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by John Butler

COVENTRY battled mud, rain and a defiant Plymouth Albion before securing a 13th away win in this record-breaking season.

They also took away Albion’s proud fourteen-month unbeaten home record.

With Albion hosting a major fundraising event for charity, a crowd of 2,898 – by far the biggest attendance in the division so far this season – witnessed a match  where the conditions were indeed a big leveller.

Mud and rain from the outset, but the longer the match progressed, the more difficult conditions became. One could not escape the feeling though that, on a drier day, Cov’s ability to play at pace and with power would almost certainly have brought greater rewards and with it, a try bonus point denied them here.

Plymouth though deserved immense credit for the manner in which they battled with an injury-hit side to pull back from 21-7 down.

The real difference in the testing conditions was Cov’s ability to tie Albion down, the hosts almost continually having to battle from deep.

A large part of that was down to the efforts of the Coventry forwards, allied in the main to solid defence.

In the second half, the Plymouth pack was shunted around unceremoniously in the set scrums, giving Cov a really solid platform to defend in the increasingly worsening conditions.

Clearly, it was never going to be an afternoon for the faint hearted, drizzle falling at the kick-off and largely continuing on a very heavy pitch.

Plymouth scored first to the delight of their followers. After just five minutes, after winning a line-out in Coventry territory young centre Luke Flack strode through a big hole in midfield to cross for an excellent try, converted by full-back Matt Shepherd.

Down 7-0, the champions soon returned to the offensive and with pressure building, Plymouth lost their other young centre, Robbie Weeks to a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on as Cov pressed hard.

Pressure had to tell and on 13 minutes Heath Stevens crossed against one of his former clubs after the forwards had stolen line-out possession, Will Maisey converting to level matters.

After Plymouth briefly threatened with a long fly hack through, back came Cov again, notably through Max Trimble on the left, already proving a handful for the hosts despite the difficult footing.

Try number two came on 18 minutes, a catch and drive from the increasingly potent Coventry forwards allowing hooker Scott Tolmie to cross for his 15th try of the season, again converted by Maisey.

Again, Plymouth attempted to respond before a knock-on in midfield gave the advantage back to Cov, who moved to a third try on 22 minutes.

What a gem it was in the heavy mud. A brilliant move from halfway saw possession moved through several pairs of hands at pace, Tom Jubb finishing off in style, leaving Maisey with another simple conversion for 21-7.

Cov continued largely on the offensive, James Stokes only just being beaten to the touchdown chasing a Maisey diagonal punt, before Albion broke to cut the deficit.

A big clearance took play to Cov’s 22, a further penalty taking the home side to within five metres. From there, a catch and drive saw hooker Jamie Salter driven over with Shepherd converting well from wide out, leaving the hosts just seven points adrift at half-time.

The drizzle was still around Brickfields, and it was Plymouth who shocked Cov with their third try just seven minutes into the second period.

With Coventry caught napping, having been penalised close to their own line, quick as a flash Albion replacement Setareki Raumakita seized on the opportunity to cross, Shepherd, to the delight on the home following, again landing a splendid conversion to level matters at 21-all.

Briefly, but only that, Albion sensed more might follow. However, in the ever-increasing testing conditions, it soon became clear the power and experience of the Cov forwards was going to have a big say in the outcome.

Denied any further real attacking base, the hosts battled from within their own half, brave defence foiling all Cov’s attempts to seal a bonus-point try.

Key to the increasing dominance up front was the manner in which Albion’s forwards were, by now, shunted around in the set scrums.

With both sides virtually indistinguishable in the mud, it was to take a single penalty goal from the boot of Maisey to seal Cov’s win.

With all the pressure on Albion, the penalty was conceded right in front of the posts, Cov’s fly-half taking his season’s points tally to 237.

The slog continued, both sides understandably making handling mistakes with the impressive Jack Preece several times being notably involved, picked out by his red scrum cap.

Late on, Albion did briefly threaten but more excellent work in the set scrums totally denied them, Cov more than happy to boot the ball into touch, to seal what was only the second win for the club at Brickfields.

Thirty-plus very tired bodies finally left the muddy, wet wastes. For Coventry, a 25th win of the season, and a week off to recuperate before the visit of Rosslyn Park in two weeks’ time.

What a welcome will await the champions when they return to Butts Park Arena for a first time in a month!

Plymouth Albion: tries Flack (5), Salter (39), Raumakita (46); conversions Shepherd 3. Coventry: tries Stevens (13), Tolmie (17), Jubb (21); conversions Maisey 3; penalty Maisey (56).

Plymouth Albion: Shepherd; Crosscombe, Flack, Weeks, Gott (Raumaita 25); Squire, Setter; Chapman (Freestone 64), Salter (Chapman 69), Pullinger (Norton 56), Pearson, Williams, Mills, Daly (Elworthy 23), Stupple.

Coventry: Stokes (Fenner 45); Knox, Grove, Stevens, Trimble; Maisey (Pa;mer 66), White; Brown (Boulton 53), Tolmie, Boulton (Litchfield 28, Brown 64), Jubb, Oram (Narraway 47), Dacres, Preece, Daynes.

Referee: Dan Parrott.