Plymouth Albion laying the foundations for next season...

WITH seven matches left to play, the 2017-18 National League Division One season has been a satisfactory one for Plymouth Albion who appear set for a top four finish in the third tier of English rugby.

Albion, one of the bigger clubs in the division and runners-up last season, made a great start to the current campaign and six wins from their opening seven league encounters had them sitting on top of the pile.

Among these was a 68-15 mauling of Fylde who have gone on to spend much of the season at the wrong end of the table. The run came to an end with a narrow 33-31 reverse up in Count Durham at Darlington Mowden Park in late October.

From here head coach Kieran Hallett’s side have found their level among the clubs hanging in the slipstream of runaway leaders Coventry, who defeated Albion 29-17 in mid-November.

The backbone of the team’s fine form has been some great displays at their Brickfields Ground stronghold that have yielded nine wins and a hard fought 17-17 draw with the London-based Old Elthamians.

A series of injuries have given Hallett – who was appointed back following Dan Parkes’ resignation in December 2016 after having played at number 10 for the Cornish Pirates, Nottingham and Albion – some headaches with Herbie Stupple, Eoghan Grace and Dan Mugford all having been sidelined recently. Ironically, fly-half Mugford was taking part in some rehab exercises for a finger injury when he suffered a broken arm in a freak accident in the gym earlier this month.

However, there was some good news for the ‘Albi’ faithful with the return of second row Dan Collier who has recovered from a hand injury to take his place in the squad.

The reduced numbers, along with Anglo Welsh call-ups, have led to Hallett calling up Lewis Pearson and Luke Flack from the Exeter Academy, with Pearson set to be with Albion next season.

Prop Dan Pullinger (23), a former England under-16 international, whose contract is set to keep him at Albion until at least 2020, thinks the future is exciting at the Devon club.

He said: “I wouldn’t have signed if the club wasn’t going somewhere. I want to be part of a team that succeeds. We’ve missed out on promotion this year but will build again for next year.”

Youngsters Pearson and Flack both played their part to the full as Albion turned a 10-7 half-time deficit into a 17-10 win over new boys Bishop’s Stortford last week to move back up to third spot in the table.

The one promotion slot to the Greene King IPA Championship has already been sewn up by champions Coventry who sit an imposing 31 points clear in top spot.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.