IVYBRIDGE will be hoping to end 2016 on a high on Saturday when they travel to Salisbury in National Three South West.
The Bridgers head to Wiltshire trying to prevent back-to-back defeats for the first time this season.
The Cross-in-Hand side suffered only their fourth loss of the campaign last weekend when they went down 30-15 to second-placed Dings Crusaders.
Ivybridge have been able to look forward to home comforts the following week after all-but one of their previous defeats, but they are ending 2016 with back-to-back away games.
“We went away and won after losing to Camborne, so we have done it before,” said player-coach Jamie Tripcony.
“But every game is different. It is quite a long trip for us to Salisbury, but we’ll have a look at the video of them and see if we can unpick them.
“We need to try and create some momentum over this Christmas period. It is great having a little break, but your momentum can slip away.”
Three out of four of Ivybridge’s defeats this year have come on their travels.
“If we want to be up there or there abouts we have to be going on the road and winning,” said Tripcony.
“It is good that we are making our place a tough place to come, but we have to go away and show up, especially on these long trips. However, we have done it before.”
Salisbury are having a tough spell at the moment. They sit second-from-bottom of the table and have not won since September 17.
The Wiltshire side have the weakest defence in the league and have conceded more than 50 points in a game three times so far this season.
However, Ivybridge will not be taking them lightly. Salisbury did cause them a few problems in the first half when the sides met at Cross-in-Hand on September 10 before Ivybridge moved up a gear after the break and turned a 12-8 deficit in to a 32-15 win.
WESTERN COUNTIES WEST
Services currently sit top of the table, four points clear of second-placed Cullompton.
However, Services, who have only been beaten twice this season, face a difficult trip to St Ives on Saturday to end the year.
St Ives sit sixth in the table with a pretty strong home record.
Services have beaten Wadebridge and Truro in recent weeks, but coach Mike Lewis believes this weekend’s trip might be their toughest test this month.
“I think this is going to be the toughest – going away to St Ives,” said Lewis.
“Down there if you have a bit of bad weather – a bit of wind and rain – it can be anyone’s game. It is a mud pit. It can feel like you are in the middle of a storm there sometimes.
“We would ideally love another win, but as long as everyone is performing and having a bit of fun, we’ll enjoy it.”
Lewis admits that nobody at the club expected to be sitting at the top of the table at the halfway point of the season.
However, if they don’t pick up at least a point on Saturday at St Ives then Cullompton could overtake them at the top, if they were to beat Crediton away.
Saracens sit eight points adrift at the bottom of the table after losing five points last week for failing to fulfil their fixture at fellow strugglers Honiton.
However, they are set to return to action on Saturday when they entertain high-flying Paignton. They then hope to use the Christmas break to regroup under new head coach Chey Bryce and target their remaining games in 2017.
Assistant coach Dan Leeson says the club will ‘fight to the end’ to try and pull off a sensational escape.
“The main reason for last week’s postponement was just player unavailability and injuries, but we’ve had some players come back now,” said Leeson.
“This time before Christmas we just want to try and consolidate and rebuild ready for 2017.
“The club have taken Chey on as head coach and we have got a really good coaching set-up down there now. It is just about trying to get all the players available now, which is what we are struggling with.
“We are getting more people training than who are available on a Saturday.
“It is a tough adjustment coming up from Devon One to the Devon/Cornwall League.
“But there are teams there to beat. In the Devon/Cornwall League there’s always that split between the really good teams and the teams scrapping around at the bottom.
“We are hoping to go into the final game of the season with a chance to stay in the league.
“We have had a few guys go elsewhere, but we’ve still got a good enough squad to keep us in this league.
“The plan is to end 2016 and then concentrate on the final half of the season in 2017.
“It is a long old season and I think it is going to be tight at the bottom of the league come the end.”
Tamar Saracens will be up against it this week against a Paignton side who have only lost once this season and who beat Plymstock Albion Oaks 40-0 last week and Plymouth Argaum 59-0 the previous week.
Leeson said: “Chey has come in and pinpointed half a dozen games that we need to win to really stand any chance of staying up.
“Whenever we play we are always going to cross that whitewash and give 100 per cent, but we know we are a little bit away from the top teams at the moment.
“However, at the end of the day, it’s just 15 v 15 and anything can happen on the day. We don’t go into games wanting to lose. There are games we know we are going to be up against it, but we could always get a result, even losing bonus points are important to us at the moment.”
Plymouth Argaum, meanwhile, are confident they will avoid getting dragged into a relegation dog-fight.
They were looking quite comfortable in mid-table last month but three consecutive defeats has seen them drop to 10th in the standings, just two points ahead of in-form Lanner.
However, third-from-bottom Honiton are 12 points below them, giving the Plymouth side a bit of a cushion.
Argaum’s biggest problem has been injuries to key personnel this season, like vice-captain Dan James, who suffered an ACL injury.
“We have lost key cornerstone players for long periods of time,” said secretary Stuart Quarterman.
“But some are starting to come back from injuries and we are confident we can pick up some results.”
Argaum are also hoping to sign a few new players for when the league restarts on January 7.
They conclude their 2016 fixtures this weekend with a tricky trip to Withycombe.
The east Devon side finished third last year behind Bude and St Ives, but this season they have been somewhat inconsistent. Withycombe have only won six of their 13 matches but they have picked up eight bonus points, which puts them in sixth spot, and they did beat the Pirates Amateurs 29-5 last week.
Argaum did overcome Withycombe 25-20 in the second match of the season at Bickleigh Down, but they know it will be tougher away from home.
“It does look like they (Withycombe) found a bit of form last Saturday,” said Quarterman.
“We will have a very different side out this time to when we played them at the start of the season.”
He added: “They are a cracking club – one you look to on how a club should be run – and I always enjoying going to Withycombe. I don’t think they were expecting us to beat them at the start of the season but they were so gracious about it.”
Argaum will be without forwards Nick Carter and Callum Mills. Carter is suspended after picking up a red card last week in Argaum’s defeat at Penryn, while Mills picked up an injury in that match.
In Mills’ absence, Karl Sullivan is set to play hooker. He will be their fourth hooker of the season.
Argaum are also set to welcome back Aaron Anderson-Smith and John Fulton.
They also hope to have Ryan Chivers back from injury in the new year, while captain Tom Holliday appears to have now got over his back issues.
Plymstock Albion Oaks will be looking to end three games without a win when they host Pirates Amateurs at Horsham Fields on Saturday.
Oaks, who sit fifth, were pushing hard at the top but have slipped off the pace with away defeats against Paignton and Honiton and a home draw against Lanner.
However, they are still unbeaten this season at Horsham Fields and they will be hoping to continue that on Saturday and give themselves a boost ahead of the Christmas holiday.
Coach Tim Mathias will be back with the team after missing last week’s tough trip to Paignton.
Pirates Amateurs will also be looking for their first win for a month.
They have been beaten by Withycombe, Penryn and Paignton in their last three games.
Oaks will be keen for revenge after losing 45-19 at Mennaye Field in September.
Third-placed Saltash will also be looking to right a wrong when they host fourth-placed Penryn at Moorlands Lane on Saturday.
Penryn won 35-24 when they teams met earlier this season.
Saltash will also be keen to bounce back from last week’s 24-22 loss at Lanner.
The Cornish side have only lost once in their last five matches. They have beaten Penryn, Plymouth Argaum and Saltash in recent weeks and claimed a draw at Plymstock Albion Oaks.
Seventh-placed Tavistock know it will be a tough task but they are able to pick from their strongest squad of the season this weekend.
They are set to stick with basically the same squad that beat Topsham 34-5 away last week, although Darren Guppy returns to their front-row, influential Seth Waterworth to their second-row, while Andrew Craddock returns to the bench.
Lanner are new opponents for Tavistock.
“I have tried to dig for information on Lanner, but found very little,” said Tavistock coach Hammy Kerswill. “But that’s possibly a blessing in disguise as we have to concentrate on ourselves and on the improvement we’ve made around the structure of our defence.
“What we do know is conditions may favour Lanner and their sizable forwards. That being said, we have seven of our starting eight forwards with back-row experience so will hopefully be able to match Lanner up front.”
Tavistock will be continuing to raise money for Peter Garland’s charity, The Devon Air Ambulance Trust, on Saturday. Their colts are also at home and the club will be having their Christmas social after Saturday’s game.
Unbeaten OPMs face a tough home clash against Buckfastleigh Ramblers at King George V Playing Fields.
Buckfastleigh have only lost one match this season and that was a one-point loss away at leaders Dartmouth.
Dartmouth are currently one point ahead of OPMs, with both clubs having won their opening five matches.
OPMs were made to work hard last weekend to keep hold of their unbeaten record. However, they managed to dig out a narrow 13-10 away victory at Salcombe.
Salcombe will be Old Techs’ opponents at Weston Mill on Saturday.
Techs are third and trying to chase down OPMs and Dartmouth.
Having lost to their two main promotion rivals, Techs know they cannot really afford another slip up in the first half of the season.
Coach Shaun Bedford-Smith has had the chance to watch Salcombe this season after his side’s match with Plympton Victoria was postponed at the end of last month.
“I saw them play DHSOB and they played well,” said Bedford-Smith. “It is certainly not going to be an easy game for us.
Old Techs go into Saturday’s game on the back of a 38-0 victory at St Columba & Torpoint.
“We were missing quite a few players, but got the result we wanted,” added Bedford-Smith.
Techs should be stronger this weekend. Billy Evans, Steve Wilkinson and Darren Kessell should all be back for the Old Boys.
They have also added to their squad with the arrival of the experienced Paul Ansell.
Former Plymouth Argaum and Plymstock Albion Oaks back Ansell made his debut last weekend and scored 18 points.
“He is a really signing for us,” said Bedford-Smith. “He’s still only 30 but has got higher league experience. He’s played in Devon One and the Devon/Cornwall League and he can play a lot of positions and is a good goal-kicker.”
DHSOB could do both Old Techs and OPMs a favour this week if they can take points of Dartmouth at Stonehouse Creek.
Although they have only claimed one win so far, they have picked up a losing bonus point in all but one of their matches so far.
Last week they pushed Buckfastleigh hard before losing 17-10. They were also within a score of Old Techs and Salcombe, so Dartmouth will be wary of their visit to the Creek.
Neither club have managed a league win since the 2014/15 season.
Plym Vic will travel across the Tamar knowing they have beaten the Saints this season.
They triumphed 10-0 in the opening game of the David Butt Trophy in September.
Plym Vic’s experienced coach Howell Phillips, though, does not believe that means his team will be favourites on Saturday.
He watched Saints play OPMs recently and was quite impressed by what he saw from the Cornish side, even though they lost 53-0.
“They certainly weren’t backing off,” said Phillips.
However, Phillips knows if his team play like they did in the second half against Dartmouth last week then they might have a chance in Cornwall.
They had been 33-0 down at half-time but really fronted up in the second period before losing 43-0.
“I never know who is going to turn out,” said Phillips, whose side have struggled with availabilities this season. “But we just have to play like we did in the second half – with a bit of purpose.
“We just have try and do the basics – win our own ball, give it to the backs and hopefully they can do something with it or we can keep it until we get an opportunity to score.”
Plym Vic’s biggest problem has been scoring points. They have only managed 18 in their opening five league matches. Saints might have conceded slightly more points but they have scored 30.