Lacklustre Albion see their cup hopes ended by Titans
WHEN referee Tom Foley blew his final whistle at Brickfields on Saturday there was a loud shout from the main stand of 'thank God for that'.
Only one person may have voiced their opinion so openly, but probably another 1,000 people were thinking it – if there were that many still in the ground at that time!
Saturday's British & Irish Cup Pool 7 match between Albion and Rotherham was definitely one you would not want to sit through again on a DVD.
The terrible conditions on Saturday did not help make for an entertaining game but Albion supporters would have hoped to have seen at least a try by their side or at worst more chances.
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During the whole 80 minutes, Albion had just one real chance to score a try.
Most of the game they spent defending. They did that quite well but Rotherham, although playing well in the middle of the park, were about as sharp as a butter knife in the final 22.
The visitors, who adapted well to the difficult conditions, dominated possession and territory but, fortunately for Albion, they lacked a real cutting edge.
The three tries they did collect – two in the final 10 minutes – all came after Albion gifted them the ball just metres from the try line and they couldn't really do anything but score.
Albion, who needed to win the match to keep alive their faint hopes of reaching the quarter-finals of the British & Irish Cup, were poor. Once again their line-out let them down, as did their kicking game, while they just seemed to be lacking any kind of a spark.
But for all that, amazingly they were still in the game with 10 minutes to go. Rotherham, who had beaten Albion 59-26 at Clifton Lane in the cup earlier in the season, only led 7-3 despite their dominance.
You thought maybe Albion might make them pay for not turning all their possession into points – but no such luck. They conceded two shocking tries in four minutes to leave them with only pride to play for this coming Friday when they travel to Ireland to play Munster in their final pool match.
Albion coach Nat Saumi now has a big dilemma on his hands for Friday's game against the cup holders in Cork. With nothing resting on the match does he give some game time to players that have not featured much this season and save his key players for the league or does he name his strongest line-up in the hope of building some momentum for the club's vital Championship game against Moseley the week after.
That match against Moseley at Brickfields on January 26 is one Albion just cannot afford to lose. If they do they will be well and truly sucked into a relegation battle.
Albion, though, will need to play far better than they did on Saturday if they do want to beat Moseley.
Although Saumi had made eight changes for the game, he still named a strong line-up, with experienced players Wayne Sprangle, Bevon Armitage and Paul Rowley coming back into the team.
But Albion just did not seem up for it. Rotherham, who sit one place above Plymouth in the Championship table, dominated the opening period, despite playing into the strong wind.
They could have had two tries before they did open the scoring on 13 minutes. Their try came after Albion dropped the ball forward in their own 22. Rotherham went wide but it looked like they had blown their chance when they knocked on – not for the first time – right on the line. However, referee Foley gave them a penalty which they took quickly and hooker Dan Baines dived over from close range. The wind at Brickfields was so strong that Rotherham captain Garry Law needed a team-mate to keep the ball on the kicking tee for the conversion, but he did not let that worry him and added the extra two points.
Rotherham wasted another great chance on 18 minutes before Albion had flanker Sprangle sin-binned for a professional foul.
His card came just a couple of minutes after the referee had warned Albion captain Sean-Michael Stephen about the number of penalties his team were giving away.
But Albion did not concede while a man down, although only because Rotherham blew another great chance on the line with poor handling at a crucial time – a common theme for them on Saturday.
Rotherham's momentum was de-railed for a bit when their hooker Baines suffered a nasty looking knee injury that needed five minutes of treatment on the pitch on 32 minutes.
As the visitors re-grouped Albion scored their only points of the game when fly-half Paul Roberts used the strong wind in his favour to kick a long-range penalty.
Albion could have gone in at the break in front as with virtually the last play of the half flanker Harrison Tovey made the home side's only real break of the match. He cut right through the Rotherham defence but was just stopped inches short of the line and eventually Albion knocked on.
There were a lot of knock-ons and most of the second half was played in the middle of the field with neither side looking like scoring.
Rotherham, who had only won once before at Brickfields, had a couple of good spells in Albion's 22 after the break but did not score.
Albion, who changed shirts at half-time and were now playing into the strong wind, did enjoy their best spell of possession midway through the second half but they never got into Rotherham's 22.
The game did not seem to be going anywhere until the 70th minute when Albion committed suicide in their own 22. They dropped a pass just 10 metres from their line and Rotherham fly-half Law was there to kick it forward and dive on it for a try. He also added the conversion to make it 14-3.
Four minutes later the game was well and truly over when Albion again got turned over in their own 22 and the ball eventually went to replacement hooker and former Plymouth loanee Ted Stagg, who crossed in the left corner. Law again converted as Albion supporters started making for the exits.
It was definitely an afternoon for Albion and all the 1,037 people inside the ground to forget.