DEVON ONE AND DEVON MERIT TABLE
THE Devon One season kicks off on Saturday with Tamar Saracens, Old Techs, OPMs and Plymouth Argaum all hoping to make their mark in a highly-competitive division.
The league has increased to 12 teams this season with Ilfracombe returning to the division after impressing in the Devon Merit Table last term and Argaum and Withycombe coming down.
Tamar Saracens will be the first team to make the long trip to Ilfracombe, kicking off their season there on Saturday.
Sarries are seen as one of the favourites for promotion after finishing fourth last season and only losing once in the last five months of the campaign. They have also strengthened their squad with the arrival of the likes of Chey Bryce, who has returned from Brixham, former Truro scrum-half Rikki Brandham, centres Elliott Jones and Sini Manu and back-row forward James Cox.
But club spokesman Marc Cioffi says they cannot afford to get carried away by people tipping them for success.
“People have said that, but we can’t listen to it,” said Cioffi.
“Yet again it is going to be one of those seasons where you can’t be arrogant and just have to take each game as it comes.
“There are a lot of teams that have had a complete overhaul like Argaum, while teams like OPM look more exciting this year.
“In the last two years we have gone into the season having not played many of the teams for a while so we didn’t know what they were about and that was maybe why our second half of the season was better as we knew how the teams played.”
Tamar Saracens have made poor starts the last couple of years and Cioffi felt that they were probably too confident after good pre-season results.
“I think we are very conscious that we don’t want that to happen again,” said Cioffi.
He added: “This is a massive weekend for us as for the first time in a while we are fielding two very strong teams. The firsts are going up to Ilfracombe on a coach and we have a pretty strong second team going out against Liskeard-Looe at home.
“We are fielding two squads of 20, but are still missing players. That is a real positive, but a real selection headache for the coaches.”
“The coaches have opted for people who have been training regularly,” said Cioffi. “They are really pushing that ethos and rewarding players who train hard. Everyone at the moment is fighting for their shirt.
“It is exciting times at the club. Normally people are disappointed to be playing for the seconds, but there is more excitement now as the standard is so much better than it was.”
Sarries do not really know what to expect from Ilfracombe as they one of the few teams they have not played for a while.
“We know they are going to have some strong lads,” said Cioffi. “Their pitch is quite tough to play on but we are going up with a youthful side, who have worked so hard, and who want to come back with a win. It’s a long two-and-a-half hour trip home if you lose.”
The big game in Plymouth this weekend is at King George V Playing Fields where OPMs entertain Old Techs in their opening fixture.
Techs finished sixth last season with 47 points, with OPMs, on their return to Devon One, ninth with 25 points. However, the games between the two teams could not have been closer. OPMs won 19-13 at Weston Mill, while Techs triumphed 15-14 at Elburton.
OPMs have strengthened their squad this season with some new faces and also have winger Martin Skelly back fit after missing nearly all of last year’s campaign.
“We have had a very promising pre-season,” said Orkney. “We’ve had three games, all of which we have won, and we are making good progress.
“We beat Totnes last Saturday – a side that comfortably beat us last season – so we feel that’s progress.
“And I think we can get better. We have got some good boys still to come back.
“We have Old Techs this Saturday so that will be a real test to see how far we have come. We know it will be a tough game.
“But pre-season has been really positive. Numbers have been excellent at training. We had three teams out last Saturday, which for a club at that level is incredible.
“We’ve been getting 40-odd training, got a load of new boys in, the new bar is open in the clubhouse, the youth team is doing really well with numbers so everything is really, really good and there’s a real buzz around the place at the moment. We have even got a new kit, which we are going to wear on Saturday.”
Last weekend OPMs gave a debut at full-back to former Devonport High School pupil Fred Smale, whose dad is a stalwart at the club, and he pushed his claims for a regular spot with two tries against Totnes.
Techs have kept themselves under the radar a bit this summer. Apart from playing in the annual Paul Lethbridge Memorial Match the only pre-season game they played was away to Perranporth.
The big news that has come out of Techs this summer is the surprise departure of Billy Evans to Devon One rivals Plymouth Argaum.
But, according to coach Shaun Bedford-Smith, they have kept the rest of last season’s squad and have added to it with some promising new additions.
Utility back Ryan Tunnicliffe has returned from Plymstock Albion Oaks, while former Saltash player Dylan Lamerton has moved to Weston Mill, as have 29 Commando backs Rob Keach and Drew Holden, Fijian Asa Vosa Kiwaiwai and Dave Marsden and Matt Green.
Marsden and Green are returning to rugby having not played since youth level.
“Being a grassroots/community club is about bringing through people who are new to the game or maybe played when they were 13 or 14,” said Bedford-Smith.
Techs are also boosted by the return of Stuart Ansell and Dan Pullen, who both missed nearly all of last season due to injury. Ansell damaged his knee in pre-season last year, while Pullen suffered an ankle injury in the opening couple of weeks.
Ansell will miss the start of the new campaign with a minor back problem but should be back in a few weeks. New arrivals Lamerton and Keach will also miss the first few weeks. Lamerton fractured his hand in the Paul Lethbridge Memorial game, while Keach is away.
“It’s good to be getting people back into the game,” added Bedford-Smith.
Techs have been slow to get going in recent seasons.
“We don’t want to be slow starters,” said Bedford-Smith. “Like everyone, we want to start off with a win and get some momentum behind us, but we always do tend to get stronger as the season goes on.
“OPMs will be a hard game on Saturday. I think they beat us at our place last season and we beat them by a point at theirs. There was only one score in both games and they could easily have gone either way.”
Bedford-Smith is expecting Devon One to be even stronger than last year.
“You’ve got Ilfracombe who have come up and you know that is going to be a tough game away from home,” he said. “And then you have Withycombe who have come down and I don’t think they have been in our league for about 20 years, so that’s not going to be easy. Then you have the extra derby game with Argaum who have also come down. They have been in the Devon/Cornwall League for four or five seasons, so have that experience. Plus all the other teams in the league will have strengthened.
“It is going to be a really tough league, but hopefully teams will find it tough when they play us as well.
“What we need is consistency with availability for games and training. I think if we get that we can be as competitive as anyone. It does come down to the players and what they want.”
For the first time in years, Techs have got two new kits for the start of the season. They have based their new away kit on the colours of the old Widey Technical High School, which is where they originate from.
“It’s the first time in a long, long time we have had a proper away kit,” said Bedford-Smith. “We have to thank all our sponsors who have made it happen as two new full kits don’t come cheap.”
Plymouth Argaum have been on a big rebuilding job since their relegation from the Cornwall/Devon League last season.
They open their season with an away trip to New Cross, who finished bottom of Devon One last term.
Argaum have signed a host of new players this summer and at least four – Billy Evans, Billy Stockwell, Seb Thomas and Jack Morris – are likely to get their debuts at Kingsteignton, alongside experienced campaigners like Tom Holliday, Dan Smith, Tom Bradshaw and Nick Hancock.
Argaum also hope to have Mike Hunt available, but he is rated at 50-50 at the moment, while former colt Alex Cameron is available before he goes back to university.
“I think it is massively important for the club to consolidate this season and start building again,” he said. “But I’m sure the senior player group will have their own target.
“We don’t know hardly anything about most of these clubs so we have got to take each game as it comes.
“We certainly don’t know anything about New Cross only that it looks like they have had an okay pre-season, but we don’t know who they have been up against.
“We are well aware of how weak we were last year so we can’t just assume we are going to win games just because the opposition were down at the bottom of their league last season.
“However, I think we will have a lot of quality on that pitch, but because there are a lot of players coming together it is about how they gel.
“But I know they are going to be playing an exciting brand of rugby and I am confident we are going to have a good season. Whether that is a season where we win, come second or third is a completely different thing. A good season for me would be for us to play a good brand of rugby, win more than we lose and make sure people are happy. Then we can go from there.”
Plympton Victoria also start their season on Saturday when they host Salcombe at Underwood in Devon Merit Table Division Two South & West.
“We are looking forward to welcoming Salcombe to our new home,” said Plym Vic’s Chris Hunt. “They won the league last year and really should have gone up, but they turned it down.
“It’s not ideal start, but at least it will set out where we are. It will be an excellent benchmark.”
On their target for the season, Hunt said: “I think it is to win more games than we lose. That would be nice and maybe to have another half decent cup run.
Plym Vic have picked up five or six new signings this summer.
“We have picked up a few, including a couple of new guys who hadn’t played since school, which is good,” said Hunt.
Also getting started this weekend is St Columba & Torpoint who travel over the Tamar to play DHSOB at Stonehouse Creek.
Both clubs have found the going tough in recent years, but Saints enjoyed a more encouraging campaign last term and will go into Saturday’s game on the back of a 24-12 victory over OPMs III last weekend.
DHSOB will be hoping they are able to build on last week’s league opener against Tavistock II. Although DHSOB lost 48-29 they did score five tries and got 18 players out, which was a big boost to them.
Elsewhere in Devon Merit Table Two, Tavistock II host OPMs II, while Saltash II visit Torquay II.
SOUTH WEST ONE AND WESTERN COUNTIES WEST
DEVONPORT Services will be looking to back up their impressive 52-13 win over Newton Abbot last weekend when they travel to North Petherton on Saturday in South West One.
Services were beaten 46-26 there at the end of last season, but did win 43-24 at the Rectory.
Devonport’s home form was impressive last term but they did find it a lot tougher on their travels.
Head coach Mike Lewis hopes they can be far more consistent away from home this year.
“We toyed around with a few ideas last year trying to figure out what was best to do on an away trip,” said Lewis.
“We now have an idea of what worked last year and I’m sure we will toy around with it again this year, but I think we are going to try and have a stop on the way up to make sure the players can stretch their legs and get a ball in their hands. Then make sure they are focused from that stop on. We will see if that works. If it doesn’t we will try something different.”
North Petherton were narrowly beaten 29-25 away at Crediton last week. They had been 29-5 down at half-time but came back after the break and nearly snatched victory at the end.
“Crediton were up by 20-odd points at half-time but by they said they just took their foot of the gas, similar to what we did against Newton Abbot, and they ended up having a real tough game towards the end,” said Lewis.
“We played them (North Petherton) twice last year and they have some really strong ball carriers. Their scrum is solid, their maul is solid and they are always going to make two or three yards in the tackle area. We need to make sure we have good line speed in our defence. We need to be well organised and stop them getting any forward momentum.
“Our main focus this week is our defence. In attack, we don’t need to change too much.”
Services are going to have to make some changes to their team that ran in eight tries against Newton Abbot last week. Scrum-half Kier Murphy, winger Matt Neyle-Opie and forward Tyler Busfield all picked up injuries.
Royal Navy winger Rhys Williams is also unavailable for the first team again due to work. He can play for the second team at home but cannot make the trip to Somerset.
Services, though, are not short of players to select from and despite having more than 50 unavailable or injured they are still able to field three sides this weekend.
Their seconds will play Tiverton at home in the Devon Merit Table while their thirds will visit Tavistock.
In Western Counties West, Saltash face a second successive away game when they head to Somerset to take on Wiveliscombe.
The Ashes had to make do with a point from their opening day trip to Penryn, where they lost 36-25.
Wiveliscombe will be something of an unknown challenge for Saltash with the Somerset club having just come into the league.
Last year’s Somerset Premier champions began life in Western Counties West last weekend with a 34-10 defeat away at Bideford.
Although Saltash found it tough to win on the road last season they will have taken confidence from the way they played in the second half last week against Penryn. They out-scored their hosts three tries to one in the second period but Penryn had done enough in the first half to claim victory.
Ivybridge are without a game in the South West Premier.
TAVISTOCK will be hoping to get their season up-and-running properly this weekend when they host Paignton at Sandy Park.
The west Devon club made a disappointing start to the new campaign last weekend with a 26-0 defeat at newly-promoted North Tawton.
Tavistock were missing a number of players but are able to welcome back skipper Andrew Schuttkacker, vice-captain Martin Budden, Jamie Legg and Glenn Fuller this week. However, player-coach Hammy Kerswill is ruled out after picking up a head injury at North Tawton, while George Hillson has returned to university and Josh Birch has injured his thumb.
Tavistock have had good numbers at training and have a few selection headaches, according to Kerswill.
“It is a really exciting weekend ahead as we field a third XV, alongside the first and second XV at home for the first time in nearly a decade. The seconds are playing OPM II and the thirds are playing Devonport III.
“This week has been crazy for availability and we will field 53 players, with potentially more to come. Selection wise it’s been a nightmare, but a good one.
“Andrew Schuttkacker, Martin Budden, Jamie Legg and Glenn Fuller return to the first XV to add experience and physicality in what will be a tough challenge against Paignton.
“We have had to make some huge calls and a lot of regular first team players drop down looking to impress for the following week. Competition is strong and with 30-plus training twice a week we are seeing the benefits of players fighting for shirts.”
He added: “A lot can change in a couple of seasons, but we have always pushed Paignton close over the years. However, concentration will be on ourselves. We know that when we start finding our feet and building continuity we are a tricky team to break down.”
Tavistock have boosted their squad by the arrival of Matt Redman and Sam Snell. Full-back/fly-half Redman has been coaching and playing in Holland but now moved to the Tavistock area, while ex-Saltash, Launceston and Brixham back-rower Snell is keen to play his rugby closer to home now.
Plymstock Albion Oaks are on the road down to Cornwall for the second week running when they travel to new boys Veor.
Oaks had to dig really deep last weekend to edge out Pirates Amateurs 18-17, having trailed 17-3 and had centre Olly Whitfield sent off.
As well as losing Whitfield, Oaks also picked up a couple injuries, including to backs Huw Moorcraft and Joe Brearley, last week meaning they will have to change things around for Veor. Al Murray and Lewis Roddy get the chance to start in Cornwall this week, while Nathan Akers, Dan Romang and Calum Mills come into the pack.
Oaks do not really know what to expect from this weekend’s opponents, who were beaten 38-3 away at Bude.
“We saw their result but you don’t know about Bude,” said Oaks coach Aiden Taylor. “That could be a really good Bude side.”
He added: “We do have to work on some things as we were quite poor in some areas last week. Our scrum was superb and some of our creative play was good, but we were just a bit flat and couldn’t really get going.”
Taylor is hoping they get going this Saturday and be better at the breakdowns, which was an area that let them down in Penzance.
Elsewhere in the Cornwall/Devon League, Liskeard-Looe face a tough trip to Torquay Athletic.
Both clubs are looking for their first wins having lost last weekend. Liskeard-Looe went down 10-3 at home to Topsham, while Torquay were surprisingly beaten 10-8 at Lanner.