Rugby

RUGBY PREVIEWS: Clubs hoping to make the most of home comforts

IVYBRIDGE finally return to Cross-in-Hand on Saturday when they entertain Devon rivals Okehampton in the South West Premier (2.30pm).

The Bridgers have not played a home league game since beating Brixham on March 7, 2020.

Their opening two matches of this season have both been in Weston-super-Mare – losing 39-24 to the Hornets in their opening fixture and then going down 21-7 at Weston last Saturday.

Okehampton are also winless after going down 40-6 away at Exmouth and then losing 29-17 at home to the Hornets last week.

Both clubs will be eager to finally get off the mark this weekend in a match that also doubles as a Devon Cup fixture.

“It will just be good to be back in front of our fans,” said Ivybridge coach Gareth Elliott. “It has been a while.

“I’m sure there will be a good turnout because it has been such a long time since we have had a home league game.

“I am hoping we can really get some good support there who can get behind the lads.

“I think the guys are really excited as well about playing at home and trying to set things right from the last couple of weeks.

“This is also our first Devon Cup game as well, which is an extra motivation.

“We want to get on track and get some points on the board and this is a good chance to do that.

“I think it will be a pretty good game for everyone to see. We are just encouraging everyone to get there and watch.”

He added: “It was actually a lot better performance last weekend. There was some good stuff out there.

“A lot of the things we said we wanted to improve on we really did. It was just a little bit of inaccuracy and ill-discipline that inhibited us, but I actually thought it was a pretty even match, even though the scoreboard was a little bit one-sided.

“Unlike the opening week where the scoreboard did tell the story, this one I don’t think it did. It was a very even and well-contested game.

“I am pretty confident we can back that up and put in another good performance, which is all we are looking for. We just want to keep improving. If we can keep improving then we are going to start to get some results down the line.”

Johnny Morgan, George Wilson and George de Mendonca are all in line to return to the Ivybridge squad for Saturday’s match.

SOUTH WEST ONE

AFTER a blank weekend, Devonport Services are back in action with a big home match against Thornbury at the Rectory on Saturday (3pm).

Services started the season in fine style with a 33-5 home win over St Austell.

But they were then left without a fixture last weekend following Stroud’s withdrawal from the league. 

However, Devonport head coach Mike Lewis is keen to look at the week off as a positive rather than a negative.

“It has probably helped us a little bit because we are so far behind in pre-season,” said Lewis.

“It has given us another week to prepare.

“We are looking forward to this weekend. Hopefully, lots of people with come down and have a few drinks.”

Thornbury were one of Services’ big rivals in the 2019-20 season. Both clubs were pushing hard for promotion when the season ended early due to Covid. In the end the final places were decided on an RFU formula and Thornbury were given second place and Services fourth. 

“They just pipped us before,” said Lewis. “I think they finished second and we finished fourth.”

He added: “They are a different animal home and away. They were very good at home, but away they can be a bit intermittent. However, they are bringing two teams down this week to play first and second team games and I think they are making it a bit of a social.”

Thornbury were well beaten by early pace-setters Chew Valley in their first match but did bounce back to beat Crediton 22-20 last weekend.

“I think I say it every year, but until you are about eight or 10 games in you don’t have a clue of what form is like,” said Lewis. “They (Thornbury) could be the best team in the league or the worst – and so could we.

“I think this season every team is going to lose a few weird games and win a few. I think if you look across the league this year every team could beat everyone on the day, so you just have to prepare the best you can.”

Services do have one of the best home records in league rugby.

“Our home record is something we pride ourselves on,” said Lewis. “We do really enjoy playing at the Rectory. We don’t get to train there all the time but it is somewhere where we really like to be. I think it does really help the boys put that little bit of extra energy in.”

Services could hand a league debut to prop Rikki Bentham, while scrum-half Dylan Daley and Joe Semple could be in line to start with Kier Murphy and Tyler Busfield out injured. Murphy tore his hamstring in Services’ opening day win over St Austell, while Busfield has a shoulder injury.

Forward Liam Jarvis is set to make his 50th first team appearance for Services on Saturday.

CORNWALL/DEVON LEAGUE

PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks and Saltash will both be keen to prove a point when they meet at Horsham Fields on Saturday (3pm).

Neither side has had the start they would have liked – Oaks, who finished third in the last league campaign, lost by one point at the Pirates Amateurs and then had to settle with a draw at Withycombe, while Saltash, who have come down from Western Counties West, have lost to North Tawton and the Pirates.

Oaks have yet to play at home and they are hoping to make that tell this weekend.

“It will be nice to finally have a home game after back-to-back away trips,” said player-coach Aiden Taylor. “It should be a tasty game.

“I think we just need a bit of confidence from a win and just need to want it a bit more.”

Saltash will feel the same after finding it hard to get going again after the long break for the pandemic.

After going to North Tawton with quite an inexperienced squad on the opening day, last week they did have the likes of Lewis Wells, Ryan Rayner and Ryan Cruickshanks back.

With both clubs having changes their teams around quite a bit in the opening two matches, neither will be totally sure what to expect from the other on Saturday.

Tavistock are so far unbeaten this season, having overcome Newquay Hornets away in their opening match and then snatching a draw with North Tawton last Saturday.

However, they will face a tough test on Saturday when they visit the Pirates Amateurs, who have maximum points from their opening two games.

The Cornwall/Devon League game will be played at 3.30pm at Mennaye Field, straight after the Cornish Pirates have played Richmond in the Championship.

Tavistock, though, are again hit with a long list of unavailabilities.

“It’s another week, another game and it feels like another team,” said head coach Joel Caddy.

“With a few more injuries and the pandemic backlog of weddings, festivals, holidays etc, we have to make several changes again this week.

“However, we have still managed to get two sides named, which is great.

“Pirates Amateurs away will be a tough one, especially following on from the Cornish Pirates v Richmond game and the potential of a fairly large crowd. It will be a different experience for the lads and a challenge, but the lads are looking forward to it.”

Meanwhile, pointless Liskeard-Looe will be hoping to get off the mark this weekend when they entertain Veor, who have not played a league game yet after their opening day match with Cullompton was postponed and then last week they were handed a walkover by Hayle.

DEVON ONE

FOR the third week running there is another Plymouth derby in Devon One with Old Techs hosting Plymouth Argaum.

Both clubs are still looking for their first wins of the season. Techs have lost 31-27 away at Totnes – a game where they had to play for 70 minutes with 14 men – and 33-10 away at OPMs. Argaum, meanwhile, lost 38-20 at home to OPMs last week and 29-5 away at New Cross on the opening weekend.

Both sides will be gunning to try and get off the mark on Saturday at Weston Mill.  

“We are at home and there were loads of positives from last week,” said Techs coach  Shaun Bedford-Smith.

“I think the boys will be looking forward to playing again.

“We were disappointed with the result (last week) but happy with the performance.”

Argaum coach Brett Stroud also felt his team had improved from the first week and hopes that can continue at Weston Mill on Saturday in a match he admitted was a ‘bit of a must-win’ one.

The two clubs did meet in a testimonial game in pre-season with Argaum just edging out Techs after the match went to uncontested scrums.

Both clubs are likely to have much-changed sides to those that played in August.

Argaum are able to welcome back Mason Edwards to the front-row and JJ vom Hagen to the backs but they are without Tom Shephard and Mitch Coles. They are also set to hand a first league start to Harrison Truswell, who had been a replacement last week.

OPMs, who have opened their season with back-to-back derby wins, had been due to host league newcomers Salcombe to King George V Playing Fields. However, Salcombe, who are now coached by former Plymouth Albion flanker Eogan Grace, have pulled out of the fixture. 

Meanwhile, Tamar Saracens are also without a league fixture this weekend. They should have been playing Ilfracombe but the north Devon club pulled out of the league just before the season started. However, Sarries’ second team are in action away at Saltash.

In the Devon Merit Table, DHSOB will be hoping to build on last week’s hard-earned 5-0 home win over OPM II when they travel to Sandy Park to take on Tavistock II, while Plymouth Fijians are due to play their first ever Merit Table game when they travel to Torquay II.

The Fijians are not at full strength as they have players away and some self-isolating but the club are looking forward to finally making their league debut.

“The team are all set to go,” said Mike Freeman. “They will be making history.

“We will just go up there and see what happens. It should be interesting. I think things will snowball with this team once we get going.”

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