GAMES in the South West Premier League do not come much bigger than Ivybridge’s clash at Barnstaple on Saturday.
Not only are both clubs fighting for second spot in the league and a place in the promotion play-offs but also for a possible Devon Senior Cup final spot.
Currently, Barnstaple sit second in the division, but Ivybridge are just two points behind in third with just five games left to play.
Both clubs are also in a battle with Exmouth, Brixham and Exeter University for a place in the county cup competition, where this year league head-to-heads are being used to decide the finalists.
Barnstaple did get the better of Ivybridge at Cross-in-Hand earlier in the season, winning 31-25 but they slipped up last weekend to Exmouth.
“It is second versus third so people will see this as a big game,” admitted Ivybridge player-coach Jamie Tripcony.
“They (Barnstaple) came down to our place and turned us over. Fair play to them, they played really well that day. They played in the right areas of the pitch and really frustrated us. I think we are still licking our wounds from that as it is still pretty fresh in our minds.
“I don’t know what happened to them last week but they are now only two points ahead so it is all to play for.
“We will be champing at the bit to try and get the win on Saturday, but it will be a huge task.”
Ivybridge have won their last three games, whereas Barnstaple have lost two of their last three games.
But Tripcony said: “I think we all know in derby games form goes out of the window. It really is just about who performs on the day, plays in the right areas and takes their chances.
“We do have good momentum but they are just coming off another Devon derby and so they know the ingredients that make up one and they will be battle-hardened.
“What is certain is that come 2.30pm on Saturday it is going to be one huge battle for us, but I think we will be ready mentally. We have prepared well in training this week but Barnstaple away is a different kettle of fish.
“They are a well-organised team with some good thinkers in their forwards and backs and we do have huge respect for them. If we could turn them over at their place then that would be huge.”
SOUTH WEST ONE AND WESTERN COUNTIES WEST
The Cornish All Blacks will arrive in Devonport sitting second in the table, three points behind leaders Okehampton, and three places above Services.
Launceston know they cannot afford a defeat, while Services know if they want a top three finish then they also need a win this weekend.
Devonport, who have won their last four matches, also feel they have a point to prove to Launceston after they were hammered 66-15 at Polson Bridge in November.
“This is one of the big ones,” said Lewis, who was coach at Launceston before joining Services. “I’m really looking forward to it. We can’t wait to play them.
“We know from the last time we played them that we owe them one as we weren’t really at the races in defence. We conceded a considerable amount of points so we want to put some wrongs right in this game.”
Services have a big day planned at the Rectory on Saturday.
“They (Launceston) are bringing their second team down to play us and our colts are playing Okehampton at home so we have a triple header,” said Lewis. “It’s also an old boys’ day down at the club. I think there are about 50 or so old boys down watching and then there is the Six Nations afterwards so it should be a hell of a day.”
Services’ home form has been impressive this season and they want to keep that going against the top three – Launceston, Okehampton and Newent – who all still have to visit the Rectory in the final six weeks of the season.
Devonport will again be without Sam Bennett this weekend, while Joe Semple suffered a slight MCL injury last week that could rule him out for up to six weeks. They are also still looking for the right backs combination after losing Toby Knowles for the rest of the season due to work in Bristol.
Meanwhile, league officials have confirmed that Services’ match at Keynsham that was abandoned last weekend due to an injury to the referee will be replayed next Saturday (March 16).
In Western Counties West, Saltash have five games left to save themselves.
They dropped to the foot of the table last week after losing at home to promotion-chasing Crediton.
That was their fifth defeat in a row and they know they need to re-find their form quickly – starting on Saturday away at Cornish rivals Falmouth.
As they are only four points from safety a win this weekend could lift them out of the bottom three. They also have Paignton, Kingsbridge and Winscombe, who are all fighting to pull clear of the relegation zone, still to play.
Their opponents this weekend, Falmouth, are in seventh spot and look pretty safe for a top half finish, but Saltash did beat them at Moorlands Lane in November with a 12-3 win.
They are in fourth spot, just five points off second-placed Honiton, with them and fellow high-flying rivals Bude and Penryn still to play.
Oaks know if they can win this weekend down at relegation-threatened Hayle then it sets up a make-or-break final month of the season for them.
“For us now it is just about finishing as high as we can and then keeping the players together and building for next season,” said player-coach Aiden Taylor.
“We currently have 80 points and our club record in this league is 86 so that is the next goal – and just to keep pushing on.”
Whatever happens in the league, Oaks have secured a place in the Devon Intermediate Shield final.
“That is something for the lads to look forward to,” said Taylor. “Getting to a cup final shows we have had a good season. I know the final will be against Honiton, which will be a really tough game, but it is exciting that we are up there and around those sides.”
But first of all Oaks are thinking about trying to beat Hayle away. The Cornish side have a good record at home and are fighting for their lives to stay in the league.
“You don’t know what they are going to produce,” said Taylor. “But, hopefully, we can get the win so that we are still in the hunt going into the last four games.”
Tavistock will be looking for a seventh straight win when they travel to fifth-placed Torquay Athletic.
“The home game was very tight and we let the result slip away after being 12-0 up,” said Tavistock’s Hammy Kerswill, whose side lost that home game in November 17-12.
“Torquay is a hard place to go and will prove a real challenge for us.
“Momentum and confidence is high but we must continue what’s working well and adapt accordingly.
“Our line-out is functioning, our defence is getting stronger week-on-week and we are holding the ball for many more phases. We do, however, pride ourselves at scrum-time and that has not been on-song in recent weeks and we have given away more penalties than we would like so we have plenty to tweak and work on going forward.
“We won’t concentrate on Torquay much and, to be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to their results of late; we just know if we starve them of ball we will go well.”
Tavistock are able to welcome back Darren Guppy after four months out with injury. He is set to replace Charlie Charlton, who is unavailable this week. Ethan Lamerton is also an absentee on Saturday and will be replaced by Jack Easton. Jack Lewis comes in on the flank, while Ed Nettleship returns at full-back after six weeks away.
They are nine points away from safety with just five games left to play and they have not won in 2019.
This weekend they head to second-placed Honiton, who cannot afford to slip up if they want to go up with Bude and Plymstock Albion Oaks are breathing down their necks.
Argaum, like for most of their away trips this season, are struggling for players this weekend.
But secretary Stuart Quarterman said: “We will honour the fixture as it’s important that we don’t concede any points.
“We have got an opportunity now to start developing players for next season, although we know if we can perform to at upmost then there is still a chance we could stay up.
“What is frustrating is that there are quite a few games where we have left wins on the field.”
He added: “We know it is going be tough this week, but it is about getting as many positives as we can against one of the best teams in the league.”
Elsewhere, Liskeard-Looe entertain leaders Penryn at Lux Park on Saturday.
DEVON ONE AND DEVON MERIT TABLE
Buckfastleigh currently sit in that spot, four points above Sarries, who do have a game in hand.
Both clubs have got similar records this season, but Tamar Saracens are currently the league’s most in-form team having not lost since December 1.
They still have hopes of a top three finish, but that would involve winning all their remaining matches and hoping Exeter Saracens slip up.
Seventh-placed Old Techs have a tricky match against Dartmouth at Weston Mill.
The South Hams club went through a really bad spell between December and January and had to hand walkovers to Buckfastleigh and Tamar Saracens. However, last week, with lots of their players back, they showed what they can do by beating OPMs 45-7.
Had they not had 10 points deducted for not fulfilling two games they would be just one point behind Techs in the table.
“They (Dartmouth) have certainly improved,” said Techs’ Shaun Bedford-Smith. “Their results have got a lot better. I think they just went through a spell where they were having a nightmare getting a team out.
“But we know they are always a hard team to play against. They always give you a good battle.”
Last season Techs found it hard to score points on their return to Devon One but this year that has not been a problem and only the top three sides – North Tawton, Exeter Athletic and Exeter Saracens – have picked up more try scoring bonus points this term. But they have conceded a few in recent weeks and will hope to tighter against Dartmouth.
Techs will be missing Lewis Harvey this week but are able to welcome back the likes of Sean Doyle, Darren Kessell and Ratu Sanday.
Techs are also holding their sponsors and old boys’ day on Saturday and are inviting anyone associated with the club down to Weston Mill for a 1pm buffet and drinks before watching the Devon One match followed by England’s Six Nations clash with Italy in the clubhouse.
Struggling OPMs, meanwhile, have a massive test this weekend when they welcome ambitious promotion-chasing Exeter Athletic to King George V Playing Fields.
OPMs have not won in 2019 and find themselves second from bottom in the table.
They have already played Exeter Athletic twice this season. They did take them to extra-time in the Devon Junior Cup before losing 13-10 to a penalty kick, but then lost 46-7 away.
Exeter, who recently signed Devon forward Jarryd Harris from Newton Abbot, certainly have plenty to play for this week after losing to title-rivals North Tawton last Saturday. Exeter are now fighting to at least hang on to second place to guarantee a play-off spot.
In the Devon Merit Table, DHSOB will be expecting a tough challenge when they host Kingsbridge II at Stonehouse Creek.
Kingsbridge did go through a tricky spell after Christmas and lost to Plympton Victoria and gave St Columba & Torpoint a walkover, but they have been boosted by the return of a number of players and have claimed big wins over Plymstock Albion Oaks II, Salcombe and Tavistock II in their last three games.
DHSOB have been improving and beat St Columba in their last match and they will be looking to build on that performance this weekend.