by John Butler
FIRST plays third as the action resumes in National League One’s game of the week when Plymouth Albion come to Butts Park Arena on Saturday for an eagerly-awaited clash.
The Plymouth club was formed just two years after Coventry in 1876, by a group of apprentices from the Royal Naval Dockyard at Devonport, to the south of the city.
They had a number of venues for home games before Beacon Park was purchased and became Albion’s base until they moved to Brickfields, in Devonport, in 2003 – rather like ourselves, completing something of a full circle.
Prior to the introduction of league rugby there were few meetings between ourselves and Albion, and with records destroyed in the hostilities, one can only surmise about any games before the Second World War.
What we can be certain about is that there were two meetings in the 1950/51 season, Cov winning 23–5 in September at Coundon Road and also winning an Easter fixture 5-3 at Beacon Park on the holiday Tuesday having drawn at Exeter on the Monday.
Moving forward into the 80s, there were two John Player Cup clashes between us, Cov winning 42-6 at Beacon Park in 1984/85 when winger Stuart Hall, known to many as Louie, scored a try on his debut that day. Plymouth were to gain revenge, winning 12-7 in the same competition four seasons later in Coventry. There was then one club match arranged in season 1992/93, Plymouth winning 13–8 at home.
The first league meeting between our two clubs came in season 1989/90 in what was then the old style Division Two. The 1990s saw three meetings, there then being a ten-year gap before rivalry commenced again in 2002/03. After our relegation from the Championship, there was then another six-year gap until Albion’s relegation at the end of the 2014/15 season saw them join us in National League One.
Today is the 24th league meeting, and it could not be closer – each club has won 11 times, with one match drawn. The last wo seasons has seen the home side win on each occasion.
Last season Albion finished second in National League One, leading the chasing pack behind champions Hartpury. Currently, Albion lie third with seven wins from their 11 games. The wins have come at home against Esher, Fylde, Cambridge and Ampthill and away at Bishop’s Stortford, Loughborough Students and, most recently, Caldy.
Head coach is Kieran Hallett, who has opposed us as a player several times.
Back in Albion’s ranks this season is back row forward Eoghan Grace, one of our joint captains last season before a damaged shoulder finished his camoaign early. One of Plymouth’s summer recruits, fly-half Dan Mugford – recruited from Sale Sharks – is second behind Will Maisey in the division’s top points scorers. Yes, second, as certainly one statistical website has it listed wrongly, even though we have told them about the error! Hooker Rupert Freestone has seven tries to his name, while winger Matthew Crosscombe and Mugford each have five.
Whilst Grace made the move back down to the south west, Nile Dacres – named Plymouth’s man-of-the-match against us last March – moved in the opposite direction during the summer, back to his native Midlands to join Cov.