Pirates in the form to extend run
IN the first Greene King Championship cross-Tamar derby of the season Plymouth Albion travel to the Mennaye Field on Boxing Day to take on the Cornish Pirates (3pm).
The Pirates are on a six game unbeaten run at the Mennaye since losing to Leeds in September and will be looking to extend a winning run against Albion on Cornish soil which stretches back seven years.
On December 23 2006 Plymouth won 26-13 at Camborne but it wasn't until 2009 when the fixture became a regular Christmas affair.
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The Pirates have won all four of these since then including a narrow 9-5 success at Brickfields a year ago.
After a bright start to their league season Albion have lost some momentum in recent weeks and although they lie just one league place below the Pirates in seventh, the gap is ten points.
Of their three Championship wins to date none have come at Brickfields. They beat Jersey at Sandy Park in the double-header opening day fixtures and repeated the dose against the same opposition at St Peter. Ealing were beaten at Vallis Way last month.
Albion, coached by former Pirates fly-half James Shanahan, have recently recruited lock Romana Graham on a short-term loan deal from Exeter Chiefs but a similar signing of Fijian international centre Sireli Naqelevuki fell through due to visa issues.
Meanwhile in the Pirates camp head coach Ian Davies is looking to build on last weekend's "complete performance" in beating Jersey away in the British & Irish Cup.
The Pirates are unbeaten in their last four outings and as we reach the halfway mark in the regular season fixtures, they could move into a play-off spot if results go their way.
Davies said: "The test for us now is to maintain our momentum. We are on a decent run of form and to have a big game at home like this to end the year is special.
"If we beat Plymouth we end the year on a high and could make it into the top four which is a real incentive."
He added: "We have got a few days off before the game which will probably be a good thing. A lot of the boys have played a lot of rugby and are creaking a bit.
"There's also a bit of a flu bug going around the camp too. But none of our long term injury victims will be back in time for this one."
The Pirates boss expects another full-blooded derby, however, and knows that his team will need to be at their best to keep their winning run going.
He said: "Under James Shanahan Plymouth are always going to play with a bit of flair.
"His style is to be attack minded and we can expect Albion to attack us from anywhere."
The form book and table point heavily to a home win, but Albion only lost 19-17 in West Cornwall last season, and Shanahan believes they could sneak the spoils this time.
The former Pirates fly-half said: "It is a local derby and in those games anything can happen.
"After our British and Irish Cup game against Munster last weekend, all of our focus has been on our visit to the Pirates, and if we can put in a good performance, I know we can shock a few people.
Albion are set to give a league debut to on-loan 6ft 7in Kiwi lock Romana Graham, who joined Exeter Chiefs from the New Zealand-based Super-15 Chiefs during the summer.
They are also hoping that another of their players from Sandy Park, dual-registered England Under-20 hooker and former Pirates minis player Luke Cowan-Dickie, will have recovered in time from a knee injury.
However, his international team-mate and fellow hooker, Max Crumpton, who was on-loan from Premiership side Saracens, has left Albion to join Harlequins for the rest of the season.
Cornish Pirates v Plymouth Albion match report will appear on our website on Boxing Day: www.cornishman.co.uk