Plymouth Albion head coach Kieran Hallett said defence was the key to the crucial 16-9 victory over Ampthill and District in National One at Brickfields yesterday.
The damp and windy conditions meant the game was never going to be a classic between second-place Ampthill, who included former Exeter Chiefs scrum-half Kevin Barrett and ex-Albion back-three player James Pritchard in their starting line-up, and fourth-spot Albion.
It was a game the hosts really needed to win to maintain their hopes of winning promotion to the Championship this season, and they did so, to leapfrog Ampthill in the table, and Albion now sit in third place behind Darlington Mowden Park, who won 36-7 over Rosslyn Park, and leaders Coventry, who had a hard-fought 20-16 triumph at Old Elthamians to put them 11 points clear of Albion, who are their next opponents, at the Butts Park Arena on Saturday week.
Hallett said: “It is nice to be on the right end of a tight one for a change, because we haven’t had that over the last few weeks.
“I thought we saw two really contrasting styles. When we had the ball we put them under a lot of pressure and put a lot of pace on the game. They maybe don’t approach it the same way, but they are good at what they do, and I think we dealt with that pretty well. Our defence won us the game.
“If you take out the silly penaltiies for things like not rolling away and hands in the ruck at times when we are not really under pressure and we don’t need to give those penalties away, they didn’t really stress us that much in defence.
“We knew what they were going to come here and try and do, and physically we were good and we stopped them on the gain line and our line speed was good, but if you do that for four or five sets and then you give a penalty away, then all that good work is undone, so that is the area for us to look at, but we were good today, and I think we deserved that win, and after the last couple of weeks, we will certainly celebrate that victory hard tonight.”
There were 23 penalties in the game, with 13 against Albion and nine against Ampthill, and Hallett added: “That is a lot and they are easy ones to fix. We don’t need to go chasing the ball at the breakdown. You could maybe argue about some of them, but if the referee is giving a clear instruction, which I’m sure he was, and you are not listening, then you are going to end up on the wrong side of him.”
I thought fly-half Dan Mugford deserved special credit for his performance, with a four-from-four kicking display in difficult conditions, especially after missing a very kickable conversion to win the game at Rosslyn Park seven days before, and Hallett agreed.
“Regardless of what happened the week before, I would always back him as a goalkicker. He is very good and he was good today,” he said.
Looking at the overall picture in the league table, Hallett admitted it was a vital win to get under their belts, heading into the match at unbeaten Coventry.
“It was important, but we are not focusing too much on the league table at this point,” he said. “We are just trying to improve on the things that we don’t do so well every week, and move forward, and we are striving for that kind of perfection really. We need a week off after that game today. There will be a lot of tired bodies after that because Ampthill’s pack is probably the biggest in the league, and they kept coming and coming, and I am really pleased we didn’t fold under that.
“Hopefully it will make us battle hardened going into the Coventry game. I think it will be the biggest challenge for us this season, playing them away from home, but we will give the boys a few days off now, come back in later in the week and start the process of working towards Coventry.”