WESTERN COUNTIES WEST & CORNWALL/DEVON LEAGUE
DEVONPORT Services are determined to try and take advantage of St Ives’ slip up last weekend when they travel to Chard on Saturday in a rearranged Western Counties West match.
Leaders St Ives suffered only their third defeat of the season when they lost at Tiverton last weekend.
It means the title race is back in Devonport Services’ hands. Although they are 12 points behind St Ives they do have two games in hand and also have to play the Cornish club at the Rectory, where they are unbeaten.
One of their games in hand is this weekend against seventh-placed Chard, who they had been due to play on January 19.
“It is now in our hands,” admitted Devonport Services coach Mike Lewis. “It was not in our own hands until last weekend, so now we have to make sure we take the opportunity.
“We don’t want to forgo this chance. We have to make sure we try and get five points in every game now until we play them (St Ives).”
Lewis knows the pressure is on his team, but he wants them to continue to enjoy their rugby.
“Everyone wants to enjoy their rugby – that’s why people play,” he said. “You want to try and enjoy every Saturday, but knowing you need to get points does put extra pressure on.”
Chard away is not an easy task for Services, but Lewis said they have prepared the best they can.
“We are all assuming the game will be on and we are preparing correctly,” he said.
“We are ready to go. We had done our research on them already. It is just the same stuff as before. We have now covered it twice so hopefully that makes us even more organised and ready for it.”
Services, though, are again missing key players.
“I think between our first and our seconds this week we have 27 unavailable, which is above average, but we still have plenty to select from,” he said.
“But we are short of second-row/back-rows as Adrian Montague, Ben Morris, Matt Gregory and Aaron Webb are all unavailable this week. They are four key second-row/back-row players.”
In their absence, colts coach Joe Page could make a surprise return to Services’ first team.
It looked like Page’s career had ended a couple of years ago after suffering a serious knee injury during a spell with Saltash.
“He has not played for two years, but it’s really good to have him back,” said Lewis.
“He thought his knee was worse than it was, but he’s had an operation and lots of rehab and is ready to go again. It will be good to have him back.”
Services’ colts are without a game this weekend.
The Ashes were already pencilled in to host Withycombe on Saturday in the RFU Senior Vase. However, as their league game was postponed last month the clubs agreed to play a double-header.
Saltash did beat Withycombe at the same stage of the RFU Senior Vase last season and eventually went on to reach the national semi-finals and were within touching distance of playing at Twickenham.
They would love another cup run but also have their eyes on winning the Cornwall/Devon League.
The Ashes did suffer a bit of a blow last week with a narrow 17-13 defeat at fellow title hopeful Wellington.
That leaves them third in the table, level on points with second-placed Wellington and four behind Penryn, who have played two games more.
Saltash will be keen to return to winning ways on Saturday and also make up for their surprise 22-10 defeat at Withycombe in September. That is the only match this season the Ashes haven’t at least picked up one bonus point from. The only other team to beat them this term are Wellington.
Meanwhile, Ivybridge are without a game in the South West Premier League. It did look like they would be playing Maidenhead in a rearranged league game, but that fixture has now been put back to February 24.
The Bridgers, though, have suffered a major blow after having five points deducted for not following the correct procedures for postponing their match with Maidenhead last month due to a waterlogged pitch. The loss of the points drops Ivybridge into the bottom three.
DEVON ONE AND TWO
TAMAR Saracens are hoping their pitch will be playable on Saturday so they can host city rivals Old Techs at the Parkway.
Their playing surface took a battering last weekend when they played Topsham in a match that had to be abandoned early due to the conditions.
Saracens were 19-0 up at the time against title-chasing Topsham and want to try and continue that form against Old Techs, who are still waiting for their first league win of the season.
Both city clubs need the win to try and pull themselves out of the bottom two with the season quickly drawing to a close.
“The pitch took a little bit of a battering last week, but the weather has not been too bad this week,” said Tamar Saracens coach Chey Bryce.
He added: “Last week will give us a lot of confidence. Training has been good this week. There has been a lot of smiles on faces which is really nice to see. Hopefully, we can take the momentum of last Saturday into this.
“We understand that they (Old Techs) are going to be a little more physical up front, which was an area we dominated against Topsham. Hopefully, we can come back with the same sort of tempo and aggression and really put on another performance and get another win.”
Saracens are boosted by the availability of scrum-half Tom Rigby, prop Tom Hicklin, forwards Joe Pook and Josh Heath and possibly Adam Corbett, who has been out for a long time after a serious head injury earlier in the season.
However, Bryce is set to miss the game. He made his comeback from an ACL injury last weekend and scored a try against Topsham. However, he is now struggling with a back injury.
Techs did not play last weekend as their match with Totnes was once again postponed.
They will be without forward Tom Luxton, who dislocated his shoulder in their last match against South Molton, but they should have Billy Evans and Jack Courtney back.
Techs coach Shaun Bedford-Smith said: “We want to get a win, but so do they. They managed a narrow win down at our place so it would be nice to win at theirs. But we just want a win under our belts, no matter who it is against.
“Saracens won last week and so will be full of confidence.
“But we are looking forward to the game. It’s a local derby and they are always good to play in and always tend to be really close.
“There was not much in it the last time we played and it will probably be the same this time, but, hopefully, we can be on the winning side.”
OPMs are currently third but are only four points behind leaders North Tawton, who they still have to play at home, and two behind second-placed Buckfastleigh.
Ilfracombe, though, are not totally out of the equation. They are in fourth, six points behind OPMs, but do have a game in hand and after this weekend they only have bottom four teams to play.
“It is a massive game,” said OPMs chairman Matt Glastonbury. “If we can get a win this weekend we are in with a chance. We only have three games left and two are against teams in the top four.”
The good news for OPMs is that the council have said their pitch at King George V Playing Fields is playable.
“It is the first time we have been allowed to play at home this year,” said Glastonbury. “We ended up going to Brickfields for Salcombe and then Torpoint, although that one got called off due to lack of players. It will be nice to get back to home definitely.”
OPMs have not yet conceded a try at home and they will be hoping they can keep that statistic going against an Ilfracombe side who beat North Tawton in their last outing.
DHSOB will be North Tawton’s opponents this weekend.
The Old Boys make the trip north keen to prove a bit of a point after losing 103-10 to the leaders in December.
“We are definitely going,” said DHSOB’s Mike Freeman. “We have got a mini bus and probably a couple of cars going up.
“We are hoping to improve on what happened at home.”
The Old Boys are boosted by the availability of a number of their colts side, who are without a Merit Table game this weekend.
Plympton Victoria also have a tough test on Saturday. They host second-placed Buckfastleigh at Marsh Mills.
“They (Buckfastleigh) are going to be looking to win without a doubt,” said Plym Vic’s Chris Hunt. “But we’ll put out the strongest squad we have available and see what we can do against them.
“When we played them at their place we did score, which is something not many teams have done this season. We were really hamstrung by lack of numbers that day.
“If we can get good availability then I would like to think we at least could give them a competitive game.”
In the other Devon Two game, St Columba & Torpoint are due to travel to Salcombe.