Ugly scenes at Brickfields as Plymouth Albion crash to Bristol
THE ugliest scenes ever witnessed at Brickfields took place on Saturday during Albion's Championship defeat by Bristol.
With Albion deservedly trailing 14-3 to the former Premiership side, a mass brawl broke out in the 55th minute.
Every player on the field appeared to be involved with punches flying left, right and centre for a good couple of minutes.
The match officials could do nothing to stop the fighting as both teams just lost total control.
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Referee Ian Tempest tried blowing his whistle about 12 times but it did no good.
In the professional era, with harsh punishments and video technology, incidents like this are rare.
Albion's old ground at Beacon Park might have seen a lot of big fights during its many years and there were certainly a few at Exeter's County Ground, but there has not been an incident like Saturday's at Brickfields before.
There has been a few 'handbag' fights and a few punches thrown since Albion moved there in 2003, but nothing on the scale of what took place at the weekend during the Championship fixture that was played in appalling conditions.
After the match there were claims of provocation and unsavoury acts going on in the lead up to the brawl, but there was no excuse for the level of violence both teams showed during that second half incident.
How referee Tempest only ended up sending off one player – Albion's Jack Andrew – and sin-binning two more – Plymouth captain Sean-Michael Stephen and Bristol's Mitch Eadie – is a mystery?
There were some very lucky players to be still on the field when the official finally was able to restart the match after a 10 minute delay.
Whether the clubs will be so lucky once the RFU review the incident remains to be seen.
Andrew will have to attend an RFU disciplinary hearing after picking up a red card, but it would not be a surprise if both clubs were hauled in front of the sport's governing body.
The brawl totally overshadowed the game itself.
Although from an Albion point of view there was not much to overshadow.
Plymouth were really poor in terrible conditions. They never got to grips with how to play on a waterlogged pitch and in heavy rain and to add to their woes they lost nearly all their line-outs.
Bristol, who started the day in eighth place with only one away win to their name, got their game-plan spot on and they were just too street-wise for Albion.
With the elements in their favour first half they kicked high and deep and chased aggressively. With Albion unable to win any line-out ball, the home side spent 95 per cent of the first half camped in their half.
It was just total one-way traffic in the first 40 minutes.
Bristol, who have not lost to Albion since 2005, took the lead in the eighth minute when winger George Watkins went over in the right corner after the visitors went wide from a five-metre scrum.
Albion did hit back with a Paul Roberts penalty straight from the restart to make it 5-3 but that was all Nat Saumi's side had to show for a first 40 minutes where they only crossed the halfway line on a couple of occasions.
Bristol had further chances to score before Adrian Jarvis kicked a penalty on 18 minutes.
The visitors could not add another try but fly-half Jarvis kicked two more penalties to make it 14-3.
The final one came after Albion had Jon Vickers sin-binned for pulling down a maul close to the try line.
Considering Bristol's domination of the first half, Albion were lucky to only be 11 points down at the break.
That gave them a chance (probably best not to write fighting chance considering what happened) going into the second 40 minutes with them having the elements in their favour and having the luxury of being able to change their shirts.
But Bristol defended well at the start of the second half when Albion finally tried the kick-it-high-and-chase tactics that had worked so well for their opponents before the break.
Then the visitors got what they wanted with Albion losing their discipline.
There was a time when Albion used to have a seasoned pack with a few experienced individuals who could get under the skin of younger opponents.
And that's what Bristol had on Saturday, with chief stirrer being former Exeter and England prop Jason Hobson.
But the Plymouth players needed to keep their cool and discipline, yet they didn't.
It resulted in them ending up a man down and giving away penalties.
The fight, though, still appeared to come out of nothing and both teams were equally guilty.
Following a scrum, Stephen and Eadie found themselves having a set-to on the sideline in front of the main grandstand and suddenly it spread.
The officials did not have a clue what to do. After the fighting eventually stopped, the referee sent each team to one half of the pitch while he talked to his two touch-judges.
Everyone inside Brickfields – and there were not many with only 1,358 braving the conditions – were surprised to only see one red card brandished by Tempest, who had also officiated Albion's matches against Moseley and Jersey.
Albion certainly felt hard done by and gave away two penalties almost immediately.
Bristol took advantage to score a second try through Redford Pennycook from a catch-and-drive move.
Jarvis converted to make it 21-3.
At the point the visitors sensibly took off Hobson, who gave a wave and a smile to the crowd, which did not go down well with the Albion faithful.
Eventually Albion did get themselves together and scored a consolation try through replacement Rhodri McAtee in the dying minutes.
But overall it was a totally miserable afternoon for Albion, who must have surely wished they had moved the game to the Friday evening.
Normally Albion attract their biggest gate for the visit of Bristol.
Just two years ago more than 5,000 turned out to see the fixture, but Saturday was Albion's lowest gate of the season.
The shocking weather would have certainly put a lot of people off, but also clashing with a televised England game and with an Argyle home match also will have affected the attendance.
Bristol's win saw them leapfrog above Albion, who next face the tough test of a trip to Newcastle.