IVYBRIDGE are hoping they can kick off 2022 with a Devon derby win against Okehampton.
The Bridgers travel to the Showground on Saturday in the South West Premier aiming to complete the double over their county rivals, having beaten them 34-11 at Cross-in-Hand earlier in the season.
Ivybridge, who sit eighth in the table, are keen to get back to winning ways after losing their last three matches of 2021.
“We are already to go again and are looking forward to it,” said head coach Gareth Elliott. “It’s a Devon derby so the lads are really excited.
“We had a good training session with lots of numbers so we are in good shape.
“We actually have three senior sides out this week. I think that is probably the first time we have done that without the third side been a vets side. We are really happy with that.”
Ivybridge’s thirds will play Topsham seconds at Cross-in-Hand at 12.30pm before their second team host Okehampton’s seconds afterwards.
The Bridgers’ first team is likely to be similar to which played against Weston-super-Mare before Christmas, although the front-row could be different with Matt Finn back again but Jay Geraty injured.
Elliott is expecting a tough test against an Okehampton side, who although they sit in 13th spot have only one less win that Ivybridge.
“We had a good result against them (Okehampton) at our place but then from that point on they seemed to pick up a bit more form and they have some good results,” said Elliott. “I don’t know if they got some bodies back that they didn’t have earlier on the season.
“But they are always tough opponents and it is tough to win at their place, as we know from prior experience.
“If you look at their home form they are pretty good there all the time. We know we are going to have to be good.
“The ground is going to be a little big boggy and the forecast isn’t brilliant so we are going to have to work hard to ensure we can win the little battles to be able to come out on top over the 80 minutes.”
He added: “We have a chance to go into this year and really target the latter part of the season with some clear goals.
“It is all out there in front of us – if we can put in some good performances we can look to climb the table and have a really strong finish to the season.
“There are loads of opportunities in the league and Devon Cup that we can really take hold of, if we show some good form.”
SOUTH WEST ONE WEST
SECOND-placed Devonport Services are facing a crucial month in South West One West.
Mike Lewis’ side will begin 2022 with a difficult trip to fifth-placed Thornbury, who are only five points behind them in the standings.
They then visit Bridgwater before hosting third-placed Chew Valley, who start 2022 on the same points as Devonport, and then end the month with a home game against Crediton – one of only two teams to beat them this season.
“We are going well and I think we know the importance of this month on where we are likely to finish at the end of the year,” said Lewis.
“We have got Thornbury, who before Covid almost won the league on their home form, Chew Valley away and Crediton at home, who we have to beat to get a home Devon cup final. We have got three really tough games and we also have Bridgwater to throw in there who are a team that will never lie down.”
He added: “We are looking forward to this weekend.
“But it is always a tough one to go up there (to Thornbury) and we have always struggled when we have gone up there.
“We have got a few missing. Covid has got a hold of a few of our players but we won’t use that as an excuse. If we had 15 out with Covid we would still play the game as we would probably have a better team than playing on a rearranged weekend.
“We have got two teams travelling up. Both teams were meant to play Thornbury up there but unfortunately their second team have had a league game rearranged for this week so we are going to drop our twos off at Hornets to play their second or third team.”
Services are likely to be without captain Matt Gregory, but it is in the backs where their resources will be really tested this weekend.
Matt Neyle, Rhys Williams, Harrison Reburn, Keane Whittaker, Callum Perkins, Sam Farnham, Joe McKinley and Phil Greenside are all unavailable for various reasons.
Lewis said: “We have some young boys that have been training every week and are keen to step up and, so similar to Sidmouth (before Christmas), we are going to have to grind out a performance and make sure everyone is clued up to what they are doing.”
Saltash will be looking to prove a point after losing 51-7 to Oaks away earlier in the season.
Plymstock know that they cannot read too much into that result, especially as the Ashes have picked up four wins since then – three coming at home.
“I guess we are as ready to go again as any other team,” said Oaks player-coach Aiden Taylor after a three-week lay-off.
“We have a few players out as they have tested positive for Covid, but, as I have said to the lads, we can’t keep worrying about it – everyone is going to be in the same boat.
“We have got a good team out on Saturday but we don’t know what Saltash are going to bring. They have been a bit hit and miss all season, a bit like ourselves really. It should be an interesting game.
“I think they are quite a similar team to us. They get quite good results at home but away they struggle. It also depends on who they have out. Sometimes you see their team and you are like ‘wow that’s a really good team’ but then other weeks you might not recognise many names. Yet, I guess that is the same with us.
“They were playing in Western Counties not so long ago so they have some good players.”
He added: “I think after Christmas, everyone’s going to be blowing a bit and I have seen the weather forecast and it’s not very pretty.
“But for us this half of the season we just want to enjoy ourselves and prep for next year.
“We have some colts that are going to be allowed to play for us in a few weeks when the paperwork is back from Devon RFU which will strengthen the squad.
“It is just about finishing as high up the table as we can and looking towards next season. We are just trying to build.”
Tavistock face a tough test to get the new year underway with as they host second-placed Pirates Amateurs at Sandy Park.
The Pirates have been averaging more than 32 points a game this season and only lost twice, but both those losses have come on their travels.
Tavistock, who lost 38-14 away to the Pirates in September, finished 2021 strongly with big wins over Liskeard-Looe and Hayle and they will be hopeful that they might be able to cause on upset, if they have most of their key players available.
Elsewhere, Liskeard-Looe will be aiming to finally get their first win of the season when they travel to Veor.
DEVON ONE AND DEVON MERIT TABLE
PLYMOUTH Argaum and Old Techs start 2022 with a derby match at Bickleigh Down.
Clashes between the two clubs have tended to be close in the last few years.
Techs won 20-10 at Weston Mill earlier in the season, while in the 2019-20 campaign, Argaum won 9-5 at home and the match at Weston Mill ended in a 10-10 draw.
Argaum are set to welcome back the likes of Tom Holliday, Chris Perkins and Billy Stockwell for Saturday’s game, while they are likely to hand a debut to teenage winger Preston Wilkins, who signed for the club before Christmas but who has been waiting until he was old enough to play.
Techs, meanwhile, are unsure of who they will have available as they struggle with Covid issues.
“It is bad enough at the best of times trying to put a team out for clubs at our level but then you chuck in Covid and it becomes a real struggle,” said Techs coach Shaun Bedford-Smith.
“I think every club is going to have problems. You have people who have got it, people who are recovering from it and people who don’t want to get it. It is a challenge and one you don’t really need at grassroots level.
“But we have a team at the moment and we got a good win against Totnes last time out with loads of players missing. The good thing this season is that we do have a bit of strength in depth.
“But I think Argaum away is one of the toughest games in the league. Their results at home have been good and it is not an easy place to go to.
“All away games are hard, but Argaum are a team like us that really like playing at home. They know their pitch well and are know how to use it.”
OPMs are another team finding Covid a bit of a issue this weekend.
“Mark Hardie will be in charge and so the team will be in his capable hands,” said Orkney.
“We have a squad of 20. We have got a few boys injured. Our injury list is horrific. We have Sammy Matts out after he had an operation over the Christmas period. He hurt his foot against Argaum – he tore some ligaments – and had a operation and isn’t quite right yet. It was only a minor operation so hopefully he will be back soon.
“He joins the long injury list we have, but thankfully we have enough strength in depth to put a squad out. It is quite a good squad so we will go into the game confidently.”
He added: “I think we have all accepted that this season we just have to get the best out of it that we can and then hopefully have a proper season next year. So many clubs are getting decimated all the time – I don’t think any side is a reflection of any club this season – instead it is just whatever side people can get out. We are a little bit like that this Saturday.”
Tamar Saracens are without a league match this weekend in Devon One.
In the Devon Merit Table, Plympton Victoria return to action when they host Tavistock II at St Mary’s.
“We are probably going to have to borrow a couple of players as we have a couple out injured and a couple with Covid,” said Plym Vic’s Chris Hunt.
“But we have a team and we will just see what Saturday brings.”
Tavistock II sit second in the table, just one point behind the University of Plymouth. They have only lost one game this season, while Plym Vic now unfortunately find themselves at the bottom of the new-look Devon Merit Table Division Two South & West after a host of struggling teams were removed from the competition before Christmas.
The league now only has eight sides in it and results against teams that were kicked out for failing to fulfil enough fixtures have been expunged.