Rugby

RUGBY PREVIEWS: Ivybridge, Services and Saltash eye crucial league wins

IVYBRIDGE will head to Weston-super-Mare on Saturday in the South West Premier League desperate for a win to ease their relegation worries.

The Bridgers find themselves five points from safety, but they do have a game in hand on Newbury, who sit just ahead of them in the table and face league leaders Dings Crusaders this weekend.

Saturday’s match in Somerset is particularly important for Ivybridge as Weston-super-Mare are one of the teams they can still catch.

Weston are currently three places and eight points ahead of them, but they have played a game more.

“We do need a win,” admitted Ivybridge coach Lewis Paterson. “Sometimes as a coach you have to play it down, but sometimes you have to change it up and add a bit of pressure.”

Ivybridge were gutted last week after conceding a last-gasp converted try to narrowly lose 24-19 at second-placed Bournemouth. To add to their frustration the four teams above them won.

“Results did not go our way but this league is so tight and anyone can beat anyone and last week was just a reflection of that,” said Paterson. “There are no weak teams in this league.

“We’ve had a tough run recently, with most of our games against teams near the top of the table. We comfortably beat Maidenhead but narrowly lost to Bournemouth when really it should have been a five-point win.

“But we just have to make sure we are being positive.

“At least we are coming away with points. I don’t think there is one game this side of the year where we have not come away with something.”

He added: “I think we were a bit apprehensive about the Bournemouth game as we had to make a number of late changes. We put a hell of an effort in but just fell short.

“We just need to put the final pieces together. We just need that extra one or two per cent. It is important we just tweak, but not tweak massively. It is just about getting that balance right.

“Hopefully, this weekend we can get a big win and a bonus point. It will take a big effort, but we are confident.”

Ivybridge are boosted by the return of a number of players. Justin Rogers and Luke Martell return to the starting line-up, while James Sloan and Jon Morgan will be on the bench.

WESTERN COUNTIES WEST

DEVONPORT Services are hoping to take advantage of St Austell’s slip up last weekend when they host Sidmouth at the Rectory on Saturday.

Second-placed St Austell missed out on the chance to open up a gap between themselves and Services when they lost at struggling Crediton last weekend.

It means with just four games to go there are just two points separating the sides.

Services certainly want to put the pressure back on their Cornish rivals by continuing their unbeaten home record against Sidmouth.

St Austell, meanwhile, have a tricky trip to Falmouth, who find themselves fighting for their lives in a league where just three points separates eighth from 13th.

“Crediton did us a massive favour last week by beating St Austell,” said Services coach Mike Lewis. “We are only two points behind them, so we have to make sure we are focussed for this weekend.

“There is an opportunity to get promoted, which is what we have been aiming for all season.

“We have almost lost that opportunity twice this season, so let’s hope it is third time lucky. We have to try and grab the bull by the horns and crack on. Hopefully, we can get a result this weekend.”

He added: “Results show we are better at home than away. I think we are more cohesive when we are at home.

“But Sidmouth are not a bad team. They beat us at their place and they have not looked back since then. They have been climbing the table steadily and doing fantastically well. That result against us sparked that.

“We want to get one up on them because they beat us away. But we’ve just got to focus on how we can get a result.”

Services have players missing this weekend, including Ty Colwill, Jack Evans, Toby Knowles and Joe Page.

However, players like Ben Wadham and Mika Waqa are back in contention.

“Between the first and seconds together we have 35 unavailabilities, which is worse than normal,” said Lewis. “But we do have a lot of top players available so we have got a few selection dilemmas.”

CORNWALL/DEVON LEAGUE

AFTER their cup heroics last weekend, Saltash will once again turn their attentions to trying to win promotion from the Cornwall/Devon League.

The title hopefuls have been in incredible form recently, scoring nearly 250 points in their last three matches.

However, their promotion credentials are likely to be thoroughly tested away at fourth-placed Honiton.

Honiton have only lost five games this season. Fellow title-chasers Penryn were the last side to beat then when they narrowly triumphed 21-16 at Allhallows on February 3.

However, Honiton have only played once since then, when they beat Pirates Amateurs away on February 17, so it could be a good time for Saltash to play them.

Saltash, who booked their place in the semi-finals of the RFU Senior Vase last weekend with a 73-22 victory over Slough at Keyham, currently sit third in the table. They are four points behind Penryn but have two games in hand on them, while they are five points behind Wellington, with one match in hand.

The Ashes, meanwhile, will be hoping Plymouth Argaum could do them a massive favour by pulling off a major shock at Penryn.

Yet, Penryn, like Saltash, have found some impressive form in recent weeks. They have scored 225 points in their last three league games, including a massive 116-0 victory over struggling Wessex last weekend.

When Argaum and Penryn met at Bickleigh Down in November the Cornish club won 42-0 up, but they did have to work much harder than the scoreline suggest for that victory.

“It will be a tough game,” said Argaum secretary Stuart Quarterman.  “But every game in this league is.

“They are probably a better side this year, but we are probably in a better place than when we previously played them. We have a lot of positivity at the club.

“We are expecting a tough game, but we believe we have got a very, very good performance in us.

“The important thing for us is to beat the teams around us. The other games are a bonus.”

Eighth-placed Plymstock Albion Oaks are also in Cornwall on Saturday. They take on Lanner, who are two places above them in the table.

Oaks will be keen to get revenge for their 26-10 home defeat by the Cornish club in November, which was one of their few poor home displays.

“We were awful against Lanner when they came to us,” admitted Plymstock coach Callum Cload. “We basically said ‘here’s five points’

“Lanner are just above us in the league so it is a 10 pointer for us.”

Like most teams in the league, Oaks have found it tough away from home this season. But they have won their last two away games – narrowly beating Hayle and Torrington – and they want to keep that going.

They are also hoping to build on last week’s encouraging display against leaders Wellington.

“We do seem to play quite well against top teams,” said Cload.

“But we want to try and get some consistency away. We beat Hayle away and a few others, but you need everyone in the right mind-set to pull off results away from home.

Tavistock are another team playing in Cornwall on Saturday, with a trip to relegation-threatened Hayle.

Ninth-placed Tavistock are still waiting for that all-important league away win this season with all six of their victories coming at Sandy Park.

They are hoping they can change that statistic on Saturday against a Hayle side that have struggled to score tries this year. Although they have won five matches and drawn one the Cornish club have only managed two try scoring bonus points, which is the lowest in the league.

But Hayle did beat Tavistock 19-5 at home in November.

“We lost to Hayle in horrendous conditions at home,” said Tavistock coach Hammy Kerswill.

“I was away (for that game) but have been informed we struggled up front, something we pride ourselves in being a strength.

“I think we are safe from the drop, however, we don’t want our season to fizzle out. I know we have a few more wins in us yet.”

Tavistock got back to winning ways with a 30-5 victory over Withycombe last weekend. The game was turned into a friendly due to Withycombe needing to borrow some front-row players, but Tavistock were happy with their performance in tough conditions.

Many of last week’s team keep their places. However, Phil Wilson is unavailable so Kerswill is set to take over at hooker, with Darren Guppy coming in at prop. Jack Jones is set to return to the second-row in an otherwise unchanged pack.

Aidan Mason and Ben Milligan return to the backline, while Charlie Charlton is back in the squad on the bench. Former Ivybridge and Wiveliscombe back-row Anthony de la Cour is also added to the bench.

DEVON ONE AND TWO

TAMAR Saracens will play their third game in seven days on Saturday when they host Dartmouth in Devon One at the Parkway.

Last weekend, Sarries secured their league status by beating city rivals Old Techs 43-7, while on Wednesday night they overcame University of Plymouth III 41-27 in the quarter-finals of the Lockie Cup.

Saracens should have been playing two matches this weekend. As well as hosting Dartmouth on Saturday, they had been due to travel to Buckfastleigh on Sunday in the Devon Junior Cup. However, they have now pulled out of that competition due to the amount of games. They are also due to play Devonport Services seconds in the Lockie Cup semi-finals next Wednesday night.

“We have pulled out of the Devon Cup,” said Saracens coach Chey Bryce. “We picked up a few injuries on Wednesday night and playing Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday and now next Wednesday is just way too much.

“We have to look at our players’ health and safety. They have to go to work on Monday and we just have not got a big enough squad to play four games in eight days. That’s a ridiculous amount of rugby and I don’t think it is fair.  It is asking too much. You wouldn’t ask a Premiership player to do that and their bodies are better conditioned.”

Bryce said Saracens did not want to pull out of the Devon Junior Cup, but said they were left with no real option after they were told they had to play this Sunday.

They will now concentrate on the Lockie Cup after beating the University of Plymouth on Wednesday.

“It was good to get the win,” said Bryce. “I think we were the stronger side, especially when we played our systems and patterns, however, once it opened up a little bit before and after half-time, you could see our players had played a difficult game on the Saturday. We just could not recover quick enough and they scored a few points and put us under a bit of pressure to be fair, but we had the players to be able see it out in the last part of the game.

“I think playing a physical and difficult game on the Saturday and then playing a team that used the ball quite a bit really tested our bodies, so we are hopefully going to rest a few this weekend against Dartmouth.

“We are going to play some of our fringe players and players who have been training a lot.”

Neither Saracens or Dartmouth have anything to play for this weekend only pride. Saracens, though, will be keen to try and make up for a defeat at Parkway in the semi-finals of the David Butt Trophy at the start of the season and away at Dartmouth in November.

Also in Devon One, Old Techs have to try and put the disappointment of relegation behind them when they travel to Totnes for their final league game.

Techs’ one year stay in Devon One ended last Saturday when they lost to Tamar Saracens.

“We’ve got Totnes this weekend and we’ve still got the Devon Cup and the RNEC Cup so our season is not over,” said Old Techs coach Shaun Bedford-Smith.

“The team were really disappointed in their performance last week and hopefully we will get a positive response. It is going to be hard, knowing that you are going to be relegated, but we have to try and pick ourselves up.”

Bedford-Smith had been away last weekend and so had to miss the Sarries game, which had been rearranged after getting postponed a few weeks earlier.

“The feeling I got was that the scoreline spoke for itself,” said Bedford-Smith. “Sarries seemed to be up for it and we allowed them to play. By the time we did get into the game it was too late.

“It was just one of those days. All season we have been running every team close, but just did not turn up last week and they did. The players have to learn from that

“It is hugely disappointing to be relegated. At the beginning of the season I knew how close this league was going to be.  It is such a hard and tight league and injuries and unavailablities can cost you.

“We knew if we didn’t stay up that we would look back on certain games, like Exeter Saracens away, New Cross away, New Cross at our place and Tamar Saracens at our place, and we would be kicking ourselves.

“It wasn’t just last week’s performance that got us relegated. At least we did give ourselves a chance of staying up near the end.”

Bedford-Smith added: “This weekend we can try and few different players out. There are some fringe players who deserve a chance and with this a rearranged fixture we have got a few missing due to arranged holidays and the St Luke’s Men’s Walk.

“We are going up to Totnes to finish off the league season and hopefully we can get a win.”

In Devon Two, DHSOB are set to host IIfracombe at Stonehouse Creek.

“We’ve got a team and we are pretty positive about playing,” said DHSOB’s Mike Freeman.

“The council have said Stonehouse Creek is playable and I’m pretty sure Ilfracombe will come down as if not they will be deducted five points next season.”

OPMs are again without a league or cup fixtures but they will play Ivybridge’s second team at Cross-in-Hand.

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