IVYBRIDGE will be aiming to keep their place in the top half of the South West Premier table on Saturday when they host Bournemouth at Cross-in-Hand.
The Bridgers moved up to seventh in the standings last weekend after beating Royal Wootton Bassett away.
Bournemouth were one of the teams they leapfrogged ahead last Saturday, with the Dorset side dropping down to eighth, three points behind Ivybridge.
Former National League outfit Bournemouth made a great start to the season winning their opening four matches but have since only won three more games.
Ivybridge coach Gareth Elliott is aware that their dramatic loss of form could be down to injuries or unavailabilities and knows his side will have to be at their best to claim back-to-back wins and also do the double over their opponents.
“It is a good chance to get a couple of wins before another break,” said Elliot.
“We had a very good performance last week from a tough away game.
“But I’m sure they (Bournemouth) will be all guns blazing after we turned them over at their place.”
Ivybridge are boosted by having back-row forward Sam Furse available again following a lengthy injury.
“He’s a skilful player and does the right thing at the right time,” said Elliott. “He’s not the biggest of guys but he gets away with that with a bit of speed, good fitness, very good skills and been able to make stuff happen. He is a very useful player and it’s good to have him back. He’s also a bit of a leader and says the right thing at the right time.”
However, second-row Seb Musgrave will be missing on Saturday after he damaged his calf last weekend.
“Seb has picked up quite a bad calf injury and could be out for at least a month, but we are still waiting on a scan to see how bad it is,” said Elliott.
Prop Matt Finn is struggling with a rib injury and so veteran hooker Jay Geraty will resume the captain’s duties this weekend.
Meanwhile, Elliott did have praise for George Thompson who made his first team debut last weekend.
“George Thompson got his first appearance last week at full-back,” said the Ivybridge coach “He’s a guy who played a little of junior rugby for Ivybridge but hasn’t really played much since until now. He did the jersey proud and it was really promising.”
Ivybridge’s second team are unbeaten in the Devon Merit Table this season and the club have also been able to get a third string out on occasions this season.
Elliott said it was always his desire for the club to have a strong second team playing every week.
“It was always my outlook when I agreed to come back to the club,” he said.
“If you want to develop a club you actually have to have at least two teams of players that want to play week-in, week-out.
“I don’t think since I’ve been here we have failed to raise a second side. What that means is you have players to swap in, it means you can develop guys who are young and it means if we have good competition for places in the ones then guys who aren’t involved can still play rugby that is functioning and still get something out of it.
“It’s given young players a pathway rather than coming out of the colts and finding you are either good enough for the firsts or you’re not required. That’s the last thing we want.
“Those guys in the seconds have done brilliantly to get a good balance this season. They know it is a social side, so don’t take themselves too seriously, but there’s still a lot of very good players who are doing a good job.”
SOUTH WEST ONE WEST
DEVONPORT Services will look to get their title challenge back on track on Saturday when they visit in-form Keynsham.
Services’ hopes have stumbled a little bit since the Christmas break, losing two and drawing one of their five games in 2022.
They have yet to win away since the turn of the year and their hopes of doing so this weekend are not helped by having a number of key players unavailable, including fly-half Richard West, who picked up a red card last weekend.
They also face a team that are on an incredible run. Keynsham have won six of their last seven games, including beating Services’ title rivals Chew Valley and St Austell. Their only defeat since mid-December was against Thornbury.
But Services coach Mike Lewis is hoping his team will rise to the challenge and show a real togetherness to try and get a result.
“Hopefully we can go up there and play some flowing rugby,” he said.
“I think we have only played them three times but they make it really hard when they are at home. They try and play a bit of rugby as well. They have a good kick game, which we are going to have to be aware of, but we just have to stick together and be aware of what we need to do.
“The important message we have been putting out this week is that we need to be cohesive.”
He added: “Our league is incredible this year. Between the top eight teams there’s probably only 10 per cent in ability and that’s when everyone has their strongest sides out.
“You can always see when a team has people missing whether for injuries, Covid or whatever.
“If you are missing a couple of players and not on your game, then anyone can beat anyone in this league.
“Even the teams at the bottom are picking up. Bridgwater are starting to get a few decent results, Old Pats are pushing people, so there’s not one easy game in this league.
“In previous seasons there were always three or four where you could go away and have a bit of a jolly, but not this.”
Despite all their injuries and unavailabilities, Services should have three senior teams out this weekend, with the seconds due to host Teignmouth in the Devon Merit Table and their thirds entertaining DHSOB in the Ellis Trophy.
THE weather could play some havoc with the Cornwall/Devon League this weekend with a number of games in the division already in doubt.
The recent persistent wet weather has left Saltash’s pitch quite waterlogged, but they will be hoping they can entertain Veor on Saturday.
Veor sit in sixth place and Saltash in 11th, but Veor’s away record is poor with only two wins on their travels, while the Ashes’ home form is pretty good, with all-but one of their wins coming at Moorlands Lane.
When the sides met earlier in the season, Veor narrowly won 29-23.
“They are a team that we looked like we should have beaten as our backs were going quite well against them, but the fire-power of the forwards just won them the game in the end,” said Saltash coach Steve Down.
“They are a bit up and down at the moment, but we obviously respect them.”
Saltash have Lewis Wells available again and he starts on the bench, with Liall Honey coming into the second-row, with Devon Murray-Bennett, who impressed against Services II in mid-week, not available.
Saltash seconds are also in action as they visit their Bodmin counterparts on Saturday.
Tavistock’s first team pitch is also looking heavy but they are confident their others pitches will be fit to play two senior matches on this weekend.
Tavistock’s firsts will host Torquay Athletic, while their seconds will entertain Plymouth Fijians.
The club also have their ex-players’ day and have at least 70 planning on attending so are looking forward to Saturday.
“The first XV pitch looks bit iffy, but the back pitches are fit to play so we will get our games on,” said Hammy Kerswill.
Tavistock could be boosted by the return of back-row forwards Andrew Schuttacker and Jamie Legg and fly-half Jack Easton, who all missed last week’s game at Topsham, but the Moorlanders are set to be without front-rowers Joe Hair and Rich Cann.
Weather and travel permitting, Plymstock Albion Oaks face a big home match against Bude on Saturday at Horsham Fields.
Bude sit fourth in the table and Oaks fifth, but there are 13 points between that at the moment.
If Oaks want to try and chase them down then they need to win on Saturday.
Plymstock have only lost once at home in the league this season and have seen off high-flying Topsham and Cullompton on their own patch.
But Bude have experience of winning at Horsham Fields before and do have a good record against Oaks.
Elsewhere, Liskeard-Looe will be hoping to close the gap on fellow strugglers Newquay when they travel to the Hornets on Saturday.
DEVON ONE AND DEVON MERIT TABLE
FOR once there isn’t a Plymouth derby match in Devon One, with all the city sides taking on teams below them this weekend.
Old Techs will be optimistic of claiming back-to-back wins when they host winless Buckfastleigh at Weston Mill on Saturday.
Techs had a tough start to 2022 but got back to winning ways last weekend with a 45-5 victory over Torrington.
“It was good to get a win, but it wasn’t as easy as the scoreline suggested,” said coach Shaun Bedford-Smith. “We just defended really well early on and took our chances.
“It was actually a hard game and we had to soak up a bit of pressure in the first half, but our handling was really good considering the conditions and in the second half we kept chipping away with tries.
“It was a good game and played in a good spirit and Torrington stayed until about 8pm, which was good.”
He added: “This week we are missing a couple, but got a couple back. We were having to make nine or 10 changes every game but it is only about three or four now so it is getting better.”
Rudi Baker, James Douglas and Kyle Hookway are all unavailable this week but Techs do welcome back Steve Wilkinson and Will Booth.
OPMs will also be confident of a home win when they host bottom side Dartmouth.
The Darts, though, are only bottom due to giving away a number of walkovers. The South Hams side actually have four wins to their name and did push OPMs hard without having a full 15 players in December before the Old Boys ran out 26-14 winners.
“We have no idea what they will bring,” said OPMs coach Rick Orkney.
“I think when we last played them, they went two tries up. We started really, really poorly – we were asleep at the wheel – but then came back to beat them. I think we scored four unanswered tries, but it was one of those games where we didn’t get off the bus.”
OPMs are fourth in the table and although they are 12 points off the top three they are trying to chase them down.
“Two weeks ago we had eight games to go and we said that if we won all eight we would have a good chance of coming third,” said Orkney. “So we have an end of season target. We are now two down with six to go. We are pretty pleased we where we are.”
Tamar Saracens sit in fifth spot, five points behind OPMs. This weekend Sarries have a tricky trip to ninth-placed Salcombe, who have beaten the three other Plymouth Devon One side in 2022.
“It’s going to be a toughie,” said Tamar Saracens’ Pete Lethbridge. “They seem to have recruited a few decent players, but it is our last away game of the season, which is good.”
Meanwhile, Plymouth Argaum will be hoping to keep their recent impressive home record going when they host Torrington at Bickleigh Down.
Argaum have won their last five home games, including victories over South Molton, Exeter Athletic and Old Techs.
And they will have a point to prove against Torrington after they were beaten 50-11 there at the end of October when they travelled with a weakened team.
In the Devon Merit Table, leaders Plymouth Fijians travel to second-placed Tavistock II hoping to claim the double over their west Devon hosts.
The Fijians caught Tavisock II’s cold three weeks ago when they won 77-12 at King George V Playing Fields.
But they know Tavisock will be ready for them this weekend and could move to the top of the table if they could turn the tables around.
“I think Tavistock will be strong,” said Mike Freeman. “They certainly played well in the second half of that last game, but the Fijians just caught them cold in the first half.”
Elsewhere in the Devon Merit Table Division Two South & West, OPM Jesters, who recently got a new kit, are due to host Plymstock Albion Oaks II at King George V Playing Fields.
DHSOB have named a 21-man squad for the Plymouth Combination match but will be unsure what they will be against as Services have not had any regular third team games this season and have injuries and unavailabilities in their other two squads.