THE Devon One season kicks off this weekend with Old Techs, Tamar Saracens and new boys OPMs all at home.
Techs will host New Cross, Tamar Saracens will entertain Exeter Saracens and OPMs will welcome fellow newcomers North Tawton to King George V Playing Fields.
It will be a special day for OPMs. Not only will they be back in Devon One after a two-year absence but they will also be opening their ‘new’ clubhouse.
The club have revamped their changing room pavilion and created a social area for after-match hospitality.
On Saturday they will have food available and have a temporary bar licence from 1pm.
“The club have done a new social area in the block near the changing rooms,” said new first team captain Billy Garratt. “The main reason was for the junior section as they have nowhere to go for food after a game. It is the big grand opening on Saturday.
“We have got good availability this week and there’s a lot of excitement for Saturday.”
OPMs played North Tawton on the opening day of last season in Devon Two. They also met them in, what at the time, was thought of as a promotion decider in February, which North Tawton narrowly won 8-5 to win the title.
It looked like that loss had cost OPMs promotion, but a reorganisation of lower league rugby in the county, saw Devon One increased from eight teams to 11, with North Tawton, Buckfastleigh and OPMs all going up.
“They are always close and tough games against North Tawton,” said Garratt. “But we always enjoy playing them as we always learn a lot from the games.”
Garratt says the players are excited about testing themselves in Devon One this season, but they know it will be a tough division.
“We have been saying for so long how we wanted to be in Devon One but now we are here we realise how tough it is going to be,” he said. “There’s not going to be any walkover games. They will all be tough games, but we have been working hard in training and we are looking forward to it.”
What might surprise some of OPMs’ Devon One rivals is how strong they have become up front.
“OPMs have been notorious for being a very friendly and nice team,” said Garratt. “And it’s not that we want to go out there and be thugs on the pitch, but we want to go out and carry the ball a bit more and use the forwards and our size a bit more.”
“It was tough last season, but we never really got beaten badly by anyone,” said Techs’ Shaun Bedford-Smith. “There was the odd game where we didn’t play well, like against Sarries, where we got well beaten, but apart from that all our scorelines were fairly close.
“It was just we couldn’t score tries or points. We just couldn’t convert our chances. That was our big problem, but we have been working hard. We’ve had good numbers at training and there’s a good vibe around the club at the moment.
“We are full of optimism and excitement, like I’m sure every club is before the season starts.”
He added: “You don’t know what all the other clubs have done over the summer and who has joined them or left.
“We have New Cross on Saturday and we have no idea really what we are going to face. They completely changed at the back end of last season but you don’t know what has happened over the closed season.”
Bedford-Smith, though, expects all the teams to be strong, just as they were last year.
He said: “One of our players said recently ‘I’ve been looking through the league fixtures and we haven’t got one easy game’. I told him we didn’t have one last year so we are not going to have one this year, not with OPMs, North Tawton and Buckfastleigh coming up. All three of those are good sides.
“It is going to be a good league, but a tough one.
“I don’t really know about the two teams coming down (Exeter Athletic and Torrington), but at the moment I can’t see anyone totally running away with it.”
Techs have been boosted by a number of new arrivals this summer, mainly from 29 Command. Their only real loss has been veteran forward Neil Herbert, who has retired.
“I think we have signed nine or 10 new players, the majority are from 29, but we’ve had another lad join from Plymouth University,” said Bedford-Smith. “We’ve also got three who missed most of last season who are back now, so that’s like having new signings as well.”
Among those returning are Dave Clack and Nick Friend, while Sam Courtney is available again after missing the second half of last season due to commando training.
“We are looking like we have a lot more options and strength in depth,” said Bedford-Smith.
This summer they have said goodbye to coach Chey Bryce, who has returned to Brixham, and also influential prop James McFarlane, who has also moved to Astley Park. McFarlane marked his Brixham league debut last week with two tries against Maidenhead.
But Saracens have a new-look coaching set-up of Pete Lethbridge, Dean Oram and Mark Binnie and have been boosted by the return of youngsters Lewis Swatton and Scott Cooper from Devonport Services and the arrival of Adam and Craig Coutts from Saltash.
“Everyone’s optimistic,” said Saracens forward and spokesman Marc Cioffi. “It is looking really positive as we have a bit of depth in our squad.”
As well as the new additions, Cioffi is fit again after missing a large part of last season, first with a broken jaw and them with a broken leg.
He is hoping he can play this weekend as it was against Exeter Saracens in February that he broke his leg.
“I’m definitely hoping to be back in the mix as the last time we played Exeter Saracens I broke my leg,” he said.
“I broke my jaw against South Molton in November and in my second game back from that I went to score the fourth try that guaranteed we stayed up and as I went over the line a guy went through me and I broke my leg.”
Also back to full fitness is versatile forward Joey Pook.
“It’s good to have Joey Pook back as he is someone who is always on the front foot and played in nearly every position last year.”
Cioffi added: “There is going to be a lot more onus on people to step forward as James McFarlane has gone to Brixham. He was our front-man and would take the ball in, so we are going to be looking for new leaders within the team.”
Saracens played OPMs in a pre-season match, had the Paul Lethbridge Memorial game against Old Techs and last weekend their second team played Oaks’ seconds.
“Playing OPMs was good,” said Cioffi. “The teams that are coming up from Devon Two all have big packs and it was good to get used to that. OPMs have a mighty pack and that game was a proper forward battle. It was nice to have that in pre-season.”
New signing Adam Coutts is unavailable this weekend, but Tamar Saracens are hoping they can make home advantage count against an Exeter Saracens team who finished second-from-bottom last term.
“We have so much competition for places and we are always proud to play at home,” said Cioffi.
SOUTH WEST PREMIER
IVYBRIDGE hit the road for the first time this season in the South West Premier League when they travel to Cleve.
The Bridgers made a good start to the new campaign with a bonus point 29-24 victory over Camborne at Cross-in-Hand last weekend.
Cleve, meanwhile, lost 38-22 away at Exmouth, but they are more formidable at home.
Ivybridge are forced to change a winning side as player-coach Lewis Paterson is unavailable and Toby Borrow is injured. Both had started in the back-row against Camborne.
In their absence youngster Nathan Davies will make his league debut at number eight, while Marcus Prout will start at six.
“We just want to try and keep the momentum going,” said Paterson. “With injuries and unavailabilities it does open doors for some really good young talent. We’re excited to see young Nathan Davies play.
“We have got some really good depth at the moment and it is just about making sure some of these young boys get exposure.
“We want to go up there (to Cleve) and really put in a solid performance. We want to make sure we are doing the right things.
“Cleve are tough at home. We beat them in injury-time last year and they will be out for revenge, but we have a good side out and I just hope we go up there with a really good attitude.”
Ivybridge, meanwhile, have suffered a bit of a blow this week with news that Mitch Pinkus has decided to join their South West Premier league rivals Brixham after spending the summer training with Plymouth Albion.
However, Brixham are believed to have guaranteed him a starting spot at fly-half and a little bit of money, which is something Ivybridge are not able to do.
“Mitch let me know his decision during the week,” said Paterson. “He’s just a young lad who wants to better his rugby. We had a discussion and Brixham were able to guarantee him a starting place and a bit of money.
“With us, Luke Martell has been in really good form and so he would have had to really earn his spot in the team.
“He’s taken a big leap, but he’s got my full support. I wish him the best and hope he really does well with his rugby. I hope he stands out at Brixham, which I know he will.
“It is all about him developing as a player and not the badge he wears. He’s got the support of all of us at this club. That’s the type of team we are – we don’t hold grudges.
“He’s a young player, who has achieved a lot with us and I’m sure he will achieve a lot more with his rugby. I just hope it goes well for him.”
After coming back from a tour of Georgia with England Counties Under-20, Pinkus started training with Albion when they were looking for more fly-half cover when they thought Dan Mugford would be leaving them to play in France.
However, Mugford had a change of heart and stayed, while Albion had already signed Fraser Honey and are now believed to have also recruited Scotland Under-20 fly-half Connor Eastgate from Wasps.
As Pinkus had not been training at Ivybridge in pre-season, Paterson said it would have been unfair just to have brought him straight into their team at the expense of someone else who had been playing well. Brixham, however, are desperate for a number 10 having lost Tom Putt to Newton Abbot.
“I think he would have done well at Ivybridge and got in the team and played well for the shirt, but at the same time he had to earn it,” said Paterson.
Ivybridge will not come up against Pinkus until December when they travel Astley Park. Brixham also this week announced the signing of Devonport Services’ young hooker Reece Bartlett, who had also been training with Albion this summer.
SOUTH WEST ONE & WESTERN COUNTIES WEST
DEVONPORT Services and Saltash will both be hoping to put opening day nightmares in new leagues behind them this weekend when they play their opening home games.
Services host St Ives at the Rectory in South West One, while Saltash entertain St Austell at Moorlands Lane in Western Counties West.
Devonport lost 49-5 at highly-fancied Okehampton last weekend. It was a baptism of fire for them on debut at level six.
But coach Mike Lewis is hoping his team can move on from that when they play St Ives, who came up with them from Western Counties West last term.
“Last Saturday is miles behind us now – it is long gone,” said Lewis.
“It was an experience. I think when you go into something so tentatively you can expect something like that.
“For five or 10 minutes we were quite decent, but a few decisions went against us and it was just like the whole world shifted. It was like we just switched off and floodgates opened for a while. I have never seen us do that before.
“We will go either one of two ways this week. We will either be quite hesitant or we’ll jump in two footed – hopefully, it’s the latter.”
Services certainly know what to expect from St Ives having played them twice last term.
They lost 34-19 in Cornwall before winning 39-25 at the Rectory in the penultimate weekend of the league season to virtually seal second place.
“It was a hell of a game at home,” said Lewis. “I think we were something like 30 points up with 10 minutes to go, but then they scored four tries to one from us. It was a cracking game.
“I think St Ives are going to be really good this year. Chris Fuca is down there coaching and they also have Steve Kenward, who I went to university, and Rob Elloway. They have a great coaching set-up and they have also got a few new players in this year.
“But we are in a similar position. We also have some great coaches and some great players. We just need our attitude to be right this weekend. If it is we should be there or there abouts.”
Services should be boosted by the return of Ty Colwill, who missed last weekend’s game due to the birth of his child.
Captain Matt Gregory, vice-skipper Sam Bennett, Andy Pond and Nathan Trower could all be back in contention. However, Liam Jarvis is doubtful after becoming the latest player to suffer from an infected insect bite. Phil Greenside has also made good progress from a hamstring injury, but this weekend might be just too soon for his return.
Meanwhile in Western Counties West, Saltash will be out to banish the memory of their 66-7 opening day loss at Sidmouth when they host St Austell.
It was far from the start to life back in level seven that Ashes were looking for.
Although they will have home comforts this week they will be expecting another tough test against a St Austell side that finished third last season. Saints also got their season off to a winning start last weekend by beating Paignton 15-6.
Saltash did have an impressive home record last term. Only Wellington managed to win at Moorlands Lane and doing well at home this season will be key to Saltash’s Western Counties West survival hopes.
PLYMOUTH Argaum will play their second consecutive home game on Saturday when they welcome Withycombe to Bickleigh Down.
Argaum made a winning start last weekend by running in four tries on their way to a 29-24 win over Pirates Amateurs.
Withycombe, meanwhile, beat Lanner 50-15 at home in their opening fixture.
“They put 50 points on Lanner, but by all accounts Lanner only turned up with 14,” said Argaum coach Adrian Cameron.
“You really have to play four or five matches to get an idea of the pecking order in the league.”
Argaum beat Withycombe 15-14 at home last season but lost 82-0 away with a totally makeshift team in April.
“We know Withycombe have got weapons to do damage,” added Argaum secretary Stuart Quarterman. “But it is up to us to stop them using them.”
Argaum will again be without Mike Hunt, while Owen Belli is away this week and new signing Lewis Roddy is suspended after picking up a red card on his debut last Saturday, along with a Pirates player. However, Argaum do have Calum Mills available this week after missing the Pirates game, while Karl Sullivan and Ryan Chivers could also be in contention this Saturday.
This Saturday they make the trip to Cornwall to play Pirates Amateurs at Mennaye Field.
“They (the Pirates) are a lot different at home,” said Oaks player-coach Aiden Taylor.
“We are going to get the train down and have a little social so we should get a good team out and hopefully we can carry on where we left off.”
Oaks won a 59-33 at Pirates in April, while they also triumphed 27-15 at Horsham Fields.
Meanwhile, Tavistock will make the relatively short trip to Cornwall/Devon League newcomers Liskeard-Looe.
Tavistock suffered heartbreak last weekend by conceding a penalty seven minutes into injury-time to lose 16-14 to Bude.
They will be keen to bounce back from that and make a good start to their away fixtures. Their poor travelling last season was an issue. They had to wait until their final game of the season to win away and so would love to get a victory on their travels early on.
However, it will not be easy at last season’s Cornwall One champions Liskeard-Looe, who claimed a good two points last week with a draw away at South Molton.
“Last week was promising for us,” said Tavistock coach Hammy Kerswill. “Our set-piece was strong but discipline let us down with silly penalties.
“We haven’t met Liskeard for a number of years, but they will always be good at home.
“A win on the road will need to happen early doors this season if we are not to repeat last year’s poor away form.
“We are confident we can do the job and week-by-week we are looking a more threatening side.”
Tavistock, though, have a few selection issues this weekend and will be forced to change their team.
Jack Jones has picked up a chest infection and Josh Langton and Ben Milligan are away, while promising youngsters George Hillson and Jasper Cameron are fighting to shake off injuries.
However, Tavistock will have Andrew Craddock and Darren Guppy available for selection again.
DEVON MERIT TABLE
Saints narrowly lost a thriller at Sandy Park 41-40 with new signing Kieran Hurrell scoring four tries.
Hurrell’s arrival from Saltash is a massive boost to St Columba, who have struggled in recent seasons.
The South East Cornwall club are still looking for a head coach, but they are in a positive frame of mind after last week’s performance.
“I think some suspected it would be quite a heavy loss for us (last week) based on last season and how well Tavistock seconds did getting to the cup final,” said Hurrell. “But we really should have won the game. We just needed to seal it out in the last couple of minutes.
“But I think the club are quite confident now they can do quite well in this league.
“Socially, it’s a great club. Everyone has come together. They are still looking for a head coach, but we’ve bonded really well over the summer and you could see that on the pitch last week.”
“For me it was just down to family commitments,” he said. “I can’t play every week and as the (Saltash) team gets stronger and stronger I can’t guarantee selection so I thought I would move somewhere where I can play when I am available.
“Saints have been struggling for try scorers. I think that was why my friend, Lewis, who plays for them, was keen to get me across.”
Another player to join Saints this summer is Dan Newsome, who is new to rugby, while Steve Lister has returned to the club.
Hurrell says he has found it easy to settle in at his new home.
“The club has that family ethos,” he said. “You come in and you feel welcome straight away. The club is well known around the local area and that makes it a bit easier to recruit people.”
Saints are looking forward to Saturday’s game with Argaum Wanderers.
“They beat DHSOB last week, but I think we’ll be quietly confident in our first home game that we might be able to get a result,” said Hurrell.
If anyone is interesting in coaching St Columba they should contact the club through their Facebook page HERE