Plymouth Combination clubs left heartbroken after losing out on RFU’s formula to decide league placings

A NUMBER of Plymouth Combination clubs have been left ‘frustrated’ and ‘heartbroken’ at the RFU’s decision to decide promotion and relegation on a mathematical formula.

All the leagues below the Premiership were ended in March due to the coronavirus. Some clubs only had four games to play.

Rather than null and void the entire season like football has done at semi-pro and amateur levels, the RFU decided to use home and away records of clubs over the campaign to decide the outcome of the final few fixtures.

But it has meant Saltash have been relegated from Western Counties West by just 0.30 of a point, Plymstock Albion Oaks have missed out on promotion from the Cornwall/Devon League by just 0.37 a point and Devonport Services were less than 1.5 of a point off second place in South West One.

Tamar Saracens did finish second in Devon One, but the RFU surprisingly appear to have automatically promoted two Cornwall One teams and only one from Devon when usually the third spot in the Cornwall/Devon League is decided by a play-off. 

However, it was Oaks and Saltash who were left feeling particularly hard done.

“I don’t know what to say about it, to be honest,” said Oaks’ player-coach Aiden Taylor. “Whichever way you look at it, it just doesn’t seem right.

“We’ve missed out by 0.37 of a point. That’s cruel and the lads feel a bit robbed by it.

“If we had played Exeter Athletic away when we should have done and when everyone else played but they messed us around and then didn’t want to come to our place, then things would have been different and we would have been promoted. That one game, which was probably a five-pointer for us, has cost us. That would have put our points ratio up.

“Paignton (who were given second) had to travel for three out of their final four games and hadn’t picked up an away bonus point all season and I couldn’t see them beating the Pirates.

“The lads are gutted but there is nothing we can do about it.

“I don’t think it is right but we just have to move on and hope we can maintain everyone for next season.”

He added: “Personally, I think the season should have just been null and void. To have promotion and relegation like this is a bit of a joke as it is not a true reflection of form.

“I can understand it for teams that are 20 points clear, but not for less than a point. If it is less than a point they should have just done a play-off in the summer or whenever it is possible. That would have been fairer.

“They could have also just restructured the league straight away rather than in another year. This was the perfect opportunity for them to do that.”

Saltash’s player-coach Lewis Wells described his team’s relegation as ’heartbreaking’.

“We knew we were in for a tough start to the season, with the changes at the club, and we were really focused on the after Christmas period and our results were showing that,” he said. “With the run of games we had left and the fact we had two games in hand, I think we could have easily finished 11th.

“Head coach Steve Down, along with myself and Todd Crofts, have put everything into this season and it’s a shame to have it snatched away. But, ultimately, I feel for the boys. They have dug in and trained in all conditions even when results weren’t going our way, but all believing and backing head coach Steve’s plan. It was a plan that was working.

“It is a tough pill to swallow but the club will bounce back.

“Spirits are high with the lads. Next season will be a straight promotion run for us. No messing around. We don’t belong in that league (Cornwall/Devon League).”

Devonport Services head coach Mike Lewis felt his team could have still got promoted to the South West Premier, but they were given fourth spot, mainly due to their away form ratio over the season, even though they had not visited bottom side Newton Abbot. They were unbeaten at home but had not been able to replicate that form on their travels.

However, in the end just seven points separated the top four sides in South West One on the RFU’s formula.

“I literally don’t understand how they have us on 80.53 points,” said Lewis. “I have looked at it and tried working it out but it just doesn’t make sense to me.

“But if we look realistically, Crediton away, Newent away and Cleve away – all teams that finished near the bottom of the table – and all games we should have comfortably won but didn’t. That’s three games off the top of my head that would have put up our away percentage and might have been the difference between us going up instead of Hornets.

“It is one of those things that you are going to be a bit annoyed with for the next few days but then will crack on and get on with life.

“But I do think probably this was the best way to do it.”

Tamar Saracens head coach Pete Lethbridge was happy that his team finished second in Devon One behind unbeaten Withycombe but annoyed that they might have been robbed of a play-off game against Cornwall One runners-up Newquay.

“It is disappointing as we should have been in a play-off,” said Lethbridge. “It would have been nice to have had that game.

“We are still waiting for everything to be totally confirmed and we’ll just have to see.

“If we don’t get a play-off then we’ll just have to build again for next season and try and win the league.

“It was disappointing not to finish the season but it was understandable.”

Tavistock did avoid the drop out of the Cornwall/Devon League thanks to Lanner pulling out of the league just before rugby was suspended. They finished third from bottom but only two teams were relegated.

OPMs finished third in Devon One behind Withycombe and Tamar Saracens, with Old Techs seventh and Plymouth Argaum ninth.

Ivybridge were given eighth place in the South West Premier.

All the RFU’s men’s and women’s predicted final league standings can be found HERE.

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