WESTERN Counties West leaders Devonport Services will remember club stalwart Graham Emond on Saturday when they entertain Wadebridge at the Rectory in their final home match of 2016.
Life member Emond sadly died on Wednesday at the age of 71. He had been a key official of the city club for more than 25 years and played a major role in developing so many players in Devon.
One of the players to owe him a lot is current Devonport Services coach Mike Lewis, who, like most people in the Plymouth rugby community, was shocked to hear of his death.
“It just puts everything into perspective,” said former Plymouth Albion lock Lewis. “Nothing is that big or important when you hear something like that.
“Graham has been a clubman since before I can remember. When I was 13, 14 and 15 and going through the Devon and South West stuff, he would drive me up.
“I have known him for as long as I have played rugby and he is going to be sorely missed.
“You can see from the out-pouring on social media just how many people had respect for the man.
“It just puts everything into perspective for Saturday,” added Lewis.
The club will be having a minute’s silence before their game and are hoping people will turn up at the Rectory to remember him.
“The rugby is almost a sideshow on Saturday,” said Lewis. “Although he would want us to go out and perform – and that’s what we are going to try and do.
“It is our last home game before Christmas.”
Services find themselves six points clear at the top of Western Counties West after they beat Truro 24-16 away last weekend and all their main rivals lost.
Wadebridge will arrive at the Rectory in fifth place and on a high after beating second-placed Cullompton last weekend.
“I think it is going to be tougher than last week and so we need to step it up again,” said Lewis.
“I know winning down in Truro was tough, but this one is going to be even tougher.
“One of the boys mentioned that Wadebridge have only lost one game away from home this season.”
Lewis has been thrilled with the attitude Services’ players have shown so far this season.
“Everyone is buying into everything we do,” he said. “We are getting plenty of numbers training and it’s good to see the character of the players at this time of year.
“Historically, the club has either had a good start or a good end to the season and have not maintained form, but at the minute we are maintaining it quite well.
“I just like the fact that every training session the players are coming to learn and every Saturday they try to do new things or correct things. Every week is a learning curve for myself and the guys.”
He added: “Our aim was to try and go through December with three wins. We have got one but these next two games (against Wadebridge and St Ives) are going to be tougher, even though Truro were a good side. These two are really in-form at the minute.”
Services’ will have some selection dilemmas with Charles Horn, Tony Sibley and Rob Ede all available again, while Joe Wyatt is now registered to play having officially completed his move from Tamar Saracens.
NATIONAL THREE SOUTH WEST
IVYBRIDGE are expecting a cup final atmosphere when they travel to fellow high flyers Dings Crusaders on Saturday in National Three South West.
The teams sit third and fourth in the table, with Dings three points ahead of Ivybridge courtesy of just one more win.
Dings have only lost twice this season – against the top two, Camborne and Old Redcliffians – while Ivybridge have suffered three defeats – against Camborne, Old Redcliffians and Lydney.
Both teams will be desperate for a win this weekend to keep pace with the top two.
“It is almost going to be a like a cup final atmosphere as both teams will be looking for a win,” said Ivybridge player-coach Lewis Paterson.
“We are treating this game as one of the biggest of the year.
“We have started December well and we want to continue that.
“Our main objective is to come away with something. A win would be perfect, a bonus point would be fantastic, but if things don’t go our way, we still want to come away with something.
“We have to go up there and look to keep the scoreboard ticking. They are above us in the league so it is vital we try and grind out any result or make sure we come back with something.
“After this weekend that’s everyone played once, so we’ll know where we are.”
Ivybridge go into Saturday’s game on the back of a 46-17 home win over Cleve.
The Cross-in-Hand club are set to keep the same squad with the exception of the addition of teenage prop Marcus Prout, who will come on to the bench in the absence of Nathan Reeves.
“We just have to build on last week’s win over Cleve,” said Paterson. “We have to take all the positives from that and take it into this weekend.
“Dings is not an easy place to go, but it’s just a rugby game at the end of the day with 15 v 15.
“There is a really good positive energy leading into Saturday.
“You can tell from their results that Dings are a very hard team to break. They have a grit about them to get wins and we have to break that.
“We kind of understand Dings’ game plan. Trips (Jamie Tripcony) and I have been playing Dings for the last five or six years with Launceston and Ivybridge, so we have a good understanding of their type of culture.
“We will adapt. We have got a name for throwing the ball about and being a good, open pacey side, but we can adapt as well. We can grit it out and adapt to what other sides will bring.
“Last year they (Dings) were facing relegation so they’ve obviously had a really good turnaround this year.
“We have to expect they might have a few new faces and play some different rugby.”
PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks coach Tim Mathias is hoping his team can once again show their big game mentality when they travel to in-form Paignton on Saturday in the Cornwall/Devon League.
Fourth-placed Oaks have unexpectedly stumbled in the last couple of weeks, losing at previously winless Honiton and drawing at home against another team near the bottom, Lanner.
However, Plymstock have shown on their day they can beat anyone in the league and are the only side so far to overcome leaders Falmouth.
Paignton themselves have only lost once this season – against Falmouth. The south Devon side sit third in the table, with 11 wins from 12 matches. They would be top of the table had they not started the campaign with a 10-point deficit.
“This is a big challenge,” said Mathias. “But it is something that is in our game – to rise to big occasions.
“When you look at some of the games we have won this year, it seems like the lads like playing the big teams. They want to test themselves.
“But if we are going to grow as a team we need to put away the other teams. When we are favourites we still have to win. You can’t be underdogs every week as if you keep winning you then become favourites.”
However, they will be underdogs this weekend in a match that could be crucial to them.
After picking up just three points from a maximum 10 from their last two games, Oaks find themselves nine points off second-placed Saltash and seven behind Paignton.
“We just want to make sure we are still in the race after Christmas by picking up two important results before the break,” said Mathias, whose team will face Pirates Amateurs next week.
“If we could win it would put us right back into that race for second, but we’ll have to see what happens.”
Last weekend Paignton produced a clinical display to beat an understrength Plymouth Argaum side 59-0.
Plymouth Argaum have to try and pick themselves up this Saturday for a tough trip to Cornwall to face Penryn.
The Bickleigh Down club are boosted by the return of a number of players including Mason Edwards, Jamie Burton and Jake Turfrey.
With so many long-term injuries, Argaum’s resources have been stretched in recent weeks with players away and unavailable.
“The team will be stronger than last week,” said club secretary and spokesman Stuart Quarterman.
“It should be the strongest we’ve had for a few weeks.
“But we have got a lot to learn from last week. We are a better side than that.
“We don’t really know what to expect from Penryn.”
Penryn started the season in fine form but have been hit with front-row injuries in recent weeks and could not even field a team to face Withycombe two weeks ago.
That cost the Cornish side not only a possible win but also five points which has dropped them down to fifth in the table – 14 points behind second-placed Saltash.
They did hit back by beating Pirates Amateurs last weekend and so Argaum will know they will need to be at their best if they are to claim their first win in Cornwall this season.
Promotion-chasing Saltash will also be expecting a tough test when they travel to Lanner.
The St Day-based side, in their first season in the Cornwall/Devon League, have really found some form in recent weeks.
They have only been beaten once in their last four matches and that was away at the Pirates Amateurs. They have claimed wins against Penryn and Argaum and drew with Oaks last week, so Saltash will be expecting another fight on their hands like they had last weekend against Honiton.
The Ashes narrowly came through that test at Moorlands Lane 26-25.
Honiton will be Tamar Saracens’ opponents in a crucial match in east Devon.
Saracens slipped to the bottom of the table last weekend with a 29-19 home defeat to fellow strugglers Topsham.
Saracens could get off the bottom if they were to beat Honiton at the weekend as their opponents are only three points ahead of them.
But after their performances against Saltash and Plymstock Albion Oaks in the last two weeks Honiton will be confident of pulling away from Saracens, who have not won since the opening day of the season.
Tavistock could move into the top six if they were to beat Topsham away.
Last week’s win over Bodmin has moved Tavistock up to eighth and within four points of fifth-placed Penryn.
Tavistock are taking two teams to Topsham as the two clubs will also play at veterans match at the same time as their league clash.
“Topsham are a bit of an unknown quantity to a lot of the boys,” said Tavistock coach Hammy Kerswell. “However, myself and Andrew Smerdon played them last season for North Tawton and Salcombe, respectively, and we both agree that they can be a threatening side if we allow them too much ball.
“We have worked a lot on defence the last two weeks, in particular discipline at the breakdown. I have set the boys a target to, first and foremost, get the win but to try and do so without them crossing our whitewash.”
Kerswill will make his first start of the season at loose-head. He will line up in a front-row alongside Josh O’Neill for the first time since they were colts.
Tavistock are boosted by the return of star back Doug Lloyd, while Sam Smerdon and Louis Cockcroft keep their places on the wings after impressive in last weekend’s victory over Bodmin.
LEADERS OPMs will be looking to make it five wins from five when they travel to mid-table Salcombe on Saturday.
The Old Boys are flying high in Devon Two following their relegations with victories against St Columba/Torpoint, Old Techs, Plympton Victoria and DHSOB.
However, Saturday will be only their second away league game of the season and their first outside Plymouth.
Salcombe have beaten DHSOB and Plympton Victoria but lost to Dartmouth and Buckfastleigh. OPMs, though, will not want to underestimate them.
Third-placed Old Techs are keen to close gap on OPMs and Dartmouth. They travel to St Columba & Torpoint on Saturday fresh from a morale-boosting 49-29 win over Saltash IIs in the Lockie Cup.
Techs have had a tough start to the league. Their opening three matches were against Dartmouth, DHSOB and OPMs.
However, now they want to make sure they beat teams below them to put pressure on the top two, who still have to play each other.
“We’ve just got to keep winning,” said chairman David Evans. “We’ve got two matches before Christmas and we want to get five points from both of them.”
Saints are still looking for their first points since their relegation from Devon Two.
However, there were a number of positives for them from their last outing against OPMs, despite losing 53-0.
Plympton Victoria are also pointless in Devon Two. They have a tough match at home to unbeaten Dartmouth at Marsh Mills.
Plym Vic coach Howell Phillips is frustrated that he cannot seem to get a full strength team out this season.
“I can’t predict anything,” said Phillips. “Our regular boys work really hard, but they need to put pressure on other lads to turn up.”
Last weekend Plym Vic were beaten 47-12 by Devonport Services IIIs in the Ellis Trophy.
Plym Vic started the match with 14 players before finding a 15th only to then suffer an injury so they ended up back to 14.
“We had the best team we had available out and they gave 110 per cent,” said Phillips.
Dartmouth, like OPMs have only dropped one point so far this season, claiming four wins out of four, three of them with try-scoring bonus points.
DHSOB are another club who are always unsure about what type of team they will be fielding each week.
This Saturday they travel to Buckfastleigh, who have won three out of their four games so far. The Ramblers’ only defeat was a one point loss to Dartmouth in their last match.
“Buckfastleigh are not a bad side,” said DHSOB director of rugby Mike Freeman. “But if we can travel reasonably strong then I think we can do reasonably well.
“We are hoping to go up there with a strong side, but it comes down to who is available to travel away from home on December 10.”
Last season, DHSOB beat Buckfastleigh at Stonehouse Creek but lost 19-5 in awful conditions away.