CAPTAIN Rhys Oakley re-affirmed Plymouth Albion’s determination to reach the knock-out stages of the British and Irish Cup.
Oakley admitted his players had been down following their first defeat in competition away to Munster A on Friday.
Albion went down 23-9 to the Irish side at Waterford, but remain top of Pool 4 because of a superior scoring difference.
Oakley believes had Lloyd Fairbrother not been sin-binned in the latter stages of Friday night’s tie, then Albion probably would not have conceded a late try at the Regional Sports Centre.
Number eight Oakley said before Munster’s CJ Stander crashed over the line to score his side’s crucial second try and send them into a 23-9 lead, Albion’s players had ‘very much fancied their chances’ of overhauling Munster and winning the match themselves.
Munster had been leading by 10 points before tight-head prop Fairbrother’s dismissal with Oakley claiming ‘at that stage, the game was there for the taking’.
But Oakley, whose team included new loan signing from Exeter Chiefs, lock Romana Graham, in the thick of the action, said the defeat had made Albion ‘even more determined’ to win their remaining fixtures in the cup competition in the new year.
Plymouth are scheduled to entertain Stirling in Pool 4 at Brickfields on January 10, 2014 and then travel to Nottingham for their final group game on January 19.
Oakley said: “The lads were desperately down at the final whistle, as we really fancied our chances of winning.
“You could sense they (Waterford) were starting to flag and 10 points is nothing when you’ve a full team and feel confident. But when Lloyd was sent off, erroneously in our opinion and which rankles with him and the players, we lost the momentum we were starting to build.
“The sin-binning gave them a lift and led to their last try, which nailed it for them.
“That score gave us a mountain to climb and nowhere near enough time to do it.”
One week earlier at Brickfields, Albion had defeated Munster A 17-7 to keep their unbeaten sequence in the British & Irish Cup intact.
Now, Plymouth mustn’t lose to either Stirling or Nottingham if they wish to keep the fate in the competition in their own hands.
Albion presently top Pool 4 with a five point better scoring difference.
Although Albion could still go through to the quarter-finals without winning twice, depending on other results, Oakley insisted the players wanted to remove all doubt by winning the remaining two pool matches in the new year.
He said: “We want to win the group and qualify under our own steam.
“We’re confident of beating Stirling and also Nottingham and that way we won’t need help from any other team.
“We’re enjoying the competition very much and playing different teams like Munster and Stirling.
“We won’t be making it easy for our rivals to displace us, that’s for certain.”
Munster A coach Peter Malone has exactly the same ambitions for his south-east of Ireland club.
He said: “We both play Nottingham and Stirling County, so it all depends on how each of us gets on in those games. It’s all to play for.”
Malone, while conceding Friday’s return encounter had been ‘tough’ and the outcome far from convincing, paid tribute to players on both sides.
“It was a tough game, give respect to Plymouth. They’re a good team and we found that out last week (at Brickfields), said Malone.
“They came here fired up. The goal was to win and not to give them a losing bonus point. Over the two games it has ended up a draw. We’ve both got four points and we would have taken that at the start.”
Albion were under the cosh from the start on Friday, with Munster storming the visitors’ line eager to make up for the previous week’s defeat.
A superb run by Alex Wootton and another strong break from Stander just came up short before Albion conceded a penalty to the unerring Johnny Holland.
However, Munster’s lead lasted all of a minute when outside-half Dan Mugford potted a penalty for Plymouth.
Munster had all the play and were dominant territorially, but sloppy handling by the hosts marred their advantage.
Albion took the lead through another Mugford penalty for
6-3 on 13 minutes following good work by Ruairi Cushion.
Holland added a second penalty for Munster after 16 minutes to level the scores and the hosts were back in the race.
Ten minutes later Munster regained the lead courtesy of a brilliant try from their full-back Ronan O’Mahony, who had been sent clear by a long pass from centre Niall Kenneally. Holland converted from the touchline to make it 13-6 to Munster.
Albion then fell 10 points behind two minutes after the turnaround following Holland’s fourth successful kick at goal.
Substitute Declan Cusack cut Munster’s advantage with a successful penalty, before Munster turned up the gas on the gutsy visitors.
Munster might have scored a second try on the hour mark but wing Darren Sweetnam lost possession of the ball with the line within touching distance.
Albion sensed the hosts’ frustration and with the supporters growing restless, they fancied themselves in with a shout of drawing level before Fairbrother’s sin-binning.
That allowed Munster to tighten their grip on the game, finishing with a late try and a conversion.