IT was first against third when Plymouth Albion came to Butts Park Arena in November, and the table positions of the two teams are exactly the same going into Saturday’s return at Brickfields – the big difference being that Coventry Rugby travel as confirmed National League One champions.
Coventry came out on top, 29-14, in the first meeting, but they can expect a tough time this weekend at a ground where they have been beaten on both visits since Albion were relegated from the Championship at the end of the 2014-15 campaign, losing 33-24 last season and, before that, 29-18.
As well as the kudos of toppling the champions, Albion have the incentive of defending an unbeaten home record with nine wins and a draw – against Old Elthamians, in October – from ten games while pushing hard for a second-place finish. They currently lie third, five points behind Darlington Mowden Park with a game in hand.
The Plymouth club was formed 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 homes before Beacon Park was purchased and became Albion’s permanent 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 Cov and Albion, and with records destroyed, there are no surviving details about any games played before World War Two.
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 1980s, there were two John Player Cup clashes between us, Cov winning 42-6 at Beacon Park in 1984-85 with Plymouth gaining revenge, 12-7, four seasons later in Coventry. There was then one club match in 1992/93, Plymouth winning 13–8 at home.
The first league meeting between the two clubs came in season 1989-90 in the old-style Division Two. The 1990s saw three meetings, there then being a ten-year gap before rivalry recommenced in 2002-03. After our relegation from the Championship, there was then another six-year gap until Albion’s relegation.
Saturday is the 25th league meeting, and it could hardly be closer – Cov have won 12 times and Albion 11, with one match drawn.
Albion’s head coach is Kieran Hallett, who has opposed Cov as a player several times. Back in Albion’s ranks this season is back row forward Eoghan Grace, one of Cov’s joint captains last term.
Fly-half Dan Mugford is Albion’s leading points scorer for the season on 170, although not figuring recently. Four players are on eight tries – Mugford, Matt Shepherd, Rupert Freestone and Matthew Crosscombe.
Kick-off is 3pm, and Coventry Rugby Supporters’ Club are running at coach to the game – details on their website, https://crsc1874.com/next-away-game/