THE DEVON One season gets underway on Saturday with three Plymouth Combination sides hoping for promotion.
OPMs are looking to bounce straight back up after relegation from the Cornwall/Devon League last term, Tamar Saracens are aiming to go straight through the division having come up from Devon Two, while St Columba and Torpoint just missed out on going up last season with a third-placed finish.
OPMs are certainly not expecting an easy ride in the division, according to coach Leigh Puttock.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he said.
“Having been in Devon One before I know each team we will play against will be made up of young lads keen to progress their careers and others at the end of their careers with all the experience in the world.”
OPMs start their campaign on Saturday with a home game against local rivals St Columba and Torpoint.
“It’s nice to be at home and we’re trying to make a day of it,” said Puttock.
“We’ve got both first and the seconds at home and we’ve got a band on for the evening.”
Puttock admits starting with a derby match is quite good in a way.
He said: “It adds a bit of an edge. We just hope we can get the win.
“Having been relegated last year we did not get a lot of wins and we just need to build up again.”
OPMs lost a few players following their relegation but they have brought in a host of new players to fill gaps.
Luke Benson has returned to rugby after a 10-year break. He originally was a centre but OPMs have converted him into a hooker.
Marc Leighton and Shaughn Lewis have arrived from Plympton Victoria, while other new faces likely to feature this weekend include full-back Nathan Mahoney and former OPMs Harry Kamdampully and Andy Pace.
The Old Boys have had three good run-outs prior to Saturday’s league opener.
They pushed Cornwall/Devon side Plymouth Argaum hard before going down 28-7 and then narrowly lost 20-14 at North Tawton in the RFU Vase with a weakened team. However, they will go into this weekend’s match on the back of a win, having beaten Salcombe 37-15 last Saturday.
Having just missed out on promotion last season, Saints have had to rebuild over the summer.
The south east Cornwall club have lost captain Aiden Nethercot, lock Rob Pickup and Ed Goodman to higher league clubs, while Pat Goodman has gone travelling.
However, the club have talented youngsters coming through and some new players ready to fill the gaps.
Saints will hand debuts to Royal Navy forward George Trevor-Harris and fly-half Jon Ackland, while hooker Neal Walters and centres Phil Jackson and Craig Walters have returned to the club after spells away. They will be without Ben Green, Lee White and Nathan Lacey, who are all injured.
Prop Sam Winfield has been named Saints’ new captain for the 2015/16 season.
Meanwhile, Tamar Saracens are hoping to follow in Plymouth Argaum’s footsteps and secure back-to-back promotions.
“I expect to get promotion,” said coach Stuart Busfield. “That’s the message we are using.
“You hear teams saying they are aiming for the top four or five, but if you are in a league you are in it to win it.
“However, Devon One this year is going to be as tough as it has been for a long while. I don’t think it has been this strong for years, but we’ve got the players and structures to hopefully overcome that.
“I would expect there to be at least two Plymouth Combination teams in the promotion race, as well as North Tawton. But anyone from four or five teams could get promoted.
“Historically, Devon One is a hard league to get out of.”
Sarries start their season away at North Tawton, who they beat in the RFU Vase last Saturday. Tamar Saracens also overcame fellow Devon One side South Molton in the opening round of the Vase.
“We’ve had a couple of good cup wins, but they weren’t really a reflection of our performances, as we can play better,” said Busfield, who believes his club might have the best backs in the league.
“North Tawton had a couple of experienced heads missing last week, so we will be expecting a different challenge away in the league this week.”