptation to give a penalty try, but Albion got a penalty and opted for a five-metre scrum.
They pressed and pressed and Leeds found themselves down to 13-men when Freddie Burdon was also yellow carded for a professional foul.
Seconds later Campbell did give Albion a penalty try to leave them just one point behind and with a numerical advantage.
Leeds will also regret not taking three penalty kicks at goal in the first half.
Albion's goal-kicking had cost them victory at the Pirates, with Paul Roberts missing five efforts.
But on Saturday, Roberts won the game for his side by converting three of Albion's four tries and kicking two penalties.
His last conversion attempt was right from the touchline and that proved the difference in the end.
Albion had secured a bonus point win over Leeds at Brickfields last term.
In fact, they have matched their results from last year in their first two home games against Leeds and Doncaster.
But impressively on Saturday, Albion, who also claimed two wins out of three at the start of last term, won without a number of key players.
Herbie Stupple, Rhodri McAtee and Paul Bailey were injured, while Canadian international Aaron Carpenter had to drop out of the team at the last minute to be with his wife who was about to give birth to their first child.
It meant first starts for Rupeni Nasiga, Toby Howley-Berridge, Ien Ascroft-Leigh.
Leeds, with only one previous win to their name at Brickfields, started like a house on fire, but it was actually Albion that took the lead.
After Leeds failed to find touch with a penalty, Albion gathered and went right up the other end to score through Sam Hocking.
It was Hocking's third touch-down in three games and was converted by Roberts.
Leeds hit back with a well-worked try by Curtis Wilson in the corner, which Ford converted.
The try came after Leeds had stolen an Albion line-out, which is an area Nat Saumi's side still have to work on.
Leeds then turned down two penalty kicks to go for the corner only to mess up the line-outs.
But the visitors did go in front for the first time in the 27th minute when Ryan Burrows scored a converted try on the left after good play from a scrum.
Roberts cut the gap with a penalty straight from the restart to make it 14-10.
But Leeds were looking the stronger side and they went 21-10 up with a controversial try in the corner by Pete Lucock, which Ford converted.
But Albion, led brilliantly by captain Sean-Michael Stephen, dug deep and narrowed the gap to six points with a try by debutant Howley-Berridge.
Roberts added another penalty after the break to make it 21-18 before Leeds piled the pressure on.
From a penalty they went for the corner and twice Albion illegally stopped them on the line before hooker Jon Vickers was sin-binned.
Leeds went for two more line-outs before Phil Nilsen managed to score to make it 26-18.
But then Leeds pressed the self-destruct button – a key Albion have got to know quite well over the last couple of seasons – and suddenly momentum was back with the home side following the penalty try and two sin-binnings for the visitors.
Despite having two men less, Leeds thought they had scored a fifth try in the 65th minute, but referee Campbell ruled they had been held up over the line and the visitors were penalised at the five-metre scrum.
And three minutes from time, the home fans went mad when half-time replacement Henry Slade put a cleaver kick into the corner and fellow city youngster Jack Arnott won the race to dive on it and score his first league try.
Roberts brilliantly converted to put Albion back in front for the first time since the 12th minute.
Leeds, though, with their powerful forwards always looked dangerous and in the last minute of normal time they scored from close range through Jacob Rowan on the right.
Everyone in the ground knew that if Ford converted the try it would almost certainly win the game for Leeds.
It was not an easy kick, especially for a right-footed kicker, but it was one that you might expect someone of Ford's ability to put over.
But the cheer around Brickfields as it went sailing through the air told you it was not on target long before it even got to the posts. It would have been cruel for Albion to have lost two weeks running on a single kick, but fortunately, they were the ones smiling this time around.