IVYBRIDGE have their eyes firmly set on claiming their first Devon derby win of the season on Saturday and moving well clear of the relegation zone in the South West Premier League.
The Bridgers visit Brixham this weekend sitting in eighth spot in the table.
However, the league is incredibly close this season and although the Bridgers are in mid-table they are only three points ahead of the relegation zone.
Brixham are in an even more perilous spot. They are in 11th place and are only staying out of the bottom three due to number of wins and points difference. However, they could overtake Ivybridge this weekend if they were to win.
It means Saturday’s fixture at Astley Park is massive for both clubs, neither who played last week due to the bad weather.
“We were unfortunate not to play last weekend, but we are just looking forward to playing Brixham,” said Ivybridge coach Lewis Paterson.
“We still want to win a Devon derby game. We have not won one since this time last year and that’s frustrating in itself considering we had such a good Devon derby record.
“We have a good squad heading into Saturday and we’ve had a good week’s preparation. It is now just about trying to put the icing on the cake. We just want to try and produce the result we want, and the one we know we are capable of doing, on Saturday.”
Brixham have not won yet in 2018 and have lost three of their last four games.
“We are going to go there and target them,” said Paterson.
“They have had a run of bad results when we have only had one loss and have been playing some good rugby.
“It is important this game goes ahead and we make full use of it in terms of coming away with points.
“Like I said, it is game we have targeted. We have to try and hit them while they are down.
“They will raise their game because it is a Devon derby and it is against Ivybridge, but if we start with a bang and hit them hard I know they will ease off.”
Brixham did beat Ivybridge 24-7 at Cross-in-Hand earlier in the season.
Paterson, who went off injured in that game, said: “They scored some breakaway tries. We had them down to 13 men at one point and they weren’t that good, but they did the right things at the right times to get points from it, whereas we didn’t.”
Ivybridge are missing regular prop Matt Finn, but AJ Reeves is back in the squad, while Marcus Prout is set to start in the front-row.
Matt Grieveson is in line to start at fly-half, with Charlie Briant partnering Paterson in the centre and Hayden Cole on the wing.
WESTERN COUNTIES WEST
Kingsbridge, coached by Exeter Chiefs’ Kai Horstmann, had high hopes of making an instant return to South West One, but they lost vital ground before Christmas and find themselves 14 points behind second-placed Services.
However, they have only been beaten six times this season and only one of those defeats – a narrow 14-11 loss to league leaders St Ives – has come on their own pitch.
Their home form is very impressive and so Services know they will really have to be at their best to pick up another win in their bid to chase down St Ives, who still have to visit the Rectory.
“Games like this one can turn your season,” said Devonport coach Mike Lewis.
“Kingsbridge don’t look like they are going to get promoted, but they are a good side and at home they are even better.
“Their history tells you that they are always going to be near the top of the table.
“They really are a tough team to come up against. But we are fully prepared for them and we are certainly not taking the game lightly. It is probably going to be just as tough as when we played St Ives or St Austell.
“We are anticipating a very close game this weekend.”
Conditions could be tricky on Saturday, but Lewis hopes his team are prepared for anything.
“Our players have played on their pitch enough to know how to play it in all conditions,” said Lewis. “Obviously, they don’t know it as well as Kingsbridge, but I think they all have a general idea how to play the pitch. The slope can dictate how a game goes, depending on the weather.”
Services are missing a few key forwards, including Matt Gregory, Adrian Montague, Ben Morris and Ty Colwill.
“We are a bit short of forwards, but the backs are pretty similar,” said Lewis.
Captain Gregory is still recovering from injury, while veteran Montague is unavailable for the next couple of games.
Montague has been bringing some much-needed experience this season to a young Services’ side.
“Montague is approaching 40, but he’s one of the most athletic players out there,” said Lewis. “He works his socks off and he’s also pretty vocal. We have got quite a quiet team as everyone is quite young, so it is good to have an older, experienced head just dictating a few things. He’s quite influential on these younger lads, so we will miss him for sure.”
Services, though, do have Brandon Andrews and Matty Anstis available for selection again in the backs.
Neither club has played for a month due to the bad weather. Their inactivity has allowed Penryn to move to the top of the table, but they have played two games more than both Saltash and Wellington, who are second and third currently.
Saltash are three points ahead of Wellington, courtesy of three more bonus point. Both teams have won 13 of their 15 matches and have both scored more than 550 points.
Wellington, who have Cornwall boss Graham Dawe overseeing their coaching, do have the longest unbeaten run in the league. They have not lost since September. But Saltash have not been beaten since narrowly losing 32-26 to Wellington in October.
It should be a cracking match in Somerset and could go a long way to deciding the outcome of the league.
Saltash will know they will need their set piece to be at its best, especially with conditions expected to be difficult.
It is a big weekend at the top end of the table as leaders Penryn have to travel to fourth-placed Honiton, who have an impressive home record. Honiton are only four points behind Penryn, having played the same number of games. It means the top four places could completely change around this weekend.
Plymouth Argaum are also a team that could move positions in the table this weekend.
They currently sit in 10th spot but 11th-placed Pirates Amateurs have the same number of points as them, while both are just two behind ninth-placed Tavistock.
Argaum have a tough test on Saturday when they travel to fifth-placed Bude, who are traditionally tough to beat at home.
Argaum, though, performed quite well against the north Cornwall club at their place before losing 19-6 and will travel in a positive frame of mind after winning both the games they have played in 2018.
“Bude are fifth in the table so it is one of those games where we have nothing to lose,” said Argaum secretary Stuart Quarterman.
“We do always seem to play reasonably well against them.”
Argaum are waiting to see if Ryan Chivers will be fit to play, but they should have former Esher and Bracknell scrum-half Chris Perkins available.
New forward signing Joe Walker could also feature for Argaum after joining from Ivybridge.
Walker started playing rugby at Argaum at under-nine level as his dad, Martyn, was at the club. But he moved to Ivybridge and progressed through to their senior squad. However, he has always kept his links with Argaum and would sometimes guest in special matches.
Argaum have also re-signed Mike Hunt from Plymstock Albion Oaks, but he will not be involved this week. He is currently looking to transition from playing in the forwards to the backs.
However, they are expecting a tough test at Torrington, who have pushed a lot of teams hard at home.
“Torrington is a difficult pitch to play,” said Tavistock coach Hammy Kerswill. “There is a notable slope and they play it well.
“I’m hoping we can keep the ball for multiple phases and be creative with it.
“Conditions will probably be tricky but with confidence we have many exciting ball runners.”
Tavistock are able to welcome back scrum-half Jack Easton, but Martin Budden is unavailable. Josh Langton and James Perkins will line-up alongside captain Andrew Schuttkacker in the back-row.
Kerswill is hoping to shake off a neck injury to play at hooker, alongside Ash Martin and Darren Guppy at prop.
Meanwhile, Plymstock Albion Oaks will be looking to make it three wins in a row when they travel to second-from-bottom Wessex.
Eighth-placed Oaks have actually won four of their last five games and another victory could move them into the top half of the table, despite having lost five points for an administrative error.
Their opponents Wessex have not played since mid-December due to the Christmas break and then having their last four matches postponed due to the weather.
Wessex may be in the relegation zone but they have proved on their day when they have a full side that they can be a threat. They drew with leaders Penryn and before Christmas beat Withycombe. They also made Oaks work hard earlier in the season for a 12-5 victory at Horsham Fields.
DEVON ONE AND TWO
Techs have given nearly every team a good match this season following their promotion from Devon Two, but have just not been able to dig out a victory.
But they do head to Totnes in positive mood after encouraging displays against title-chasing South Molton and Topsham in recent weeks.
They also know if they are to have any hope of staying up they with probably need to win three of their last four games.
“We have Totnes away, then Tamar Saracens, Dartmouth and Exeter Saracens,” said Techs coach Shaun Bedford-Smith. “They are tough games, like they all are in this league, but they are all ones we are looking at winning.
“We were not too disappointed last week (losing to South Molton). We just said, let’s get to training, let’s get the numbers there and let’s keep going and keep battling.”
Tamar Saracens also need to start picking up some wins if they are to avoid the drop.
They have tough match on Saturday when they host second-placed Topsham at the Parkway – weather permitting.
Saracens are not as strong as they would have been last Saturday, but are desperate to play after not having a match for a month due to the weather.
“We really want to play,” said coach Chey Bryce. “Hopefully, we can get it on.
“Unfortunately, we have not got all the players that were available last week, but we have other players to step in.”
Among those unavailable are new signing Josh Heath, scrum-half Tom Rigby and prop Tom Hicklin, while James McFarlane and Bryce himself are doubts.
Bryce has been waiting for weeks to make his return from an ACL injury, but unfortunately he strained his ankle at work in mid-week. He is having physiotherapy and is hoping to be fit, but is unlikely to know until the day.
Saracens have also suffered a blow with news that young goalkicking back Lewis Swatton has decided to leave the club. After playing for Devon Under-20s, Swatton has told Saracens that he will be training with Ivybridge.
Bryce admits his departure is disappointing after they nominated him for Devon.
Saracens suffered a similar loss earlier in the season after back-row forward Scott Cooper was selected for Devon Under-18s and then joined Devonport Services.
“We sent Lewis because we know he’s a good player and we wanted him to represent Tamar Saracens as it’s a good thing for our club, but two weeks into the camp he moves to Ivybridge,” said Bryce.
“The same happened with Scott Cooper. We sent him and lost him as well.”
He added: “Lewis has played every single game for us. It’s disappointing, but, at the end of the day, we wish him luck. Hopefully, he can go on and prove that he is up to that level.”
Saracens will have two sides out this weekend as their second team will play Devonport Services thirds in the Ellis Trophy.
Plympton Victoria are also in Ellis Trophy action this weekend. They play University of Plymouth IV in the Plymouth Combination cup competition.
“That’s going to be a bit of the unknown as we don’t know what they are going to be like,” said Plym Vic’s Chris Hunt.
“We don’t even know if it is going to be a genuine fourth team. There have got three teams above them that they can pull people from.
“It’s a bit of the unknown, but we’ll just come out the best we can and see what happens. See if we can get through to the semi-final of the Ellis or go down to the Pedrick Cup.”
The Old Boys well and truly put themselves back in the race for promotion by beating leaders Buckfastleigh last week.
With the top two meeting this weekend and OPMs still having North Tawton to play, they know their destiny is now in their own hands.
“Before we were hoping other results would go our way but now we are in the driving seat,” said club captain and vice-chairman Henry Matthews. “We still have to play Ilfracombe and North Tawton at home, where we have not conceded a try. We just have to keep going.”
OPMs player Mark Hardie added about this weekend’s game against St Columba & Torpoint: “We know they will raise a side – they always do to play us.
“But we just have to do the job. Destiny is in our own hands now. It is doable and we just have to keep our confidence up and our effort going.”
Elsewhere in Devon Two, DHSOB are hoping to host Salcombe in a rearranged match.
Stonehouse Creek, where DHSOB play, is a council pitch and has been out-of-bounds for the last few weeks. However, the Old Boys are hoping that it will be available to them on Saturday. But they are also exploring other options to try and play.
“We certainly want to play,” said DHSOB’s Mike Freeman. “We have had quite a few at training this week.
“We know Salcombe are not a bad team, but we are just desperate for a game.”
Services colts are in action against Devonport Services, but DHSOB are optimistic they will be able to get a decent side together. DHOSB have received a boost ahead of Saturday’s game with the Brewery Tap agreeing to sponsor the rearranged match.