Narrow margins for Plymouth Albion in 34-31 defeat at Rotherham Titans
IN SPORT margins between winning and losing are often small.
During the opening month of the season Plymouth Albion came out on the right side in four out of five tight matches.
But in the last few weeks they have lost three league games by three points or less.
They could not have come closer to winning a thriller at Clifton Lane on Saturday, but were robbed of even a draw when Rotherham full-back Garry Law kicked a late penalty for Rotherham.
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Albion desperately need a bit of fortune at the moment to bring an end to their long losing run in the Championship.
Their last league win came on November 9 – that's more than three months ago now – and they have lost nine out of their last 10 matches.
But at least Albion are playing better than they were last month and have rediscovered their try-scoring ability, if not their ability to win.
Nat Saumi's side did not manage one single try during three games in January, but they have scored seven in their two matches so far in February.
After their poor 9-6 home defeat to Moseley three weeks ago, there was a major internal review at the club, involving players, coaching staff and the board.
Whatever was said and changed appears to have had a positive effect on the players.
They managed only their second try-scoring bonus point of the season on Saturday to return to Devon with two valuable points, which may yet be enough to keep them up.
But what Albion need more than anything is wins not bonus points or a pat on the back for playing better.
Hopefully, if they keep showing improvement they can pick some up in their final seven games, but they do have some tough fixtures coming up, starting this coming weekend against second-placed Bedford.
Albion will want to put on a good show in that fixture at Brickfields, just because of their poor performances in their previous home games.
One of those came last month against Rotherham in the British & Irish Cup.
Titans won that game 21-3. That was a terrible match to watch, but Saturday's encounter between the teams could not have been more different. It was a classic and reminiscent of a couple of meetings they had between 2005 and 2007.
Rotherham, who started the day just two points and two places above Albion in the table, looked to be well on their way to a comfortable victory after taking a 14-0 lead after just 16 minutes.
Saumi's side had not been in the match. They had given away a penalty try in the 11th minute after four successive penalties at a five-metre scrum and then Rotherham fly-half James McKinney scored a fine try, chipping over Albion's defence and collecting, following a line-out.
Both those scores were converted by Law and in truth Rotherham more than deserved their lead. They had dominated the first 16 minutes and could have had more points.
But a silly penalty by Rotherham allowed Albion back into the game and suddenly the match changed.
Albion wing Tom Bowen was blocked attempting to run down the line on his side's first real foray into Rotherham's half. From the penalty Albion went for the corner and scored from the line-out through Sam Hocking, who has rediscovered the try-scoring form he showed in the opening weeks of the season.
Prop Lloyd Fairbrother was initially credited with the try, which would have been his first in the league for Albion, but Hocking would not let him have it.
Roberts, who like Law was on top kicking form, added the conversion from the touchline.
That try saw Albion grow in confidence and they took charge of the game for the next 20 minutes.
Albion pressed and pressed and, eventually, their pressure told with Ruairi Cushion scoring in the corner after Harrison Tovey had been held short by a last-ditch tackle by Charlie Mulchrone. Roberts again converted to level the match at 14-14.
It looked like that was how it was going to stay until the break, but in first half injury-time Rotherham added a third try through lively scrum-half Mulchrone after a good run by Michael Doneghan. Law again converted.
In the last two games Albion seem to have taken the stance that if they are going to lose then they are going to lose playing adventurous rugby.
They did that in the second half, constantly trying to run from their own 22 and attempting quick offloads.
But they were given a major helping hand in pulling level in the 45th minute. Rotherham centre Pale Nonu made a terrible, telegraphed pass in his own half and Albion full-back McAtee simply picked it off to run in unopposed close to the posts for Roberts to convert.
It was a poor try for Rotherham to give away and it got worse for the home side, who had lost their previous three league games, when Hocking went over for his second try – and Albion's fourth – from a line-out in the 59th minute. Roberts again converted to make it 28-21.
Like Albion, Rotherham went into Saturday's game with only five league wins to their name, but they refused to give up and in the 57th minute they got a penalty close to the line. It was a kickable position, but the Titans, as they had done quite often, opted for a scrum and from it Mulchrone simply picked up at the base and dived over the whitewash. Law converted to tie the match again.
The home side turned up the pressure after that and they nearly scored a fifth try in the 62nd minute when Sheridan burst down the wing, but, despite giving away a bit of size and weight, Albion replacement Paul Bailey did brilliantly to push him into touch two metres from the try line.
Albion then defended five minutes pressure in their 22. They held out and in the 75th minute they turned the Titans to win a scrum on their own 22, but they were penalised at it and Law took the three-point opportunity to make it 31-28.
Both teams, despite their kickers being in top form, had been turning down kicks at goal for most of the game, but suddenly three-pointers became vital.
Two minutes later Albion got a penalty after some stupidity from Latu Makaafi, Roberts put it over to tie the game for a fourth time.
A draw was looking on the cards, but in the 80th minute Jon Vickers was penalised in his own half and Law happily accepted the invitation to go for the posts and win the match for his team.