DEVONPORT Services have further strengthened their South West One squad with the signing of forwards Chris McDonald and Keane Whittaker.
Both players have not played much rugby in the last couple of years due to work commitments and injury but are keen to make their mark in 2020-21.
Northern Ireland-born second-row McDonald is joining Services for a third time in between two spells at Launceston.
The Royal Navy man, who has just become a father, has seen his rugby limited due to work in the last two seasons but he is now going to be based at HMS Raleigh and so has decided to re-join Devonport from the Cornish All Blacks.
Meanwhile, former St Austell junior Whittaker has seen his rugby career curtailed for three years due to serious knee injuries, but the Marjons student made his return to action earlier this year. He was part of the Devon development squad that beat Ivybridge at the start of March and had been training with Plymouth Albion until the coronavirus pandemic brought an early end to the 2019-20 season.
Back-row forward Whittaker, who is about to start a masters degree at Marjons, is now hoping to make up for lost time at the Rectory.
“Mid-way through my under-18 season I injured my knee and I ended up being out for three years,” he said. “I ruptured my ACL the first time, then I ruptured my meniscus and then ruptured by ACL again.
“I did play a few games before the coronavirus. I played for Devon against Ivybridge and also got two games for uni so it was good to get some rugby in before all this happened.
“I was also lucky enough to have been training with Plymouth Albion from January and that helped me get my bearings back.
“But now I just want to play a bit of rugby, which is why I was looking for a club.
“I wasn’t playing any rugby at the weekends with Albion as I had just come back from injury so I thought I would sign for Devonport because they are at a good standard and Mike Lewis is a good coach. I was quite keen to work with Mike. I am looking forward to that.”
Meanwhile, McDonald, whose son was only born last week, is looking forward to returning to the Rectory and hopefully helping them secure promotion.
“I have been there before and so I know some of the lads and coaching staff,” said McDonald.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge and trying to help Services out as much as I can.
“They are in South West One and it is a good standard. I played for Launceston who were just one league above so it’s not a massive drop.
“I will be working over at Raleigh and last Thursday we just had our first son and so it is better for me now to be down in Plymouth rather than travelling up to Launceston every week. I will be only five minutes away from the clubhouse and so it makes it a lot better for my family.”
He added: “When I first joined the navy I played for Devonport Services but then I went away and I then moved to Launceston to live so played there. I then moved back to Plymouth and went to play for Devonport again but I found myself going away for 10 weeks and only back for four so didn’t really play.
“Last year I went back to Launceston and I played up until Christmas but then I went on a course.
“So I haven’t played that much recently as I have been concentrating on my career.”
Now McDonald wants to make his mark again but he knows there will be plenty of competition for places at Services, who are not short of second-row and back-row options.
“I’m quite looking forward to that,” he said. “It’s nice to have that competition. It will good to be fighting for my position and I’m looking forward to a new challenge.”
McDonald is the second Royal Navy player to join Services this summer following in the footsteps of scrum-half Callum Cone.
“Devonport is a services club,” said head coach Mike Lewis. “It does help us if we do have Royal Navy, Royal Marines and whoever playing for us. It shows that the club is giving playing opportunities to serving personnel.”
He added: “Chris is a really solid second-row who can also play in the back-row. He is pretty decent getting over the ball and is also a good ball carrier.
“We have sometimes missed that niggly player around the ruck – someone else to get their hands on the ball and realistically get a turnover or do enough to slow it down to give us a bit of time to defend. He is a player that can do that.
“Keane hasn’t played as much rugby as he would have wanted in the last couple of years, but he has been doing vast amounts of rehab and really wants to get stuck in this season. He plays back-row – predominately six or eight.”
Back-row is one of the areas that Services do have plenty of options.
“We are an amateur club – we don’t pay – and players do have families, jobs and commitments and so you do need plenty of options and that strength in depth,” said Lewis.
“We want to be competitive in both the first team and in the second team league and so you need six great back-row players that can start in both teams and also back-up from the bench.”