THERE’S not going to be a shortage of derby matches in the Cornwall/Devon League this season.
Five Plymouth Combination teams – Saltash, Plymstock Albion Oaks, Plymouth Argaum, Tavistock and Tamar Saracens – will be plying their trade in the 14-strong division.
Saltash have come down from Western Counties West, while Tamar Saracens have come up from Devon One to join Oaks, Argaum and Tavistock.
Oaks finished an impressive fourth in their debut season in the league last term, fellow newcomers Argaum were seventh, while Tavistock managed the great escape and stayed up on the final day of the campaign.
Oaks coach Tim Mathias said his team exceeded expectations last year and is not setting any targets for the 2016/17 campaign, which he is expecting to be tough.
“We over-achieved last year,” admitted Mathias. “I think we all know that. The lads were all fantastic.
“It is tough to set targets in this league because you just don’t know what is going to happen.
“Saltash and Penryn have come down and are going to be strong, Withycombe, Pirates and Falmouth are going to be good.
“If we can just keep our away form as good as our home form then we could be there or there abouts.
“I think if we can get anywhere in the top six then I would be happy.”
Oaks, like last season, have been handed a tough start. They welcome Penryn, who have been receiving regular coaching from former Plymouth Albion boss Graham Dawe this summer, to Horsham Fields in their opening match on Saturday, before travelling to Pirates Amateurs the following week.
To make it even tougher for Oaks they will be without 10 players for those two games.
“Unfortunately, Kirk (Tunnicliffe) our number seven from last year is getting married in Cyprus on Saturday so 10 of our first team players are away for the first two games of the season, but that’s rugby,” said Mathias.
“Penryn are a relegated side so will be strong and then we go to Penzance the week after. It was tough down there at the Mennaye last year. They (the Pirates) will be strong again this year.
“Last year we had St Ives and Withcombe in the opening two games but I think that helped us more than anything in the end because we then knew what to expect.
“I think everyone is keen and looking forward to playing this season. They just want to get cracking and get on.
“I can’t fault them all. They are all really committed and if they give half of what they give at training on the pitch then I think we will do all right most Saturdays.”
Oaks, though, are not the only side to have a few problems at the start of the season.
Tamar Saracens are unable to use their Parkway ground this weekend to welcome fellow league newcomers Lanner as it is not playable yet after some work on it.
It means they will entertain their Cornish opponents at Brickfields, on Plymouth Albion’s top pitch (3pm).
“We have to say a massive thank you to Plymouth Albion,” said coach Stuart Busfield.
“Our pitch had some work done on it to help the drainage and it’s not ready.”
Busfield and fellow coach Tim Rogers are excited about the prospect of playing in the Cornwall/Devon League.
“I’m champing at the bit and I know the boys are as well,” said Busfield.
Rogers added: “I’m really looking forward to where we are going and seeing what we can do. I think we can make an impression.
“I think mid-table would be a great target. I would love to go higher but we have to be realistic. We’ll just see how we go.
“This year we have got strength in depth and that’s nice to be able to say. I think we have got people who can do jobs when others aren’t available.”
Although Sarries have lost Ryan Dingle to Ivybridge and Arran Webb to Devonport Services, they have boosted their squad with the arrival of Courtney Richards from league rivals Argaum and Frazer Tatchell and Liam Minter from DHSOB. They could also have some more new faces in the near future.
Busfield, though, certainly believes back-row forward Richards can make a real impact.
“I’m over the moon to have Courtney Richards,” said Busfield. “He’s one hell of a player and has really boosted our team. He’s got power and speed and could make a real difference alongside Jason Stead in the back-row.”
Saracens have also switched Chad Smith from the backs to the second-row.
“I believe he’s found his best position now,” said Busfield. “He’s got the size but all the skills of a back. We’ve just been working on the off-season on his set piece game.”
Smith’s brother, Blake, has also been impressing in pre-season.
Although they do not know too much about fellow promoted side Lanner, Sarries are hoping they can start with a win.
“We have got four guys away this weekend, but I’m fairly confident,” said Busfield. “However, it would have been good to have everyone available and really try and send a message out.”
Busfield is having to plan without Joe Wyatt and Joey Pook. The club were saying their goodbyes to them for a while on Thursday evening.
“They are going to travel the world,” said Busfield. “I wish them well but, hopefully, they will run out of money soon so they come back!”
Argaum certainly made an impression last season in the Cornwall/Devon League having done like Tamar Saracens and earned two successive promotions.
But there have been changes at Bickleigh Down this summer with coach Dave Sansom, who had guided the club from the bottom of Devon Two to a top half finish in the Cornwall/Devon League, stepping down from time-consuming first team commitments to look after the club’s promising colts.
Sansom has been replaced as Argaum’s first team coach by Welshman Gordon ‘Taff’ Howells.
Like most clubs, Argaum’s pre-season preparations have been hit by unavailabilities.
“It has been hard, just because of people being away,” said Howells (pictured).
The former Taunton, Barnstaple and Devonport Services prop admitted it is also difficult taking over from someone who did the job for a number of years.
“It’s been hard as it’s a change, but I’m here to do a job because the club has asked me and, hopefully, the boys will see where we want to go. I’m having positive feedback,” he said.
“Dave did a wonderful job and I still ask him for advice.”
Howells is hoping Argaum can be consistent all the way through this season.
“We were great to be begin with last season, then tailed off due to injuries, but then towards the end of the season we finished strongly, especially putting 49 points on Honiton,” he said.
“Every game is going to be hard this year. We are going in with the mind-set that every game is a championship game.
“Hopefully, this year is going to be a good season for Argaum, but who knows?”
Argaum kick-off their new campaign with a tough home match against the Pirates Amateurs.
Saltash were relegated after just one season in the Western Counties West League, but most people are expecting them to be challenging in the Cornwall/Devon League.
They warmed up for the new season with an impressive display against Devonport Services last weekend.
They open their campaign with a home match against Paignton at Moorlands Lane (3pm).
All the Plymouth Combination teams are actually at home in the Cornwall/Devon League on Saturday as Tavistock will entertain Honiton at Sandy Park.
It was a narrow 13-11 victory over Honiton at the start of April that proved crucial in Tavistock staying up.
They ended up finishing 11th, just behind Honiton in 10th.