DEVON One and Two rugby teams are kicking off their season earlier than normal, thanks to a new county competition.
The David Butt Memorial Trophy, named in honour of Devon RFU’s chairman who sadly died this year, will offer clubs an extra six guaranteed fixtures a season, with the possibility of eight if a side reaches the final.
It will run for the first two months of the season, with league fixtures starting on November 5.
One of the biggest problems in recent years for teams in the bottom two tiers of the rugby pyramid has been lack of fixtures with just eight sides making up the Devon leagues.
The group stages of the David Butt Trophy are regionalised. St Columba/Torpoint, Old Techs, Plympton Victoria and Devonport High School for Old Boys make up Group D, with OPMs in Group C, alongside Totnes, Dartmouth and Salcombe. They are 16 teams involved in total.
The first fixtures are this weekend, with DHSOB entertaining old rivals Old Techs, Plym Vic hosting St Columba and OPMs travelling to Totnes.
Plym Vic, who failed to win a league match last season, have warmed up for their match with two encouraging pre-season performances against Salcombe.
They are hoping the 2016/17 can bring them more success. They were encouraged by reaching last year’s Ellis Trophy final.
“I would not say we are ready for this weekend as there’s still some boys to come back from holidays,” said Plym Vic coach Howell Phillips.
“But I hope clubs are going to take this cup competition seriously as it’s a way of getting extra games.
“We had more players at Salcombe last Thursday than we would have for a training session because at this level players just like to play games rather than train.”
On what Plym Vic’s hopes are for this campaign, Phillips said: “We hope we can get some wins. We got a couple last year and got to the Ellis Cup final.
“But we just want to come off the field knowing we have played a recognised game of rugby.”
Although they did not get a league victory last term, most of their divisional rivals felt Plym Vic had improved.
“Last season we had games where the opposition came up to us afterwards and said they did not expect that from us,” said Phillips
“If we can get numbers out then I think we can do somethings, but it’s just getting the numbers.”
Plym Vic have been boosted by the arrival of two players who are well-known to Phillips.
“Two of my ex-pupils, Dan Case and Mark Hanley, turned up,” said former school teacher Phillips. “They also played with me at Argaum. Dan is a winger or scrum-half and Mark is a prop or flanker.”
Plym Vic are happy to be starting their season at home, although they know they will face a test from a Saints side who were playing in Devon One last season.
Fellow Devon Two strugglers last season, DHSOB, are also looking forward to the new competition, although they are still trying to work out which players are available this weekend.
“We are really looking forward to this new competition and we’re just going to see where it takes us,” said DHSOB director of rugby Mike Freeman.
“But I think maybe a few people have been caught on the hop with the season starting earlier this year. It does not normally start until the end of September.
“We might not be as strong as we’d like as not all the students are back and many of the Fijians have been on holiday, but we are hoping we can be competitive.”
DHSOB had three good games against Old Techs last season.
“We had three tremendous games against them last year,” said Freeman. “They won 15-14 in the Lockie Cup and the two league matches were also close. Hopefully, this weekend will be similar.”
DSHOB had made Jack Jones their new captain, while Rabs Seru has been appointed first team coach.
Former Plymouth Albion and Civil Service stalwart Roger Jewell has become the Old Boys’ commercial secretary, while they have also got a new colts side, which Freeman will be helping to oversee.
DHSOB have seen the departure of a few players this summer. Frazer Tatchell and Liam Minter have left to play at a higher level with Cornwall/Devon League side Tamar Saracens, while Joe Bailey and Eddie Ramaazani have joined this weekend’s opponents Old Techs.
But the Old Boys are hoping to have a few new arrivals themselves in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Old Techs’ main focus is the league. They are hoping they can get promoted back into Devon One after narrowly missing out last season. They finished third in Devon Two behind Ilfracombe and Torrington.
“We have not had any pre-season games as we are going to use these cup games as a warm-up,” said Shaun Bedford-Smith.
“We are just going to see how that goes.”
He added: “I think this cup competition’s a good idea, but I’m not too sure about when they are starting it.
“I think it’s a strange to have the cup now and then start the league in November when the weather is bad. I would have thought it was better to start the league when the weather’s good and then do the cup later.
“Everyone wanted more games, but we going the other way now and going to be playing every Saturday with this competition, the league, the Lockie Cup and Devon Cup.
“With the season starting earlier than normal we have people away.”
Old Techs have made a few new signings. As well as Bailey and Ramaazani from DHSOB, they have also welcomed serviceman Jack Courtney from Hull and James Ambrose, who has also moved to the area.
Another signing is former Tamar Saracens coach Dan Leeson.
“Dan has signed as cover,” said Bedford-Smith. “He’s just going to cover and as when he can.”
On his side’s targets for the season, Bedford-Smith added: “We would like to get out of Devon Two. As a club and a committee that is what we want to try and do, but it’s easier said than done, as we found out last year.
“We did finish last season well. We won the Lockie Cup and won our last five games.”
On this weekend’s opening match with DHSOB, Bedford-Smith said: “We have no idea what we are going to get from DHSOB. We had some really good games with them last year. We beat them twice in the league and once in the cup but they were all close games.
“Like I said, we’ve no idea what they have got, but we can only prepare the best we can.
“We have done 10 weeks at least of solid training and people are just happy to start playing rugby again.
“We are just looking forward to the season starting now. It will be just nice to go out and have a game.”