IVYBRIDGE are buzzing to get back into action in National Three South West, according to their player-coach Lewis Paterson.
The Bridgers return to the fray after the Christmas break with a big home match against Paterson’s former club Launceston at Cross-in-Hand (2.30pm).
Less than 10 years ago, Launceston were five divisions higher than Ivybridge, but now the South Hams side have overtaken them.
Ivybridge sit fourth in the National Three South West, just six points behind leaders Dings Crusaders, while Launceston sit second from bottom having won just twice since their relegation from National Two.
“It is a home game for us and we have to target this game to get some momentum going into 2017,” said Paterson, who made nearly 80 league appearances for Launceston.
“We had a slip up against Lydney but apart from that we have only lost to the top three and we felt we could have done better in those games.
“This side of the year has always been good for us and we are targeting that again.
“We just have to make sure we start Saturday with the right attitude.”
Paterson, though, is aware Launceston will come to Cross-in-Hand determined to fight for everything and try and make sure 2017 is a much happier year for them than 2016.
“Every team will be going into 2017 thinking new year, new start,” said Paterson. “They will have that 10 per cent extra regardless of their run of form or previous results. They will look to start 2017 completely different. You have to be wary of that.
“And Launceston’s results, regardless of their position, have not been too bad. We got beat by Old Reds, but they drew with them the following week.”
Ivybridge will not be short of knowledge about Launceston, with Paterson and another former Cornish All Black, Jamie Tripcony, on their coaching staff.
“We know the players they have got and know what type of style they will play,” said Paterson.
“We also know they will bring heart, passion and aggression. They are young side who haven’t had a lot of luck and so they will fight for everything.
“We just have to make sure our quality prevails.
“We are at home and everyone is buzzing for it.”
Ivybridge go into 2017 boosted by the return of Devon full-back Charlie Briant (pictured top).
Briant was a key player for the Bridgers last season in their debut campaign at level five, but he has not featured this term as he has been travelling.
But he is back now and will start on the bench against Launceston.
“To have him back is brilliant,” said Paterson.
Ivybridge, though, will be without forwards Matt Finn and James Sloan for this weekend’s match. In Sloan’s absence they will hand 18-year-old Marcus Prout a start at number eight.
Ivybridge are set to send a strong development side to play Exmouth’s seconds on Saturday, while their colts are at home to Newton Abbot.
WESTERN COUNTIES WEST
DEVONPORT Services are hoping they can pick up where they left off when Western Counties West resumes after the festive break.
Services enjoyed a tremendous end to 2016, winning seven league matches in a row to move to the top of the table.
They currently sit three points ahead of second-placed Cullompton and four ahead of Exeter University.
This weekend Services entertain Crediton at the Rectory.
Crediton might have picked up 22 points from 14 matches but they still find themselves in the bottom three in a league where even the basement club, Wellington, has five wins to their name.
“In this league anyone can beat anyone on their day,” said Services coach Mike Lewis.
Lewis is just hoping his team can continue their form following the three-week break.
“I think in terms of momentum – the way we were playing and results-wise – we didn’t want a break,” said Lewis. “But at the same time the effort the boys had put in to get where we are their bodies needed a rest.
“Securing all those victories took a lot out of them and we did have a few niggling injuries, but most of those have recovered now.”
Saturday will be the third time Services have played Crediton this season.
They beat them 14-5 in the league back in September, but lost 20-3 away with a much-changed team in the Devon Cup.
“If Crediton have their full team out then it could be a three point game,” said Lewis. “But they have shown if they don’t have their full team out and they go away then they can lose heavily.
“It does depend who they have out and we won’t know that until Saturday.
“We know they are a really good team, but they don’t always get a full squad out. We have to prepare to face their best team.
“It is at our place and we have to take the game to them.”
On Services’ cup loss at Crediton, Lewis said: “It was a horrible day and we hd a few players missing and they had a decent side out.
“It was a frustrating day, but I don’t think the boys even think about that game, to be honest. It’s the league game we have been concentrating on and how we went up there and came back with a hard-fought victory. Crediton is a tough place to go.”
Services expect to be at virtually full strength. The only real absentee is likely to be forward Arran Webb, who is recovering from concussion.
“Arran’s a big miss as he has been influential this season,” said Lewis. “He’s good in the line-out, strong around the park and he is an intelligent rugby player. But at the same time it gives others an opportunity.
“Adrian Montague has been sat on the bench the last three games, but previously he was playing most games and playing well. He was just unfortunate that we have been winning games so people like him have been waiting in the wings.”
Services will really want a win this weekend to give themselves a major boost going into their away match the following week at second-placed Cullompton.
THE big Cornwall/Devon League match in Plymouth on Saturday is at Bickleigh Down where Argaum host city rivals Plymstock Albion Oaks.
The two clubs have had some great battles over the last few years, both winning promotion from Devon One together in 2015.
The last four league meetings between the sides have all been decided by one score, including the match at Horsham Fields this season, which Oaks narrowly hung on to win 26-21.
Last season, Argaum won 16-10 at Horsham, while Oaks triumphed 22-17 at Bickleigh Down, while in Devon One both teams also won one game apiece, with Argaum triumphing 20-15 in the title-decider at the end of the 2014/15 season.
Oaks go into Saturday’s match sitting fourth in the league, with Argaum 10th. However, both teams had bad runs before Christmas.
Plymstock only won one of their final four fixtures of 2016, while injury-hit Argaum lost all their final four.
Argaum’s secretary Stuart Quarterman feels fourth-placed Oaks will be favourites this weekend.
“We will be going in as underdogs,” said Quarterman. “I don’t think we have a massive amount to lose.”
Argaum have been plagued by injuries this season and Quarterman admits they are likely to have a very different side out against Oaks than the one that pushed their rivals so close at Horsham Fields in September. That match went right down to the last play of the game.
The home club could hand a debut to new utility back Jack Darragh, who have previously been with Teignmouth, OPMs and Marjons. Argaum also have lock Nick Carter available again following suspension.
Argaum’s posts on their second team pitch got broke over the New Year weekend, leaving them with just one available field until they can replace them.
Bottom side Tamar Saracens are hoping the new year can bring them a change of fortunes.
The Ernesettle-based club have had a tough season since their promotion as Devon One champions.
They won their opening match against Lanner but have since failed to register another win and coach Stuart Busfield stepped down in November.
Injured Brixham hooker Chey Bryce took over as head coach and the club are hoping they can still pull off an incredible escape.
They do face a tough test this weekend with a trip to top six side Penryn, who have only lost once at home this season.
However, Tamar Saracens were encouraged by their performance against title-chasing Paignton just before Christmas. They lost 23-3 but became one of the few teams to deny Paignton a bonus point.
“There were plenty of positives from that,” said Tamar Saracens’ lock and spokesman Marc Cioffi.
“To be honest, we didn’t have our strongest team out – and that’s no discredit to anybody – but we put all our game-plans into action and we really disturbed their play. Chey Bryce has a very clear vision of what he wants.”
Cioffi and his team-mates know it will be tough down at Penryn, just like any away game in this league, but they know they have nothing to lose.
“The guys are positive,” said Cioffi. “We have had enough preparation the last couple of weeks. We have all been in the gym regularly and training regularly in numbers.
“We will go down there and give it our all. The main thing is we come off that pitch together positive and if some of the game-plans we put together work then we’ll be happy.”
Coiffi feels there is a positive feel around the club again after a tough couple of months.
“Each week players are coming back into the fold,” he said.
“Where we have had superstars in the past we now have all these decent players who are training regularly and want to develop and earn their spot.
“Chey Bryce has come in with a clear coaching plan for all the different coaches and they are all singing off the same hymn sheet.”
Tamar Saracens are also trying to build up their youth section. They already run an under-11 side but this Sunday until February 13 they have teamed up with Little Ruckers and will be holding free rugby taster sessions for Year 2 and Year 3 pupils from 9.30am-10.30am.
Saltash will be hoping to continue their push for promotion back to Western Counties West this weekend.
They start the new year in third-place, just one point behind second-placed Paignton and five behind leaders Falmouth, who do have a game in hand.
The Ashes do face a tricky trip to Pirates Amateurs to open 2017.
The Pirates have been inconsistent this season and surprisingly find themselves in ninth place, but at home they have proved they can beat anyone.
Saltash had to work hard in September to overcome them 32-26 at Moorlands Lane.
The Pirates have suffered a blow over Christmas by losing former Wales sevens international and Plymouth Albion back Rhodri McAtee, who has joined Camborne.
Seventh-placed Tavistock start 2017 with a difficult trip to high-flying Paignton.
The south Devon side have only lost one game this season and sit second in the table, despite starting the season with a 10-point deduction.
Tavistock enjoyed an unbeaten December, beating Bodmin, Topsham and Lanner, but they know Paignton will be a step up.
Tavvy, who lost 26-5 at home to Paignton in September, will hand a debut to new scrum-half Chris Stables, who has moved to the area from Oxfordshire. Stables has been playing for Abingdon and is a goalkicker, which Tavistock are in need of.
Andrew Smerdon will start at fly-half and Tavistock do have influential back Doug Lloyd available after his wife gave birth to their child over the Christmas period.
Tavistock, though, are without five front-row forwards this week but their strength in depth in that area is highlighted by the fact that they can still get two teams out this Saturday.
“Thankfully, we do have a high number of front-row players at the club,” said coach Hammy Kerswill.
He added: “We started and finished poorly against Paignton earlier in the season and so hope to put in an 80 minutes performance this week.
“I think it’s a good time to play them after the break as both teams will perhaps not be at their best, although we will soon see.
“They are a very organised side and my pick to win the league early on, so it would be fantastic to get a result there early in the year.”
OPMs are hoping to be at full strength for their top-of-the-table clash away at Dartmouth this weekend.
The match sees the only two remaining unbeaten sides in the division clash.
Both have six wins out of six to their name, with Dartmouth sitting top courtesy of two more bonus points. However, OPMs have scored more points this season and have the best defensive record.
Old Boys’ captain Henry Matthews admits this is their biggest match of the season and they have been busy this week preparing for the trip.
They have trained twice this week, as opposed to their normal once-a-week session, and hope for the first time in months to be able to select from a full squad.
“We are hoping Tom Sargent our centre, who went off with a broken hand against DHS, is going to be back fit and Martin Skelly, our winger, has been out for a while but we are hoping the Christmas break has helped him,” said Matthews.
Fellow promotion hopefuls Old Techs, who sit third in the table, also have a vital match this weekend. They travel to fourth-placed Buckfastleigh.
Techs and Buckfastleigh have almost identical records in the league this season, with four wins, two defeats, two try-scoring bonus points and one losing bonus point. Both teams’ losses have come against the top two, Dartmouth and OPMs.
Old Techs know they need to win this Saturday to keep the pressure on Dartmouth and OPMs.
“It is a massive game for us,” said Old Techs coach Shaun Bedford-Smith.
“We don’t want to go into the second half of the season having already lost three games. After this weekend we will have played everyone once.
“Buckfastleigh is never an easy place to go with their pitch and with the way they have been playing.
“They are always tough at home. We always have good games against Buckfastleigh, but we always know they are going to be hard matches.
“We lost last year away to them by one point. We had a penalty kick at the end to win us the match but we didn’t kick it.
“We do really do need to win this time.”
Old Techs are still waiting to confirm their side for the trip.
“We are waiting on four players at the moment,” said Bedford-Smith. “We have got a couple working but you’ll always have that at this level. We are just looking to put out the most competitive team we can.”
Techs’ last league game on December 17 saw them beat Salcombe 15-6.
“The first 20 minutes against Salcombe was the best I have seen us play for a couple of years,” said Bedford-Smith. “That 20 minutes showed me what they can really do. The trouble is the other 60 minutes were not that great. We just need to start playing for 80 minutes.”
Although league rugby has had two weekends off, many of Techs’ players had a run out in a club match against Tamar Saracens on New Year’s Day.
Techs won the social game 25-22 thanks to a last-gasp score.
“It was actually a good, competitive game,” said Bedford-Smith. “It was just good to have a run-out before this weekend.”
Techs know the next three weeks will be crucial to their season. After their trip to Buckfastleigh, they host DHSOB before playing OPMs away.
DHSOB have a derby match this weekend against their old rivals Plympton Victoria.
It has been a case of small margins for DHSOB this season. Although they only have one win to their name they have claimed five bonus points, including three for finishing within one score of their rivals. Only the top two, Dartmouth and OPMs have beaten them by more seven points.
Plym Vic are still waiting for their first league win. Their biggest problem has been playing availability but they will be hoping that improves in 2017.
Fellow strugglers St Columba & Torpoint, who beat Plym Vic 18-13 just before Christmas to claim their first win in two seasons, travel to Salcombe this Saturday.
South West rugby fixtures can be found HERE