MATCH REPORT – SATURDAY 27th OCTOBER 2018
PLYMSTOCK ALBION OAKS 27 v TORQUAY ATHLETIC 15
A disappointing outcome to Torquay Athletic's first visit in League rugby to the wide open spaces of Horsham Fields, where the host Club has undertaken a series of major improvements in recent times.
Tics' had travelled with realistic hopes of denting Oaks 100% winning start to the season. However, the gods were not disposed to shine on the visitors and a raft of injuries to important players in key positions – all in the first half – burst that balloon of hope as the inevitable disruption on game plans took a hold.
The players offered plenty of effort throughout, notably the forward pack, who were already short of five players with long term injuries – one being recent high performer Ryan Dunn, who requires surgery involving an estimated absence of six weeks.
Jonny Brown was brought into action at No. 9 following the midweek decision by Alex Jeffery to leave the Recreation Ground and the unavailability of Josh Hunt.. Jon Woodhead was asked to fill the tight head prop vacancy, with Liam Murray victim of an eye injury the previous week. Bertie Turner returned at hooker, with young George Helmore reverting to the bench. All three of those starting players were to depart before half time, with only Brown returning at full back later on in the second period as a result of an injury to Tom Drake.
On a cool, dry day with sunny periods Tics' kicked off, playing up a slope and against a strong wind, which occasionally gusted.
When Oaks retrieved and worked their way upfield they were awarded a penalty for a high tackle and fly half Al Murray stepped up to opening the scoring at 3 – 0 .
Torquay responded well in the sixth minute with a strong carry up the middle and into the 22' by Woodhead. The Referee then called play back for an offside penalty against Oaks, which Mawgan Penrice sent between the sticks for 3 – 3.
However in his drive upfield Woodhead had injured an ankle and he immediately made way; not to return. His replacement, Nick Wright, has returned to rugby only recently, but this was his first appearance of the season in the First Team squad, as he had been working his way back to some kind of match fitness.
A minute later a deemed deliberate knock on by right wing Ryan Hanauer gave Murray a second penalty kick chance, but it failed.
Oaks then stayed in the Torquay half. The Referee was strong against both sides all afternoon in patrolling the offside line and when Tics' erred the home side planted the ball into touch on the right flank for an attacking lineout. They mauled, but Torquay managed to hold up the ball carrier over the try line.
Two attacking scrums later Oaks found their way to score by moving the ball infield to the left for powerfully built inside centre Tom Booth to run in under the posts. Murray's conversion made it 10 – 3 after 15 minutes.
For a good showing of following Tics' supporters the situation then got worse as Oaks managed a successful catch and drive from another attacking lineout, so it was 15 – 3 at the end of the first quarter, as the home forwards visibly grew in confidence.
It then took only another four minutes before Oaks moved further ahead. Tics' backs had an opportunity to take charge of a high clearing kick by Oaks, but the home left wing had other ideas and jumped strongly to secure the ball, feeding inside to hooker and forwards Coach Aiden Taylor, who had an easy passage to the try line with Murray converting for 22 – 3.
Straight after this Turner was carried off the field after a two way tackle on an Oaks ball carrier left him prone in the middle of the field. Helmore deputised and then Hanauer was spared a yellow card for a second knock on when attempting an interception; with the Referee perhaps less than impressed with being told by Oaks players what action he should take.
Then a period of relative stability for the visitors; who, whilst not able to seriously threaten the home try line competed strongly to prevent another Oaks score. However they had to do so without Brown, who retired in the 25th minute, with James Wood having to settle into the scrum half position for the remainder of the game. At half time it remained 22 – 3.
During the break prop Josh Castleton received a heavy strapping to his knee. He gamely lasted the second half, but was limping badly throughout. As such and due to his lack of mobility he took over lineout throwing duties, as he is often asked to do when neither Turner nor Ryan Dunn are on the field. With the slope and wind now in the favour Torquay would not have wanted to revert to uncontested scrums, which his retirement would have necessitated.
Ten minutes in and right wing Tony McCarthy nearly broke clear inside his own half on an interception, but a desperate tap tackle put him to ground on half way. Nevertheless Tics' were now testing the home side, using the favourable elements. A well weighted Wood grubber kick down the right touchline bobbled up and two chasing Torquay players outnumbered the home full back and although some distance away the Referee decided that the restored Jonny Brown had done enough to get a valid touch down, so it was 22 – 8 after 55 minutes.
Torquay returned to the attack and applied intense pressure through a lineout catch and drive and three successive five metre scrums down the left, as Oaks started to leak successive penalties.
Wood picked up at the base at the third of such scrums and went down the narrow side, using a low centre of gravity of attack and power to blast through two defenders to get the touch down. Penrice converted from wide out, despite the vagaries of the wind to bring Tics' a potential losing bonus point at 22 – 15; but more importantly a sniff at snatching something more significant, now that Oaks knew they were in a game.
Unfortunately for Torquay Oaks responded with the next try. One of their players proved hungrier to secure a loose ball on the ground. A penalty was then conceded at the same breakdown, which Oaks kicked to five metres out on the right. Two close in home lineouts were followed by catch and drives. Although Torquay managed to resist both, home no. 8 Tim Coats broke off infield towards the posts and when he was stopped quick re-cycling further left saw Booth get over wide out for a 27 – 15 lead.
Tics duly got back into the opposition 22' by dint of a penalty kicked to touch. However partly due to rugged Oaks efforts at defending the lineout Tics' could not secure clean ball, although Helmore causedalarm for the home side by maintaining the pressure with a 20 metre burst down the middle. However he was then held up and could not get to ground in the resulting maul. This pressure showed as Oaks penalty count against rose to thirteen.
However the attacking lineout was turning out to be Torquay's Achilles heel as they were unable to take advantage of three more such set pieces from five metres out on the left, before the final whistle sounded.
Disappointing as this result was, with Torquay moving one place down the League Table to sixth the Playing side have to believe that a challenge can still be mounted to those at the top. On this day had four disruptive injuries not occurred (three in the first half) they had the capacity to overcome the unbeaten League leaders on their own patch. Also, on another day Tics' might have been better placed to take fuller advantage of the opportunities on offer to close the points gap in the second half.
Next up are South Molton at home on 3rd November, who overtook Tics' in the Table after a 32 – 24 home win v Topsham. Kick off time now reverts to 2.30 pm.
If Tics' can regroup and win that vital game it might set a platform, especially as four out of the next six matches are at the Rec. and four out of those six games are against opposition in the bottom half of the League.
Neither the Extras, nor the Colts had a game, as in both cases their intended opposition in friendlies were not able to raise a Team.
15 Tom Drake, 14 – Ryan Hanauer, 13 – James Wood, 12 – Jon Berry, 11 – Tony McCarthy, 10 – Mawgan Penrice, 9 – Jonny Brown,
1 – Jon Woodhead, 2 – Bertie Turner, 3 – Josh Castleton, 4 – Tom Whitford, 5 – Joel Hempton, 6 – Shane Wakeham, 7 – Jake Bury, 8 – Josh Mackin.
Replacements: Alex Brown, George Helmore and Nick Wright (all played).