Rugby

RUGBY PREVIEWS: Massive weekend for a host of the region’s teams

IVYBRIDGE play their final home match of 2017 on Saturday when they host fourth-placed Cleve at Cross-in-Hand (2.30pm)

The Bridgers have not enjoyed home comforts so far this season, winning just once on their own soil – a 28-3 victory over Hornets – but they are hoping they can change that this weekend.

They will go into the match on a high after beating Camborne away last Saturday. That triumph moved them out of the bottom three.

“Regardless of home or away, we just want to get back-to-back wins,” said player-coach Lewis Paterson.

“It was great to win at Camborne last week. It was a huge performance from the side, but we just want some consistency with our wins now.

“Any side that goes to Camborne and wins shows they can beat any team in this league. That is a tough place to go and they are a tough side. It was a massive win and we just have to use it to build on.”

He added: “We are definitely looking forward to having a big home game – our last of the year.

“Cleve don’t seem to travel that well so we have to try and capitalise on that.

“But they have had some good results. They beat Dings and have had some other really good wins, so it will be interesting to see which Cleve comes down.

“I think they are quite similar to us – when they are on form they are a very dangerous side.

“It will be a big game and a massive challenge.

“But we have to stop putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves to perform at home. We just need a result regardless of home or away to get back-to-back wins.”

Ivybridge are set to keep the same team that beat Camborne last week, with the only change likely to come at full-back where Mitch Pinkus is lined up to return.

Marcus Prout and Hayden Coles are set to be added to the bench.

“We have kept the team the same, apart from Mitch Pinkus coming in at full-back,” said Paterson. “We have rewarded the boys we played last week as we look for some consistency.”

WESTERN COUNTIES WEST

DEVONPORT Services are hoping they can again produce a ‘big game’ performance when they travel to St Ives for Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash.

Many of Services’ best displays this season have come in the games against fellow promotion hopefuls.

They have not lost to any of the top seven sides, but have narrowly slipped up to Torquay and Sidmouth away.

Leaders St Ives, like Services, have also lost twice on their travels, with one of their losses also at Torquay.

The Cornish club are currently two points ahead of Services, who sit in second spot.

“This is like part four of our big games,” said Devonport coach Mike Lewis. “Kingsbridge were second or third when we played them, St Austell were top when we played them and we built ourselves up for Chard as well.

“All the other ‘big games’ we have come out of them quite well, particularly in the way we have approached them and organised ourselves.

“We have been top-notch in the big games, so hopefully it will be the same again this week.

“However, the difference this time is that we are away. We played the other teams at home.”

Services have proved better at home so far this season. They are unbeaten at the Rectory.

“We have had two defeats and a draw on our travels, but had we scored seven more points – two conversions and a three-pointer – we would have won all three,” said Lewis.

“St Ives is a tough place to play at, especially if there’s wind and rain. Their ground is on the top of a hill and is one of the coldest places around.”

Lewis admits there is quite a bit of pressure on his team going into Saturday’s game.

“With them being a couple of points ahead it does put us under a bit of pressure because if they were to get a bonus point victory they would be more than a win ahead of us,” said Lewis. “But, hopefully, the players won’t let them get to them.

“We have to go down there and try and make sure we are on top straight away – we want to get off to a good start.

“We just have to keep trying to win games. Last week’s match was just as important as this and the way we went from losing to Sidmouth to beating Paignton, both clubs in a similar position, was fantastic. Hopefully, we can take that into this game.”

Services expect to have a similar squad to the one that beat Paignton 41-14 last week.  Number eight Matt Gregory is again missing, while backs Rhys Williams and Ben Wadham are doubtful, but Brandon Andrews should be fit again for selection.

Will Marsh is also pushing for his first start for the club after making his debut last week as a replacement.

“We signed him a while ago,” said Lewis. “He hadn’t played for a couple of years but used to play at University in Bournemouth and has been a stand-out player in the second team. He came off the bench last week and did really well.”

As Saturday is Services’ last away game of 2017 and their second team do not have a match, they are taking a full squad down to Cornwall on a 52-seater coach.

CORNWALL/DEVON LEAGUE

THERE is also a top-of-the-table clash in the Cornwall/Devon League where second-placed Saltash host unbeaten leaders Penryn at Moorlands Lane.

Penryn sit just two points ahead of Saltash, with third-placed Wellington, who host Hayle this weekend, another two points behind.

It means the top three positions could all be swapped around by 4pm on Saturday.

Penryn coach Ian Morgan said of the trip to Saltash: “It’s the biggest game of the season and will let us know how good we are.”

Penryn might be unbeaten, with 11 wins and a draw to their name, and have the best defensive record in the league, but they are along way behind Saltash and Wellington in the points scoring table.

They have scored 353 points, while Saltash have bagged 456 and Wellington 497. As well as playing Saltash away this weekend they will then visit Wellington in the first match of 2018.

Saltash have won their last five matches and showed last weekend at Lanner that they can dig out victories when the going gets tough.

Prior to Saturday’s match at Moorlands Lane there will be a minute’s silence for Saltash stalwart Dave Matheron, who died recently. He was a former Ashes player and colts coach.

Elsewhere in the Cornwall/Devon League, Plymstock Albion Oaks, Tavistock and Plymouth Argaum will all be looking to end losing runs at home.

Injury-hit Plymstock Albion Oaks have lost their last three matches but are hoping they can return to winning ways on Saturday when they host the ever-improving Pirates Amateurs.

After a shocking start to the season, the Pirates have won their last two matches and picked up losing bonus points in narrow defeats to Penryn and Lanner. They are now up to 10th and are level on points with eighth-placed Oaks.

Oaks coach Callum Cload admits the next two matches could be crucial for his side.

“In terms of us, this week is an opportunity for a momentum swing,” said Cload.

“We haven’t had many easy fixtures as of late and this is a game we should really target to try and play some of the rugby we used to and get some momentum.

“We went down to Penryn last week and defended for about 70 minutes. They are a good side – there’s no beating around the bush there – but hopefully Pirates Amateurs will be more of a match for us, especially being at home.

“But we have probably got Pirates Amateurs at the wrong time. They seem to have really found some form over the last month.”

Cload added:  “About three weeks ago we were in that middle table grouping but now we are looking towards the bottom. If we don’t perform well these next two weeks we could find ourselves in a really sticky position come the end of the year.

“These next two weeks are quite critical. If we could get two wins under our belt going into Christmas, that would put us in a much more comfortable position for the rest of the season.

“It could all depend on these next two games.

“At the moment we are on three losses in a row. If you lose four or five in a row then it is very hard to get yourselves out of that hole.

“But the ethos is still good and the spirit is high in the team, which is one of the more important things considering results have not been going our way of late. When that happens numbers can drop off, but the boys have stuck together quite well. Hopefully, we can get a couple of results in the next couple of weeks.”

Oaks have not been helped by injuries and having to keep changing their team.

“We have got loads and loads of injuries,” said Cload. “We are plagued really. We had to pull veteran Simon Light into the team last week and he did an outstanding job.

“This time of the year is hard as it is an amateur game and at Christmas people are asking for overtime and things like that and we also have at least 10 first team players injured.”

Tavistock, like Oaks, have also lost their last three league fixtures.  This weekend they host fifth-placed Lanner at Sandy Park.

“We beat Lanner home and away last season and the home game was a thriller,” said Tavistock coach Hammy Kerswill.

“They (Lanner) are a tight squad and are very physical, but I have confidence we can do well with a strong squad and build on last week’s confidence to move the ball.

“We have missed some key personnel at training so building on our game-plan has been difficult, however, the efforts of those training have been strong and we’ve focussed on a few tweeks in our mentality which have perhaps been the issue in previous weeks.”

Tavistock’s player availability has improved a bit this weekend, although they will be without Ash Miller and Ryan Bragg. They are, however, able to welcome back lock Jack Jones after injury and Mark Friend is fit after having to go off last week at Honiton with a dead leg after just three minutes. Friend will start in the centre with Andrew Schuttkacker returning to his favourite number eight position.

Andrew Craddock will remain at fly-half, while Ben Hadfield returns and will start on the wing. The experienced Phil Wilson is also back after five weeks out with injury and will start on the bench.

Plymouth Argaum are desperate for a win after losing their last six matches and dropping into the bottom three.

This weekend they host the surprisingly inconsistent Withycombe at Bickleigh Down.

Withycombe, who have been in the top four for the last four seasons, currently find themselves down in seventh spot. They have been beaten in their last two matches by struggling Wessex and Pirates Amateur. However, in the match before that they overcame Lanner 41-24 away and have beaten Saltash this season.

“We know Withycombe quite well,” said Argaum secretary Stuart Quarterman. “And we know how good they can be, but we are aware they have struggled the last couple of weeks.

“I know we keep saying the same thing, but we do believe we are close to getting a win. We just need to get the right players on the field at the same time. We just need all our strike players available.

“Last week we really wanted the win at Pirates Amateurs but to come away from west Cornwall with two points in quite reasonable and we have got players coming back into the fold.

“Our play around the park has been quite good and we put teams under a lot of pressure but we haven’t been converting it. I don’t think we are far away though.”

Argaum should be boosted by the return of captain and powerful centre John Ireland this weekend. Mason Edwards is also back in the mix as is Karl Sullivan. Dan James is also getting close to returning after 18 months out with a serious knee injury. James is back training and is likely to be pushing to play in January.

DEVON ONE AND TWO

WHEN it comes to eagerly-anticipated games they don’t come much bigger than Saturday’s clash at Weston Mill between Old Techs and Tamar Saracens.

The city rivals have not met in league rugby for five seasons, with both going up and down divisions at different times.

And if the clash of two neighbours in the league for the first time in half-a-decade was not enough, this weekend’s game is vital for both sides with neither having won yet in Devon One.

Both clubs have proved competitive in the division but have not been able to turn their performances into wins in the opening five games.

Yet a win this weekend could just be the springboard needed for one of the sides.

Techs coach Shaun Bedford-Smith admits there is no getting away from the importance of Saturday’s game.

“You can’t play it down and say it is just another game because there’s the rivalry and the situation we are both in,” said Bedford-Smith. “Both sides will be thinking that a win can kick-start their season.

“It is all about trying to get that win. It adds a bit more to the game that we are both in the same position.”

He added:  “We played them in the Lockie Cup a couple of seasons ago but that was the day after they had got promoted and I think a few had celebrated a bit too much.

“Five seasons for a league meeting is a long time and a lot has changed with players, but the rivalry is still there. We are all looking forward to it.

“If one of us was top of the league and one of us was bottom it would still be a massive game and one which there probably wouldn’t be a lot in it. That’s just how it always is.

“With both of us having the starts that we have had it puts even more on the game, it makes it even bigger, but it would have been a massive game anyway.”

Bedford-Smith expects there will be a decent crowd at Weston Mill to watch the clash.

“I think it will draw a bit of a crowd,” he said. “If I was a neutral and looking in the paper then I would think that’s a game I want to go and watch. I don’t think there will be a backwards step from us or them.

“These games are not always the prettiest because of what is on it, but there’s no getting away from the fact it is a big game. It’s just about getting that win more than anything else.

“It’s a game both sides will feel they can win and I doubt there will be much in it.”

Techs pushed title-chasing South Molton hard last weekend. They dominated possession but the hosts scored three late converted tries to win 29-0.

“I wasn’t pleased with the result but was pleased with the way we played,” said Bedford-Smith.

“We had a lot of experienced players missing and a lot of players playing out of position. We were a bit thrown together, but were only 8-0 down at half-time. I think we just ran out of steam on a very heavy pitch and they scored three tries in the last 15 minutes.

“It was a good performance again but we still didn’t win, so it’s about time we changed that. It’s about getting some points now.”

It has been a similar story this season for Tamar Saracens. They were beating leaders Topsham at half-time last weekend but eventually lost 37-22.

They are set to be boosted by the return of Steve Hodge and possibly coach Chey Bryce, who could make his long-awaited comeback from an ACL operation.

“The boys are really looking forward to it,” said Devon hooker Bryce.

“I am available but it depends on whether I’m selected, but hopefully I can get myself a spot.”

He added: “I have been and watched them (Techs) play a few times so we know what they are going to bring.

“We have been looking at a few things this week which will hopefully help us counteract what they are good at.

“We are feeling the pressure to get the win. We know that it is a big local derby and so both teams are going to raise their game. Hopefully, we can come out on the right side of it, but it is going to be a tough affair.”

Apart from the injured Frazer Tatchell and Adam Corbett, Sarries expect to have a full squad to select from.

In Devon Two, OPMs will be hoping to bounce back from last week’s frustrating 6-5 defeat to promotion-rivals Buckfastleigh.

OPMs could have won the game at the end but missed a penalty with the last kick of the match. They also had back Sammie Matts sent off in the closing stages.

The Old Boys will know it will not be easy to win at Ilfracombe in their final away trip of 2017.

The north Devon side are just one point behind them in the table and also have three wins out of five. Both clubs’ defeats have come against Buckfastleigh and North Tawton.

Last week OPMs just could not get their backs going but they have proved when they can that they can run in the tries. They are league’s top points scorers.

Also on their travels this weekend are Plympton Victoria, who find themselves just two points behind OPMs after five matches.

Plym Vic have claimed three wins out of five but will know they have a tough test on their hands this weekend with a trip to unbeaten Buckfastleigh.

Buckfastleigh have the division’s meanest defence, conceding just 12 points this season. Plym Vic, though, have shown they can score tries this season. Their biggest worry, like most clubs at this time of year, is player availability.

That again could be a major problem for DHSOB this weekend. They host unbeaten leaders North Tawton at Stonehouse Creek, but will be without their colts who are away at South Molton.

“We are hoping to have a team to entertain North Tawton,” said DHSOB director of rugby Mike Freeman.

“We know they are top of the table and we are scrapping the barrel at the bottom.

“We know we won’t get any mercy off North Tawton as they are going for promotion, but we’ll do our level best.”

St Columba & Torpoint will be hoping they can build on last week’s win over DHSOB when they entertain Salcombe at Defiance Field.

Salcombe are inconsistent. They lost to Plym Vic last weekend and have only beaten DHSOB so far in the league this season but they have given North Tawton and OPMs tough matches.

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