Rugby

Saltash hope they have learned their lessons from last spell in Western Counties West

SALTASH are determined to make sure their stay in Western Counties West lasts longer than the previous time they were there.

The Ashes, who reached Twickenham in the RFU Senior Vase last season, have returned to level seven after a two-year absence.

They spent the 2015-16 campaign in the league after storming to promotion, but they went straight back down after finishing bottom of the table with just five wins from 26 games.

However, Saltash hope they have learned from that experience and feel better prepared for the jump up a division.

They will certainly get a good test of their credentials on Saturday when they visit Sidmouth, who finished sixth last season after a strong second half to the campaign.

Coach Nick Skinnard has made no secret of the fact that the Ashes’ first goal is just to try and stay up.

“It can’t be anymore than that really,” he said. “We would be deluded to think we would be able to do more than that, but we’ll go out and see how it unfolds.

“Because it is only three seasons ago that we were last there, we do remember it and remember that we failed miserably, but perhaps we have a better idea now what we need to do.

“We know everything has to be a little bit tighter, a little bit better, we have to be more consistent and perhaps be a bit rougher and tougher – not in a dirty sense, but just lift the physicality as it is a better league.”

He added: “We won’t really know to the end of October what the league is going to be like. It has been a bit frustrating watching it in the last couple of years as in both seasons there have been a couple of teams who have been quite poor, but the year we were there it was quite tight.”

Lewis Wells has been appointed Saltash’s new first team captain for the 2018-19 campaign. He also clearly remembers the last time they were in Western Counties West and he is more optimistic this time around.

“The previous time we got promoted we were unfortunate with a lot of injuries and some of our service players away,” said Wells. “I think this time we have a better platform with more depth in players so we are hoping it is going to go well.”

Cornwall flanker Wells is proud to have been given the honour of taking over the skipper’s role from Ryan Rayner.

“I have played for Saltash since I was 11 years-old, week-in, week-out,” said Wells. “I have travelled halfway across the country just to come home and play for them on a Saturday, so to now be 28 and skippering the side on their second time in Western Counties is a massive honour.”

Saltash have lost a couple of key players with Rayner ‘retiring’ and star winger Will Morton moving to Launceston, but they do actually have a bigger squad than last year with some new additions and with some colts moving up to the senior ranks.

“Obviously we have lost one or two front line players,” said Skinnard. “But we have got a couple of players back who couldn’t play last year. We are happy with the squad.

“We have kept most of the core players and the good thing is we have got good strength in our backs. We have lost Will Morton, but we have got Tom Martin back. He’s very quick and capable and we think he’ll do very well.”

One advantage Saltash do have is their sloping pitch at Moorlands Lane, which they know how to play well.

“It can be helpful,” admitted Skinnard. “Last year we played Old Cranleighans here who were hot favourites to beat us in the semi-final of the RFU Senior Vase, but I think playing them here was helpful. It is not a terrible pitch, but it has its own characteristics.”

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