IVYBRIDGE begin not only a new season at Cross-in-Hand on Saturday against Camborne, but also a new era.
The South West Premier League match will be the first played on the new artificial surface at the South Hams club.
The Bridgers have had Devon and Cornwall’s first RFU AGP pitch installed at their ground over the summer.
It will make Ivybridge, who also have other grass pitches and a large clubhouse, a hub for rugby in the West Country.
The new surface will be officially opened on Saturday by Devon RFU president Treve Mitchell ahead of the Bridgers’ match with Cornish rivals Camborne (2.30pm).
The club are planning a whole day of celebrations to mark the event. There will be an under-14 match at noon, a buffet for invited guests at 1.45pm, the main game at 2.30pm followed by Ivybridge seconds v OPMs at 5pm.
Although a lot of attention will be on the pitch opening, player-coach Lewis Paterson is hoping his team can deliver on it against Camborne – a side that they have had some good battles with in recent years.
“We’ve got a strong squad out and we are really looking forward to the first game,” said Paterson.
“We have been able to run around on the pitch a bit in pre-season and try and get used to it.
“We have really homed in on how we are going to play this season and on Saturday it should be evident how we do intend to play.
“We are not just going to be throwing the ball around. We have set a bar that we also want to be one of the most aggressive teams in the league. We have really worked on our physicality in pre-season. We have gone hard on the breakdown, scrums and set-pieces and what better way to test that than coming up against Camborne. We’ll certainly see if the players have taken everything on board.
“We have always been a team that does throw the ball around, but we have tried to make sure we have not gone too far that way just because of the pitch.
“We know the way we play with love that pitch, however, we have also isolated other areas that we needed to work on from last year.
“With Camborne we want to be physical, but also really drag them around the pitch. We can’t let Camborne come up and manipulate us as otherwise we’ll be in for a really tough day.”
Ivybridge had a bit of an up and down season last term. The finished ninth in a tight league, securing their league status by beating champions Dings Crusaders on the final weekend. However, had they not had five points deducted for not following correct protocols for postponing a game due to bad weather they would have finished in the top five.
They also ended last season on a high by winning the Devon Senior Cup for the first time in their history.
“Had we not been deducted five points and a couple of results had just gone our way we would have finished in the top four,” he said.
“We beat Dings, who won the league, and we are definitely capable of being up there. We definitely want to target the top four and the Devon derbies. We have got a lot of Devon derbies this year in our league.
Last season just five points separated fifth from 12th, with Newbury getting relegated despite winning half of their 26 games.
“I think this year the league will be more separated,” said Paterson. “I don’t think it will be as balanced as last year. I can’t see six points separating the top end of the league from the bottom again. I think there will be more of a divide this year.
“But a lot will depend on whether teams have maintained all their boys or not. We’ve only lost one.”
That one is Mitch Pinkus, who is currently training with Plymouth Albion. The England Counties Under-20 fly-half also has other clubs interested in him if he doesn’t get offered anything at Brickfields, while the door remains open if he does want to return to Ivybridge.
“He’s had some clubs come in and offer him a lot if he doesn’t go to Albion, but I’ve given him an option, if he wants,” said Paterson. “I have said I will support him in any decision he makes. I know if he stays here he will go far and I will develop him.”
They are also still without Jamie Tripcony, Alex Hall, Damon Akerman and Tom Scoles, who missed the end of last season.
However, prop Matt Finn has returned from training with Plymouth Albion and Pete Abraham is back after missing a large part of last term with injury.
And the biggest boost of all to Ivybridge this summer has been the return of former player-of-the-year Toby Borrow after a number of years away. He will start at flanker on Saturday in a back-row that also features Ben King and Paterson.