IVYBRIDGE will begin their fifth season in the South West Premier with an eagerly-awaited away trip to Devon rivals Exmouth.
The pair had two great battles last year, with Ivybridge winning 41-31 at home and Exmouth triumphing 43-32 at their place.
The sides finished fifth and sixth in the division last term, with Ivybridge ending with just three more points than their rivals. The Bridgers’ fifth place was their highest in their history.
However, Gareth Elliott, who has returned to Cross-in-Hand this summer as their new head coach, is keeping the club’s ambitions for this season close to his chest.
“We have had a talk, but we are not just looking at where we finish in the league,” he said.
“We are also looking at smaller targets – breaking the season into chunks. The games kind of come in blocks of three so we can separate them up and look at them like that.
“We are not looking at saying we want to come first or second or anything like that. We are just looking at the way we play, the way we come together as a group – we want to be a tight knit group – and the way we enjoy our rugby on and off the field.
“At the end of the day we are an amateur rugby club and we want players here because they like playing here, they love the club and are looking to improve as players.
“If we can finish higher than we did last year, then that would be absolutely fantastic, as long as we develop as a team along the way.”
Ivybridge have lost last season’s top points scorer Billy Pinkus to league rivals Brixham, where he joins up with his younger brother Mitch. They have also lost Pete Abraham, who has decided to become a player-coach at OPMs.
But Ivybridge have been boosted by the return of players like Jordan Anderton, Luke Richardson, Nathan Reeves, Dom Loomes and Callum Cload, while former Exmouth winger Matt Dayment has signed for them and they also have some more talented youngsters again coming through.
Last season, Will Lamont and Adam Northcott moved up from the colts and became first team regulars and now players like full-back Dan Lilley and prop Harvey Dunn have been promoted to the first team. They will both feature against Exmouth on Saturday.
“There’s young blood coming through and they are really proving their worth,” said Elliott.
The Ivybridge head coach is also confident the team will be able to overcome the loss of winger Pinkus, who scored so many tries last term.
“The way we attack, it is about guys stepping up and wanting to carry the ball,” said Elliott. “The more guys who want to carry the ball the more tries we will get in different positions, but I am confident our wingers will step up and share that try load between them.
“We have got some great wingers and it is a selection headache as we have an abundance of choices there, but we have try scorers all over the pitch.”
On Saturday’s opening game, which doubles up as a Devon Senior Cup match, Elliott said: “Exmouth is a great way to start as they are a tough team and it’s a Devon derby. I know they will be right up for it and it is a chance to see where we are. I’m sure if we match the performance we had last week (against Taunton) then we will be in or around the right area.”
SOUTH WEST ONE
Their first campaign at level six promised so much and they were pushing for a top three finish until the final six weeks of the season when lost their way after narrowly going down 26-22 in a make-or-break match to Launceston. They ended up finishing eighth.
But they have strengthened their squad in the summer with the arrival of experienced Devon backs Kyle Browne (Newton Abbot) and Tom Goodman (Brixham), as well as well as also brining in Corey Jamieson (Plymstock Albion Oaks), Jake Inglis (Exmouth), Alex Mawdsley (Plymouth University), Dino Bozic (Tiverton) and James McQuillan (Newton Abbot).
Having beaten a full strength Brixham side in pre-season and made a couple of eye-catching additions, Services are seen as one of the contenders to be pushing for promotion.
However, head coach Mike Lewis is refusing to put pressure on his side.
“The goal from the board is just to finish higher than last year and I think that is a comfortable goal,” said Lewis.
“As a group, if we stay pretty injury free, we could be looking at top four and if we have a full team out every week then I think we could push the top two. Top four, I think, is a realistic target, but we will just have to see.”
He added: “We just have to concentrate on performance. If you perform well the by-product generally is a good result. That’s just what we are trying to focus on. If you aim on what other people are thinking then you will implode pretty quickly.”
Services have certainly got a mouth-watering home clash to open their season. They entertain Devon rivals Newton Abbot at the Rectory on Saturday.
Newton Abbot were in the South West Premier for years but were relegated last season after a campaign to forget. They lost a large number of their squad in February and then more at the end of the season.
Lewis, though, expects a tough game on Saturday in a match that also counts towards the Devon Senior Shield.
“It is going to be a tough first game,” said Lewis.
“What they (Newton Abbot) have now is people who want to be there, not people who are being paid to be there and that makes a huge difference. That’s why we are doing so well as we don’t pay and players want to be here and enjoy it.
“If Newton Abbot have got some of their old boys – their real clubmen – playing, I think they are going to go really well.”
WESTERN COUNTIES WEST
AFTER surviving by the skin of their teeth last season in Western Counties West, Saltash are hoping life will be a bit more comfortable in 2019-20.
The Ashes finished fourth-from-bottom last term on their return to level seven.
This summer there have been a number of changes at the Cornish club. Steve Down has taken over as head coach, with captain Lewis Wells becoming forwards coach.
The Ashes have also welcomed back prolific winger Will Morton after a season at Launceston and brought in other players like prop Dale Thompson. They have also promoted a host of last season’s highly-rated colts, but they have lost experienced scrum-half Olly Mulberry to Plymouth Albion.
“We have got a couple of older faces back – senior players – but we have lost Olly,” said Down. “I wish him well and I hope he does well, but there is always room for him back here if he wants to come back.
“I think the most positive thing is the youth coming through. The youth section here do a great job and I can’t praise them enough as they are feeding me some good players.
“And the youngsters are a positive influential on the older guys as well as it is making them work harder. They are not scared to get involved and so I am really positive about the youngsters.”
He added: “We are looking to push on. We don’t want to be at Christmas worrying about being in the bottom three or four. We want to be pushing for the top half this year and we think we have got a squad to do that. We just have to work hard in training and, if we do that, I think it will come together.”
Western Counties West looks like it might even be tougher than last year, with Penryn and Honiton coming up and Cullompton and Teignmouth coming down.
“What we found last year is that there are no easy games in this league,” said Down. “Every game is tough and you have to work hard to break these teams down. You can’t just throw the ball around and expect to win.”
Down says he is enjoying his new role at Moorlands Lane.
“It is a learning curve for me,” he said. “I have done a bit of coaching before but never at this level. It is a challenge for me, but hopefully I am rising to it. I am enjoying it.”
Saltash will kick-off their season with a trip to Cornish rivals Penryn. In the absence of any local derbies, a match against their old rivals from the Cornwall/Devon League is one of their eagerly-awaited games.
“In recent seasons we have done well against Penryn, but they are a tough side to beat,” said Down.
“I think it will be tough to go down there and win, but we are going to give it our best shot. Based on our (pre-season) game against Devonport Services we shouldn’t be too scared.”
IT WAS a case of so near, yet so far for Plymstock Albion Oaks last season.
The Staddiscombe-based club led the Cornwall/Devon League for months after winning their first 10 matches. However, they could never shake off Penryn, Honiton and Bude and eventually had to settle for fourth place.
Penryn and Honiton have been promoted and the division looks like it could be wide open this year.
Oaks hope they can be challenging again. They have strengthened their squad with the signing of prop James MacFarlane from Brixham, Adam Walker, Calum Mills and Lewis Roddy from city rivals Plymouth Argaum, Nathan Davies and Luke Austin from Ivybridge and Huw Moorcraft from OPMs.
But they have lost player-backs coach Corey Jamieson to Devonport Services. Former head coach Callum Cload had been due to take on that role after a year in Europe, but he has now decided to move to Ivybridge, where he will be second team coach.
Like most head coaches at this time of the year, Oaks’ Aiden Taylor is not making any bold predictions.
“You can put pressure on yourselves by saying the target is the top two,” he said. “But I think what we want to do this year is just take it game by game and see how it goes.
“There are some good teams in the league so you never know what is going to happen. There were games last year where we thought we should have won, like Tavvy away, but came unstuck.”
He added: “We have signed a few decent players, but we have lost Corey Jamieson to Services. He’s a top player and I think he is going to do really well for Services. I don’t feel like we have really replaced him with somebody of that X-factor in our backline, but we have got some real talent in our squad and we should be up in that top four or five.
“I do think we have got some great talent, especially in the forwards, but it is about getting the best team out on the day. I don’t think since I have been at Oaks we have ever had our strongest XV out on the pitch. If we could get our strongest XV out on the pitch week-in, week-out then top two would be on, but it doesn’t work like that.”
Last year, Oaks made a record-breaking start to the season by winning their opening 10 games.
“It would be good to get a start like last year and go 10 unbeaten again, but realistically I think that was a one-off,” said Taylor. “We are just hoping to kick-off the season this week with some points and get the ball rolling.”
Oaks will begin their campaign with a long trip to Penzance to take on the Pirates Amateurs.
“I believe we are ready,” said Taylor. “The boys are raring to get the campaign underway.
“We have got two away games on the bounce, which is frustrating, but if we can get a win on Saturday, I think it will set us up nicely.”
He added: “I’ve heard some good things about the Pirates. I think they have recruited quite well and it will be a big ask to go down there and get five points. Hopefully, we just go down there with the right mentality and we can come away with something.
“Selection has been made slightly easier as some people are unavailable or coming back from injuries. When everyone is fit we will have some selection headaches.”
Oaks are still waiting for the return of centre Will Booth after he suffered a nasty injury mid-way through last season.
“It is about managing Will Booth,” said Taylor. “He is eager to get back on that pitch but we need to make sure he is 100 per cent. I think we will look to unleash him mid-October or even near December time. We need to get him some minutes in the twos rather than just chucking him straight in.”
He continued: “The plan this year is to really drive the second team and get as many fixtures as possible. When we have people in the squad upset that they are not getting in the first team they need to be playing rugby and pushing people in the first team. We lacked that bit of depth last year and people knew their places were safe.”
TAVISTOCK, who finished 10th last season in the Cornwall/Devon League, are hoping for more consistency this year.
A good spell midway through the 2018-19 campaign pulled them clear of danger but they started the campaign poorly and dropped off towards the end.
However, according to player-coach Hammy Kerswill, there is a positive vibe at Sandy Park ahead of their opening game at newly-promoted North Tawton on Saturday.
“We’re really excited for this season,” said Kerswill. “Numbers are the highest they’ve been in around five or six seasons and there is a real buzz about the club.
“This is really exciting for the club’s longevity considering we are without a colts side this season.
“We are also fielding a strong second XV squad to travel away to DHSOB, which is something I could have only dreamed of when I heard prop Darren Guppy was having his stag do this Saturday and 10 regular players are out of the country.”
He added: “Our ambitions are once again high this season. We have set the bar high each of the last three seasons but have been inconsistent in stringing together performances when momentum was with us. Hopefully, with our improved numbers, this will be fixed.
“The coaching team of James Reyburn, myself and Darren Chappell remains and we have recruited Matt Witcher as a backs coach, who has returned to the club and added another string to our bow.
“We hope to name a few more signings in the next couple weeks but nothing has been confirmed 100 per cent yet.
“There has also been a lot of work off the pitch from the club’s tireless volunteers that has seen improvements to the playing surface, changing rooms, clubhouse and junior club.”
Kerswill expects a tough battle against his former club North Tawton on Saturday.
“I’ve looked at North Tawton’s team-sheet and they are as an exciting prospect as I expected after I watched them against Exeter Athletic last year,” said Kerswill.
“They’re a fantastic club and I thoroughly enjoyed my two-and-a-half seasons there making numerous friends down the line. They will be successful this year and are my team to watch.”
North Tawton were rocked in the summer by a serious accident to captain Craig Dennis.
“We will be making a presentation to Craig to help support his recovery from his tragic accident,” said Kerswill. “He’s a top bloke and has shown such positivity.”
He added: “In terms of our aims for the game, there is only one result we are looking for and that is to start this season with a win.
“We have talked a lot over the last few weeks about concentrating on ourselves and being clinical and calm in everything we do.
“We have the personnel, we just need to put our potential into practice and I have every confidence we will.
“The Devon/Cornwall league is the strongest I can remember on paper and I fully expect every team and game to be competitive from start to finish.”
With Tavistock missing skipper Andrew Schuttkacker and vice-captain Martin Budden, Ethan Lamerton will lead the team for the first time in the league.
Youngster Zac Gorton has been named on Tavistock’s bench and could make his debut.
DEVON MERIT TABLE AND ROUND-UP
DEVON One might not start until next weekend, but a number of teams are playing in the Devon Merit Table this weekend.
DHSOB are due to take on Tavistock II in their opening match at Stonehouse Creek, but once again it has been a summer of struggle for the Old Boys.
The Stonehouse-based club still do not have a clubhouse after the community centre closed suddenly for a second time last season and they have lost a number of players to either others clubs or who have left the area, either to go to university or having graduated.
But they do hope to have a number of Fijians back and are embarking on a big recruitment drive to try and build their squad back up as they celebrate their 90th anniversary.
Former director of rugby Mike Freeman is helping Steve Chapman and Darren Rosevear for the short-term to make sure make sure the Old Boys can field a side until they get some reinforcements.
“We are looking to boost numbers,” said Freeman. “We have a big leaflet drop and recruitment campaign going. We are going to meet the university and hopefully get some of them to join us. We are hoping to pick up players from various sources.
“We have had what you call natural wastage, but we have been boosted by the return of some of the Fijians.”
OPM II have joined the Devon Merit Table this season and they will start their season with a trip to neighbours Plymstock Albion Oaks II.
OPMs will actually have three teams out this weekend as their firsts will travel to Totnes for a pre-season friendly, while their thirds will head to St Columba & Torpoint.
Argaum caused a bit of a shock in the Plymouth rugby community on Thursday night by announcing the signing of Billy Evans from Devon One rivals Old Techs.
Argaum have also announced the arrival of Gideon Berends, Leighton Wilson, Jack Waters, Will Daley and Adam Oxton this week. They join Jack Grabham, Billy Stockwell, Jack Morris, Brad Henniker, Nathan Foster, Tom Mann, Luke Nicol and Drew Preston in arriving at Bickleigh Down this summer.