PLYMOUTH Argaum and Plymstock Albion Oaks could not have asked for a bigger start to the Cornwall/Devon League season.
They will meet in an eagerly-awaited derby match at Bickleigh Down on Saturday (3pm).
The two clubs have become big rivals over the last few years, with them both coming up to the Cornwall/Devon League together in 2015.
To add extra spice to Saturday’s clash, Oaks have signed a number of players from Argaum in the summer. Oaks also have former Argaum player Tom Richards on their coaching staff.
The 23-year-old back has formed a new-look young coaching team with 22-year-old Marjons student Callum Cload.
They have bolstered their squad with a number of new of players from Ivybridge, including promising youngster Lewis Barnaby and experienced front-rower Stuart Kirkwood, while Mike Hunt, Dave Hall and Kal Bloomfield have arrived from Argaum.
Cload is certainly looking forward to this weekend’s game and the 2017/18 season.
“There’s a lot of connections there (between Oaks and Argaum),” said Cload. “It will be one of those games where it will be about trying to keep emotions away from the game.
“The clubs have always finished in relatively similar positions in recent years. It is certainly not one of those first games of the season where you know you are going to get five points, but at the same time you do want the best start possible.
“It is a definite challenge to start the season off with, but one we are looking forward to.”
Cload has been happy with how the summer has gone at Horsham Fields.
“This is my first season coaching, but it has gone pretty well,” he said.
“We have got a set of new signings and all the boys are buying into the systems. Hopefully, come the first game of the season they will all come into place.”
He added: “At the moment we have so much depth that picking the team is probably the biggest headache we have.
“I think we have added about 15 new names into the squad.”
Cload says former Argaum forward Hunt has already become a key member of the squad at Oaks.
Oaks won facility development club of the year at the National Rugby Awards on Wednesday night at Twickenham.
And the Staddiscombe-based club have made no secret of their desire to keep improving on and off the field.
When asked what the aims are for the 2017/18 campaign, Cload said: “I am going to let the team decide what our goals are for the season, but I know Adam Nicholas, the director of rugby, is keen for us to try and get promotion.
“To be honest, with the squad we have got and if everything goes the right way we could be there or there abouts. We certainly would like a strong top four finish really.
“But it is one of those leagues where you can lose to the bottom side one week but then beat the top of the league the next. Anyone can beat anyone in this league.
“If you look at Paignton and Falmouth, who went up last year, they won 24 out of 26 games, which is ridiculously consistent. That is the main thing, it is not about going out and beating a team by 60 points one week, it is about been able to beat every team and adapting to every game.”
Argaum have been going about their business quietly this summer, but there is a positivity around Bickleigh Down, despite lots of changes.
Mark Sullivan has taken over as director of rugby, with Mark Albiston, Calum Mills and Tom Holliday assisting him.
Although they have lost a few well-known names they have also recruited, with the likes of Marcus Christians joining the club and Adam Fitzpatrick returning after travelling.
“We have had a really positive pre-season and we have recruited quite well,” said secretary Stuart Quarterman. “Although there’s no big names people will know locally, we’d like to think we will do all right.
“We have had good numbers at training and all the way along we have been going on the team collective way to play the game, rather than relying on individuals.”
Quarterman believes they will be underdogs on Saturday against Oaks, but they are keen to keep proving a point in the Cornwall/Devon League against teams with more resources than them.
“We can’t compete financially and resource-wise with most teams in our league, but we’ve got different things to offer,” he said. “We have a brilliant spirit, we look after individuals pretty well and I’d like to think we do things the right way.”
SALTASH are hoping they can have another good season after finishing third last term.
They were a bit unlucky that in a three-horse race for two promotion spots, they found Falmouth and Paignton in irresistible form.
Both Falmouth and Paignton only lost twice all season, but Saltash were well clear in third.
The Ashes have kept most of their squad. Although Dom Mulberry and Shaun Crawford have joined Launceston, Adam Merrit has moved in the opposite direction to return to his former club.
“We have got pretty much the same sort of squad,” said Saltash coach Richard Thompson.
“We know what we have but we don’t know what other teams have. Some might have lost a few players and some might have gained a few.
He added: “Last season our away form was just not quite good enough. We had some close games, but ultimately we were not quite close enough.
“We finished third and we have a very similar squad, but it is just about whether we can learn from some of the mistakes on the road last year. If we can rectify them then we might have a chance, but there’s quite a few teams that could be in with a shout.
“I’m sure the league will be just as tough this year.
“I think the standard is getting better year on year. There are not many games that are givens – you have turn up and perform.
“If you are in the top four with a couple of months to go then you’ve got a chance.
“But the table does not lie when you have 26 games to put your mark on a season. The two forms team last season both went up.”
Saltash do have star winger Will Morton fit again. He missed the last seven weeks of the season after breaking a metatarsal in his foot. Among the games he missed was Saltash’s RFU Senior Vase semi-final defeat at Farnham, which meant they missed out on an historic trip to Twickenham.
Saltash do have a tricky start with a trip to Pirates Amateurs on Saturday.
“We love this weather, but we know they (the Pirates) will have a robust set of forwards and have always been a tidy side,” said Thompson
“Who knows how it will go – that’s the lottery of the first game of the season.”
TAVISTOCK coach Hammy Kerswill also expects the Cornwall/Devon League to be tougher this season but he is hopeful his side can do even better than last term.
The Sandy Park club finished ninth last year but did double the amount of wins they achieved the previous year.
“The general vibe and expectation from the players is to once again improve on last season where we doubled our win count,” said Kerswill.
“I fully expect the league to be as tough, if not tougher than last year, but I am hopeful of a strong placing come April.
“Our away form is something we must improve this year, but ultimately consistency of availability will be the deciding factor.
“If we can maintain a rotated squad of around 24 players I have no doubt we can achieve and reach our potential.”
Tavistock have had an encouraging pre-season and have boosted their squad with a few additions.
“Having a few new faces in Ash Miller (Royal Navy under-23s), Phil Wilson (Devonport), Callum Dewson (Launceston) has increased our selection options in the pack,” said Kerswill.
“We also have a number of colts stepping up too. That being said, many of our colts have been successful in their recent exams and will be off the university. We wish them all the best and look forward to their returns over Christmas and Easter.”
Tavistock have also been handed a tough start to the new campaign with a trip much-fancied Penryn.
“They (Penryn) will be up there this season without a shadow of a doubt,” said Kerswill. “We went down there last season under strength and were made to look very average.
“This Saturday, however, we will be stronger and look forward to continuing a more structured approach to play that we have adapted this season.
“Veteran Andrew Griffahs will start in the row alongside Jack Jones who’s pre-season commitment and effort has seen him rewarded with a start.
“Josh Langton will feature at six and, hopefully, will be more readily available this season after a change in work commitments.
“Jack Glover returns from travelling at scrum-half and will feed a powerhouse midfield of Mark Friend, Danny Oner and Ben Hadfield – an area that will be crucial to our success this season.
“Finally, Richard Cann immediately steps up from last year’s colts onto the bench and will be looking to make his first XV debut in the pack.”
Kerswill added: “I am eager for a performance and have high hopes we can cross the border and come back with a win.
“They (Penryn) have had a great pre-season against higher opposition and it will be a tough test. They will fancy themselves for a win but if we turn up with the correct attitude and mentality I have no doubt we can shock a few Cornishmen.”