IVYBRIDGE player-coach Jamie Tripcony has described Saturday’s South West Premier home match against bottom-of-the-table Old Patesians as potentially the toughest mental test his side have faced this season.
The Bridgers sit in third spot in the table – 11 places and 48 points ahead of their opponents this weekend, who could be relegated if they lose.
Although Old Pats seem certain to go down whatever happens at Cross-in-Hand, Tripcony believes they will be giving everything they have got to try and pull off a miraculous escape, or at least delay the seemingly inevitable.
“This potentially could be the toughest mental test that we have come up against all season,” said Tripcony. “We have to make sure we are absolutely on the metal this weekend.
“I said to the lads during the week that we were in a similar type of situation last year. It is not a nice situation to be in but what you do is scrap for your life. You scrap for everything – every little battle on that field. We know that as we had to do that last season.
“When teams are desperate for wins they are hard to play against. We need to respect these guys and have to do that by playing has hard as we possibly can.”
After a winless January, Ivybridge won both their matches in February to move back up to third and to within seven points of a play-off spot.
They, like all the rest of the South West Premier teams, had a week off last Saturday and Tripcony hopes they have not lost any momentum.
“We have followed a similar structure to the last time we had a week off,” said the Bridgers’ player-coach.
“We analysed our performance against Newton Abbot in great detail and then put that into practice in training.
“We are happy with how things have gone over the last couple of weeks.”
He added: “We did not start the year very well and that shot us in the foot a little bit, which we are aware of, but we have managed to bounce back and create a little bit of momentum before this last break.
“We will see if we are at the races on Saturday. We hope that we are, but what is really key is that we do not underestimate any team in this league. We have homed in massively on that this week.”
Nathan Davies and Damon Akerman are missing this weekend but Tripcony has no worries about the squad they are selecting.
“We’ve got one or two unavailabilities but boys will just slot in and we’ll crack on,” he said. “We are very happy with the squad we are sending out on Saturday.”
SOUTH WEST ONE AND WESTERN COUNTIES WEST
Services have been in impressive form recently. They have won their last four matches and scored 40 or more points in each game.
That has seen them close to within two points of fourth-placed Newent, five of third-placed Bridgwater & Albion and 11 of second-placed Launceston.
Newent and Bridgwater play each other this weekend which gives Services a great opportunity to move up a spot.
However, they will know that ninth-placed Keynsham will be fighting for everything as they are only four points clear of the relegation zone. When the sides met at the Rectory earlier this season, Services won a hard match 21-12.
“Keynsham’s results are quite strange,” said Services coach Mike Lewis. “Sometimes they have pulled results out of the bag and have beaten some good teams, but have lost to Cullompton away and last week lost to Hornets at home. Obviously last week was an international weekend so you don’t know who was away or not.
“But they don’t seem to have any consistency, so we are not sure what we are going to be coming up against.
“We know they have a big lumpy pack and are strong in the forward area so we have to try and avoid that at all costs. We have to try and play around them.”
He added: “There is plenty for us to play for. We are only 11 points off second spot and we still have to play the top two and Newent – they are all 10-pointer games so we are within touching distance of the top two. But we are not targeting the play-offs – our aim is just to try and win every game for the rest of the season.”
Lewis says Services’ success is making selection harder each week.
“We have got players coming of our ears at the moment to select from,” said Lewis. “So many are training and putting their hands up.
“When you are going well people want to be on the bandwagon and we want to make that last as long as we can.”
Devonport have lost the services of back Toby Knowles for the foreseeable future as he is working away in Bristol for a while. They are also without Sam Bennett due to injury this week and Rhys Williams, who is unable to travel this weekend but will play for the second team.
However, Services should have former Clifton player Bentley Halpin back available after injury.
Halpin injured his ankle on only his second appearances for the club in January but he made his comeback last weekend in Services’ second team match against Newton Abbot.
In Western Counties West, Saltash will be looking to cause an upset and secure a much-needed win against second-placed Crediton at Moorlands Lane.
The Ashes have lost their last four games to drop into the relegation zone with six matches to play.
They need to find a way of turning their form around and quickly to avoid just another one-year stay in Western Counties West like they had in 2015-16.
Although Crediton are in second spot and in a four-way battle for promotion with Sidmouth, St Austell and Wellington, Saltash are unlikely to fear facing the mid-Devon club.
The sides have met a number of times in recent years and had some good battles. When they met earlier this season at Crediton, Saltash narrowly lost 19-8 after the high-fliers scored two late tries.
Argaum already have a mountain to climb if they are to avoid relegation to Devon One after a four-year stay in the Cornwall/Devon League. But if they were to lose on Saturday then their hopes of staying up would almost be impossible.
They were not helped last week by Lanner beating Torquay Athletic. That leaves Argaum 10 points away from safety with six games to go.
The team they have the most chance of catching is Pirates Amateurs, who have some tough fixtures before meeting Argaum on the last day. However, Argaum have to make sure they avoid a defeat this weekend as otherwise they would need two teams above them to slip up and they would also have to somehow win three or four of their final five matches, which include games against the top three.
“The maths don’t lie,” said Argaum secretary Stuart Quarterman. “It is very difficult for us and we will be favourites to go down, but we won’t go without a fight.
“Saturday is a massive match for us. You can’t underestimate the size of this game. We certainly need to be up for it.
“It is still possible to stay up. There are points on the board there for us; we’ve just got to take them.”
Argaum, who are holding their vice-presidents and sponsors day on Saturday, suffered a surprise 47-21 defeat at Hayle at the start of November and after that their season started to unravel – their only win since was a narrow 12-5 win at bottom side Withycombe in mid-December.
“We went down to them when they were bottom but they really came out at us fired up,” said Quarterman. “And we now have to try and do the same to them.”
Argaum’s city rivals Plymstock Albion Oaks could do them a favour this weekend if they beat Lanner at Horsham Fields.
They remain in fourth spot, seven points off second place and a promotion place.
As they have the two teams immediately ahead of them – Bude and Honiton – still to play, Oaks are still firmly in the race to go up, even though they say their main aim is just a top four finish.
Plymstock are not likely to take Lanner lightly. They only beat the Cornish club 16-6 earlier in the season and Lanner have won their last two games, beating Torquay 25-19 last week and Argaum 64-17 the previous Saturday.
Tavistock will be aiming to claim a sixth consecutive win when they host Topsham at Sandy Park on Saturday.
Just one place and one point separate the two teams with Tavistock sitting eighth and Topsham ninth.
Tavistock will be keen to show their Exeter-based visitors how much they have improved since their 34-0 defeat at Bonfire Field at the start of November.
“Away from home I know their results have been less impressive and we are on a good run, but this will be the biggest dogfight of recent weeks.
“The weather and conditions look to be horrendous after glorious sunshine Sunday just gone for the Devon Girls’ Under-15 Festival. This may play into our hands, but that is easier said than executing.”
Tavistock, who are hosting their ‘old boys’ lunch prior to Saturday’s game, are waiting on a couple of last minute availability calls. However, they will be missing Jamie Legg, Jack Easton and Andrew Craddock, but their front five should remain unchanged.
Elsewhere, seventh-placed Liskeard-Looe will be expected to pick up a 10th win league of the season when they host bottom side Withycombe at Lux Park.
Since December they have moved out of the bottom three and up to fifth. They are now just four points behind fourth-placed Buckfastleigh with a game in hand and are 13 behind third-placed Exeter Saracens with five matches to go.
It will be a tough ask to try and make the top three but having beaten leaders North Tawton and secured a draw away at second-placed Exeter Athletic last week, Saracens believe it is possible.
This weekend they face a trip to the inconsistent Totnes, who are in eighth spot with five wins from 15 matches.
As Totnes are celebrating their vice-presidents’ day, Sarries are taking a first and second team on the train to the south Devon club.
Saracens are thrilled that they have enough players to put out two teams out this weekend.
“We have got plenty of players at the moment,” said spokesman Marc Cioffi. “It is so competitive in training as everyone is fighting for spots.”
Sarries might be on a high at the moment but they know they cannot afford to underestimate Totnes, who beat them 7-5 at the Parkway in November.
“I think we thought it was going to be too easy last time, but it ended up a really tight game that we ended up just losing,” said Cioffi.
“Having lost to them last time we want to beat them this time. We know we could have beaten them before.
“We don’t want to slip up this week as we have a goal – we want a top three spot.”
Totnes are renowned for being a forward-dominated team, but that does not worry Sarries.
“I think we have proved on our day that our pack is probably the best in the league,” said Cioffi.
“But it is whether we can keep our discipline. Last week we let ourselves down with our discipline. We out-scored Exeter Athletic three tries to one, but they kicked four penalties.”
Saracens do have a number of players back after missing last week, including Ryan Deacon, but Cioffi will be missing after having minor surgery to remove some scare tissue on his head. He is hoping to be back for the start of April.
Old Techs could do Sarries a favour if they were to beat fourth-placed Buckfastleigh away this weekend.
Techs are seventh in the table but could move up a spot if they were to win.
“But we will be going up there pretty confident. We have scored five tries in each of our last two games and all have been by backs. The way we want to play is starting to come together. We want to be throwing the ball around and playing exciting rugby.
“We always seem to have had a reputation for 10-man rugby – just sticking it up our jumper – but this season we have definitely changed that.
“We want to go up there (to Buckfastleigh) and get another win. We want to try and get a win against a team higher than us and show that we are making progress, but we know it is not going to be easy.”
Techs are missing five of last week’s starting line-up but are able to welcome back eight other players, including Sam Courtney and Dave Clack.
OPMs will be desperately hoping they can get their season going again when they travel to fellow strugglers Dartmouth on Saturday.
The Old Boys have not won in 2019 and sit third from bottom, one spot and four points above Dartmouth, who have had 10 points deducted for failing to fulfil fixtures.
Dartmouth’s injury and availability problems this season possibly hide the fact that when they are near full strength they can match anyone in the league.
The South Hams clubs did beat OPMs 24-15 at King George V Playing Fields in November despite playing a large part of that game with 13 players.
OPMs will want revenge for that and a major confidence boost after last week’s 31-6 Lockie Cup quarter-final defeat to the Peninsula Medical School.
In the Devon Merit Table, St Columba & Torpoint should have been hosting Plympton Victoria in a rearranged league match, but the game looks like it might be called off for a second time due to refereeing issues.