An off-colour Hartpury slipped to their first home defeat of the season as they failed to recreate the form shown at Richmond the previous week.
In a display lacking energy and direction, a succession of errors, both technical and tactical, ensured that they were never in position to impose themselves against an Albion team that has improved in recent weeks after an inconsistent start to the season.
Plymouth were good value for the win. Their display was full of grit and determination and they were smart enough to take the scoring chances that came their way.
Conditions were tricky for both sides. The pitch had stood up reasonably well to the recent rain but greasy on top. More problematical was the strong wind, blowing across the pitch and making both kicking and handling difficult.
Both teams came into the game with changes. For Hartpury, full-back Adam Hastings and outside half Lloyd Evans were both required elsewhere and industrious loose forward Will Safe had picked up a knock while on duty with the England Under-20 squad.
Plymouth were without forwards Penman, Dawe and Collier leaving them a little threadbare and, unusually, chose to play the entire 80 minutes without making a single change.
A decent crowd had decided to avoid the Christmas shopping, their numbers boosted by a good contingent that had made their way up the M5. And was the Devonians who left the happier after an ultimately tight encounter, a late Hartpury revival threatening to pull the plug on the Plymouth celebrations.
However, anything other than an away win would have been an injustice for Graham Dawe’s men who started the game brighter and had opened up a 12-point lead as the game went into the final quarter.
Hartpury started the game knowing that victory could see them top for Christmas, but it was Albion who began the game like a team in the promotion hunt.
Early pressure tested the Hartpury defence and, with eight minutes gone, Albion’s Billy Searle had a shot at goal taken away by the breeze.
Somewhat against the run of play, it was Hartpury who went ahead, at the end of the first quarter. The usually dependable line-out functioned well again and, off first phase, they defied the elements to attack wide. Crisp handling saw the ball moved to full-back Gareth Thompson (pictured) and he cleverly used the wet surface to slide across in the corner.
Albion were not behind for long. Hartpury were architects of their own downfall as a line-out throw deep in their 22 was knocked forward on the Plymouth side. The visitors used the ball well to give winger Harrison Cully a straightforward finish. Billy Searle then showed his quality with the boot by landing a difficult conversion from wide on the left.
Hartpury were stung into action and were next to score after a period of pressure in which they won penalties and built field position. The line-out was again the source and the drive was good, all-action flanker Jake Polledri getting credited with the final touch.
But Plymouth were still playing the better rugby, with Billy Searle pulling the strings behind a pack that, despite the changes, were more than competitive.
They got their reward four minutes before the break. Hartpury kicked away possession in midfield and Albion were quick to pin them back in their own 22. They hammered at the line through numerous phases before skipper Michael Stupple was on hand to dive over from close range and another good Searle conversion made it 10-14 at half-time.
Plymouth continued to have the edge after the interval and extended the lead with another well-struck penalty after the Hartpury scrum was penalised.
It got even better for the visitors with twelve minutes to play. Hartpury, searching desperately for a route back into the game, were over-elaborate in the centres and lost possession. Albion, through full-back Ethan Ford, needed no second invitation and when he was stopped short of the line the ball was quickly recycled for Lock Sam Holmes to scramble over.
It was not until the closing ten minutes that Hartpury were able to bring the Plymouth rear-guard under any sustained pressure. Replacements George Evans and Mike Flook both made strong carries as Hartpury finally got their pack moving forward with some purpose.
Hartpury did manage to salvage a bonus point when former Plymouth man Rhys Oakley finally drove over, but it was too little, too late on a day that belonged to the visitors.
Hartpury now have a break over Christmas before they make the journey north to Fylde for their first game of 2016.
The defeat sees Hartpury slip to third in the table behind Richmond, who had a good away win at Rosslyn Park, and Blackheath, who won another derby match against Esher.
At the bottom, Cinderford handed Henley Hawks their first win in nine matches while Wharfedale were unable to back up last week’s win, losing at home to Fylde. Blaydon slipped back into trouble after getting thumped at DMP, the Teessiders gaining their sixth win on the trot.
Ampthill edged Coventry in a high scoring encounter while Loughborough had just enough to see off Ionians.
We congratulate Albion on their performance and look forward to visiting Devon in April.
Hartpury: G Thompson (Try 19, Con 74), Neal, Leonard, Boulton, Mikalcius, Perry, Vellacott; Merrey, Tanner, Brockett, Pape, Dancer, MacDonald, Polledri (Try 26), Rhys Oakley (Try 74)
Replacements: Taylor, W Thompson, Flook, Evans, Shaw
Plymouth Albion: Ford, Raumakita, Bedford, Koteczky, Cully (Try 22), Billy Searle (Pen, 49; Cons 23, 34), Shepherd, Pullinger, Freestone, Judge, Holmes (Try 68), Dacre, Hayler, Matavesi, Stupple (Try 34).
Replacements: Brooker, Massey, Sebastien, Setter, Bale
Referee: Mr Shane Lewis