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Tough Assignment for County in Devon


British & Irish Cup - Pool 4
Plymouth Albion 39 - Stirling County 3
Kevin Robertson reports from the Brickfields
Stirling County put up a spirited show in Devon against Plymouth Albion, but the full-time professional English Championship side proved too strong, scoring six tries at the Brickfields in this Friday evening encounter.
County travelled south minus a number of regular 1st XV players, but the British & Irish Cup match proved an ideal opportunity for the younger players to gain experience in this cross-border competition.  Prop Garry Mountford made his first appearance of the season and Angus Leishman made his 1st XV debut on the bench.  County also welcomed back Edinburgh Rugby scrum-half Sean Kennedy and Glasgow Warriors Ritchie Vernon again played in his new position of outside centre, partnered by Jack Urquhart making his first start for the senior side.  Craig Robertson started at full-back, with Brian Archibald moving to stand-off. 
On the back of the long journey to the south-west, County started well, and opened the scoring after 7 minutes with a 25-metre penalty from Archibald after Albion were penalised for not rolling away from the tackle. The home side levelled matters four minutes later with a Declan Cusack penalty after County came round on the wrong side of a maul.
On 17 minutes both sides were reduced to 14 men when opposite props Kris Burney and David Morton were sin-binned for repeated collapsing of the scrum.  Jamie Bhatti came on for County to restore the front row, with winger Graham Lindsay making way for change.
Albion took the lead on 18 minutes from Rhys Oakley who picked-up and dived over to score a try after a succession of 5-metre scrums on the County line. Cusack converted to give the home club a 10-3 advantage.  Four minutes later Albion centre Toby Howley-Berridge finished off a forwards' drive from an attacking line-out to score an unconverted try in the left-corner, increasing the home side's lead to 15 – 3.
County's Will Bordill was sin-binned on 31 minutes following a succession of repeated offences by the visitors, and Albion made full use of their numerical advantage, putting width on the ball and stretching the County defence for right winger Ben Woods to exploit a gap and score an unconverted try in the right corner after 36 minutes, taking the score to 20-3. Two minutes later Albion's Harrison Tovey ran on to an offload from Sean-Michael Stephen, and strolled through the County rearguard unopposed to score his side's fourth and bonus point try just right of the posts, converted by Cusack.
Half-time score: Plymouth Albion 27 - Stirling County 3.
County responded at the start of the second half and took the play to the home side, and we're very unlucky not to score as the visitors mounted an onslaught on the home line. County dominated the first 20 minutes of the second half, but the Bridgehaugh side couldn’t find a way over the try-line and Albion's resolute defence held out.
County used all their replacements during the second half, but couldn't prevent Albion from scoring two further tries through Woods on 63 minutes after County dropped a loose pass in their 22, and centre Pale Nonu who barged over the line from another 5-metre scrum to score the final try on 70 minutes, with Daniel Mugford converting Woods' try, to complete the scoring and a comprehensive 39-3 victory to the Devon side.
Albion's replacement hooker Thomas Cowan-Dickie was sin-binned on 60 minutes for his team's repeated infringements as County took the match to the home side, and in the last minute Robert Langley was harshly sent-off for a deemed dangerous tackle on County's Stevie Swindall.
Final score: Plymouth Albion 39 - Stirling County 3.
Scorers: Plymouth Albion - Tries: Oakley, Howley-Berridge, Woods (2), Tovey, Nonu. Convs.: Cusack (2),  Mugford. Pen.: Cusack.
Stirling County - Pen.: Archibald.
Plymouth Albion: Elder, Woods, Howley-Beveridge, Nonu, Davies, Cusack, Cushion; Harrison, Evans, Morton, Tovey, Williams, Stephen, Langley, Oakley (captain). Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Rice, Shields, Ashcroft-Leigh, Mugford, Setter, Stevens.
Stirling County: C Robertson, Lindsay, Vernon, Urquhart, Hughes, Archibald (captain), S Kennedy; Burney, R Kennedy, Mountford, Deacons, Dewar, S Robertson, Bordill, Swanson.  Replacements: Bhatti, Murray, McDonald, Watt, Russell, Swindall, Leishman.
Referee: S Gaffiken (IRFU)
Despite the score line, this was a good workout for the travelling County squad, as they prepare for the final quartet of Premiership matches starting later in January.  County Head-Coach Graeme Young will be looking for his players to take this level of commitment and intensity into their final British & Irish Cup match at home to Munster next Saturday (18th January) – with an earlier kick-off of 2pm at Bridgehaugh.  See Club website for full match preview.
Thanks to County’s main sponsor Ondeo Industrial Solutions and all others who continue to support the Club.
Rugby Round-up:
County’s 2nd XV, which included a number of first-team regulars, narrowly lost 19-22 in a friendly match, which provided a useful run-out at Bridgehaugh.
Next Saturday (18th January) County’s 2nd XV travel to Goldenacre to take on Heriot’s in the RBS National Reserve League One, while the 3rd XV host Arbroath in RBS Caledonia League Midland Division 4 – both matches kick-off at 2pm.
In the Under-18 National Youth Cup Quarter-Final, County’s U-18s (who are current holders) entertain Biggar next Saturday (18th January – kick-off 1pm); while on Sunday (19th January) County’s Under-16s are at home to Stewartry in the quarterfinals of the U-16 National Youth Cup - kick-off is 2pm at Bridgehaugh.
Also next Sunday (19th January), County’s Women’s Team play their final match in this season’s RBS Premier League, when they entertain bottom side Watsonians – kick-off at Bridgehaugh is 2pm.
Members and supporters are reminded that the next pre-match hospitality lunch will on be Saturday 18th January in the Bridgehaugh Marquee before the British & Irish Cup match between County and Munster – with 200 seats already booked for one of the highlights of the season, there are places remaining so don't miss out -  contact Alastair Cunningham or the Club Office on 01786-478866 as soon as possible to reserve your seat.
Report by Kevin Robertson

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