TOM SCOLES is back in Ivybridge’s first team squad after more than a year out with a serious shoulder injury.
Scoles will start on the bench this weekend when third-placed Ivybridge welcome 11th-placed Cleve to Cross-in-Hand for their final game of 2018.
Although the Bridgers will be favourites to claim an 11th win of the season on Saturday, player-coach Lewis Paterson insists his side will not underestimate their Bristol opponents.
Cleve may have only won four matches this term but they have picked up 12 bonus points and are the league’s second top points scorers behind leaders Bournemouth, although that is mainly due to a 104-12 win at Old Patesians.
Cleve, who lost 29-22 to Ivybridge at the start of the season, did beat Exeter University 34-0 last week.
“They have had some high-scoring games,” said Paterson. “From watching the video when we played them up there at the start of the season we were very controlled, but Cleve are a good side.
“They have some big bruisers in their pack and they are like our friendly rivals who we came up with from South West One.
“When a side is playing a higher placed team and they have players who can turn it on then they can be dangerous.
“But we are on the ball at the moment. We are playing very smart and mature rugby and grinding out good wins.
“Cleve may be a high-scoring team, but we do pride ourselves on good ‘D’. For Brixham last week not to get a try on their own pitch was down to our defence.
“From the outside looking in, people will be saying this is a game we are expected to win, and that’s understandable. But the Ivybridge culture is that no game is just winnable – no game is ever that easy. We are certainly not thinking this game will be a walk in the park. We have to make sure we raise our intensity again.
“We got a win against Brixham last week because we were relentless. We have to do the same against Cleve and keep the pressure on and manipulate the opposition.”
Paterson is delighted to have Scoles back in the reckoning after his shoulder injury picked up last October against Newton Abbot. However, Paterson is missing this weekend, as is prop Matt Finn, who picked up a knee injury last week at Brixham.
Finn’s injury gives Wes Vermingle a start with Marcus Prout joining Scoles and coach Jamie Tripcony on the bench.
SOUTH WEST ONE AND WESTERN COUNTIES WEST
The pair came up from Western Counties West together and have both enjoyed encouraging starts to life at the higher level. St Ives sit in third spot at the halfway mark, while Services are sixth.
Devonport beat St Ives 26-22 at the Rectory in early September but the Cornish club have an impressive home record. They have only lost once this season on their own soil – a 40-33 defeat to leaders Launceston.
A trip to St Ives in December has become a regular occurrence for Services. This is the third year running they have played the Saints in their final away game before Christmas. They lost 34-19 there last year, but did win 19-14 two years ago.
“We played them in our first home game of the season,” said Services coach Mike Lewis. “I watched the video back this week and we did really well against them.
“They have got some big players in their team and rely on a couple of key forwards to get them across the gain-line, but we really did well to nullify some of those.
“We are now coming up against similar teams every week in this league. Whereas last year when we came up against them (St Ives) we were thinking ‘this is a tough old outfit’, but now we are coming up against that every week. We are starting to get used to playing against big teams now.
“Last week, North Petherton were big, but I think we dictated to them what they did in attack through our defence, which is exactly what we wanted to do.
“We are working really hard on our ‘D’ at the moment and it is improving.
“Our attack has been pretty decent all year. Even when we lost to Launceston by a considerable margin I thought our attack was very good.
“We are building and hopefully we will get a really good result in this last game of the year just to take us through into January. A two week break is a long time in rugby.”
He added: “It is tough down at St Ives. It is quite inhospitable in terms of that there is normally always a howling wind with the ground on top of a hill and it is a typical Cornish rugby club. They do have a good home advantage and in the past we have not been used to going there. But, hopefully, this week, with the way we have been defending against these big teams, we can step up and play our own game on the road, like we do at home.”
Services are set to be missing Richard Goffin, Matt Nayle-Opie and Liam Jarvis this weekend, but expect to keep a similar side out to that which beat North Petherton 43-24 last weekend.
In Western Counties West, Saltash face a tough trip to Cornish rivals St Austell on Saturday.
St Austell are flying high in second place at the halfway point of the season with 10 wins from 13 games. Their home form is particularly impressive with only leaders Sidmouth having won at their place this season.
However, Saltash will take hope from their performance against the Saints at Moorlands Lane in September. The Ashes pushed their county rivals hard but just fell short, losing 22-19 in their second match following their promotion.
One of Saltash biggest issues this season is playing for a full 80 minutes. That problem struck again last weekend when they narrowly lost to Winscombe 24-21 after conceding a last-gasp penalty. However, it was not conceding a late penalty that lost them the game but their first half display as they went 21-0 down before pulling back level in the second half.
A win last week would have put them in a good position going into the second half of the season and match the number of wins they picked up the last time they were in Western Counties West.
As it is they are fourth from bottom with a bit of work to do after Christmas to make sure they pull clear of the relegation zone.
Argaum are desperate to end a five-match losing streak that has seen them drop down the table and close to the relegation zone. They are just five points clear of the bottom three now after initially making a good start to the season.
Last weekend they travelled down to promotion-chasing Penryn with just 14 players and then ended up with just 12 on the field as they lost 72-0.
This weekend they expected to have better numbers available for a game against a side that have not won since September and who they beat 47-12 at Bickleigh Down in September.
Argaum, though, are not taking anything for granted, having previously lost to Hayle and Tavistock when they were bottom.
“There is no deny this is a massive game,” said Argaum’s Stuart Quarterman.
“There have been games this season where we should have taken the points from, including Liskeard in our last home match. That was definitely three points lost without a doubt.
“We have to look at the games against Tavistock and Hayle and make sure we don’t let the same happen at Withycombe and lose to the bottom side.”
Argaum have boosted their squad with the signing of Royal Marine Rory Dingemans, who is a utility back. They should also have the likes of Chris Perkins and Tom Worboys in the backs on Saturday and have a settled pack.
Young student Chris Baker was one of the Argaum players who impressed last week at Penryn and should keep his place in the squad.
Meanwhile, Argaum are on a fundraising drive to try and raise funds for a new changing room boiler after it exploded just before their last home match against Liskeard-Looe.
The Roborough-based club need to find around £5,000 for a new one, which they want to get in place for their annual Boxing Day clash with OPMs.
Plymstock Albion Oaks will be favourites to pick up their 12th win in 14 league games on Saturday when they host relegation-threatened Pirates Amateurs at Horsham Fields.
Oaks returned to winning ways after consecutive defeats to fellow high-flyers Honiton and Bude last weekend when they beat Liskeard-Looe 14-0 in horrible conditions at Lux Park.
Despite only losing two games this season they have dropped down to fourth in the standings, but the top three sides all have tricky matches this weekend and Plymstock will be hoping to take advantage of any slip ups.
However, player-coach Aiden Taylor knows they cannot afford to underestimate the Pirates.
“It should be a win but nothing is a certainty in this league” said Taylor.
Tavistock could move further clear of the bottom three if they beat Plymouth Combination rivals Liskeard-Looe on Saturday at Sandy Park.
Tavistock, who have been boosted by two Australian arrivals, have picked up form in recent weeks.
They put 45 points on Hayle and have pushed Honiton and Lanner hard away and came within a score of beating Torquay at home.
This weekend they will be hoping to make up for a 39-0 defeat at Liskeard at the start of the season.
“We took a bit of a stuffing at Liskeard with an understrength side doubling up with a poor performance,” said player-coach Hammy Kerswill. “But that’s not taking anything away from Liskeard, who performed on the day.
“The weather will be a big factor again, but we hope our set piece can set the tone for our exuberant backs to enjoy some clean ball.”
He added: “We have focused on defence this week and the importance of effective and constant line-speed.”
Tavistock, who impressed against in-form Honiton last week, are able to name the same back line for the first time in three seasons. Ed Nettleship, however, will return to the bench.
In the pack, the only absentee is Seb Cox, but Jamie Legg is back. Australian forward Doug Morgan-Thomas, who made his debut last week, misses out on a home debut due to a minor ankle sprain.
DEVON ONE AND DEVON MERIT TABLE
Both Old Techs and Tamar Saracens are heading to Exeter for meetings with high-flying opponents, while OPMs have a trip to Kingsteignton.
Old Techs will play third-placed Exeter Saracens, Tamar Saracens will face leaders Exeter Athletic, while OPMs will take on bottom side New Cross.
Old Techs got a lesson in how to be clinical last weekend by Exeter Athletic, who beat them 36-0 in wet and windy conditions at Weston Mill.
“They were a well-drilled and organised side,” said Techs’ Shaun Bedford-Smith. “They punished us in the first half for our own mistakes. We had two charge downs that they scored tries from and we then gave away a penalty in our own 22 and they took a quick tap penalty and scored.
“But at 14-0 down we had a try disallowed and that could have made a difference but it wasn’t given and they went up the other end and scored.
“Their defence was very good. In the second half we threw everything at them for 15 or 20 minutes but we just could not get through their line.
“We were beaten by a better a side, but I think the scoreline did not really reflect the game. They were just clinical.
“This weekend we have another hard game. We knew we were in for a tough period with games against the top three in a row.
“But this week it is just about us trying to execute our game-plan.”
Techs will again be missing influential centre Matt Simmonds, who had to pull out of last week’s game with knee injury. They have also lost Nick Friend again, just two weeks after returning from a ankle injury. He has now picked up a shoulder problem. Billy Evans is also a doubt with an arm injury, which forced him off last week.
But Techs are able to welcome back goalkicker Joel Dicken after a month working in Canada and fellow back Johnny Young.
Tamar Saracens were boosted last week by picking up five points from a walkover against Dartmouth. That has lifted them from second bottom up to sixth ahead of this weekend’s tough trip to Exeter Athletic.
Sarries, though, were disappointed not to miss out on a home match last Saturday and are keen to try and make up for it against Exeter Athletic, who have only lost once this season.
“The boys are still fired up from last week,” said spokesman Marc Cioffi. “We were gutted not to have a game as we had everyone available.
“This is our last game before Christmas and we have got good availability and have a Christmas ‘fun bus’ going to the game.
“We have not played these (Exeter Athletic) yet so we don’t know anything about them. But that could be good as we just have to look at our own strengthens.
“We are going into the unknown but if we win it could turn our season and if we lose we have just been beaten by the top of the league.”
He added: “We have been losing games ourselves. We’ve just been letting ourselves down with our discipline.
“Hopefully, this week our forwards and backs will play together and we’ll be disciplined.
“It is just about getting that confidence. If we could win this weekend that would certainly give us that confidence.”
OPMs will be favourites to claim back-to-back victories when they travel to winless New Cross.
The Old Boys caused a shock last week when they beat Exeter Saracens 24-12 at King George V Playing Fields.
Last week they were the underdogs but on Saturday they will be expected to win, which does make them wary.
“In this league you can never think you have won a game,” said OPMs captain Billy Garratt. “Teams are very unpredictable and you have to be prepared for anything.”
In the Devon Merit Table, St Columba & Torpoint will host DHSOB at Defiance Field.
For the last couple of seasons the pair have propped up league rugby, but this season St Columba have had a change of fortunes in the Devon Merit Table.
They sit fourth in the standings with three wins out of seven and seven bonus points. DHSOB are eighth with just one win and two bonus points and so they know they will need to be at their best on Saturday.
The Old Boys were disappointed last week to lose at Tavistock seconds.
“We do have a bit more of an idea to a degree this week what we are going to face, although they have got a lot of new lads,” said DHSOB coach Martyn Ruskin.
“We have got at least 16 players and a couple of new names, which is always good.
“We were awful last week, just like we were against Plym Vic. We just did not turn up and concentrate. We know we lost the game ourselves, but hopefully this week we will have a different mind-set. We can do it, we have shown it in patches this season.”