DEVONPORT Services’ new head coach Ben Russell and his Saltash counterpart Steve Down were both happy after their opening pre-season match at Keyham on Tuesday night.
Newly-promoted Regional One South West side Services eventually ran out 36-7 winners against Counties Two Cornwall side Saltash, but they were made to work hard for their victory on a raining night.
Saltash held them for 30 minutes but Services, who are now three divisions higher than their Tamar neighbours, eventually showed their strength, although some players did look to be trying too hard to impress their new head coach.
But former Premiership player Russell, who has taken over from Mike Lewis at the Rectory this summer, was pleased with what he saw overall from his team.
“It was really good – we got a lot out of it,” said Russell. “We used a lot of players and used different combinations and stuff so it was really good.
“We played some good rugby – some bits could be improved, but overall it was good.”
He added: “When we just kept it simple we looked electric, but when we tried to force it or do too much we made mistakes. But there were going to be mistakes as it was the first game.
“Saltash were physical and came at us for the whole game. It was a really good run-out.
“We could have potentially got a few more (tries), but that’s just rugby. We’ll learn from it. We now have Wadebridge on Saturday and Tamar Saracens on Friday.”
Saltash’s head coach Down was also satisfied with what he saw from this team in their first outing.
“It was really good,” he said. “I think we always raise our game against Services.
“It was a good test of our fitness and strength.
“They did push us hard, but they got flustered when we upped our game. I think we asked them a lot of questions.
“We knew we were always going to be up against it, but we fought really well and I was pleased with the whole squad. They all played well.”
Saltash will now follow that up with games tough against Plymstock Albion Oaks this Saturday and Tavistock the following week.
“We didn’t want any easy games as it doesn’t serve you well,” said Down.
“We like the challenge. The guys raise their game when they have a challenge.”
He added: “We have got a solid squad with people coming back.
“I think one of the key things for us this year is to grow the second team and build that back up again. That took a hit last year when we used to have a really strong competitive second team, especially that year when we were competing for Twickenham.
“We have a really good bunch of second team fixtures this season. We need to grow our squad and have that strength in depth. We have ambition to go up a level and to do that you need that big squad.”
Services, who had a large squad on Tuesday night, nearly took the lead in the opening minutes of the game when scrum-half Dylan Daley dived over in the right corner, but he must have gone into touch as his effort was ruled out.
However, four minutes later, Devonport did take the lead when new back Oli Whitfield scored on the right after some intense pressure after Services had pushed Saltash off a scrum. Richard West added the conversion.
In the second quarter, Saltash did put Services under some intense pressure and the hosts game away a host of penalties. Eventually Saltash’s pressure was rewarded when Ollie Crawford took advantage of a dropped ball to score a try, which was converted by Kieran Down to level the scores.
However, not long later, Devonport went back in front when Jack Darragh scored from a catch-and-drive move to make it 12-7.
And just before the break, the hosts got a third try when the impressive Daley went over in the left corner after fit-again back-rower Mark Friend had done well from the back of a scrum before off-loading to his number nine.
Daley, one of the players to stand out for Services, then scored a brilliant second try after the interval, which West converted to make it 26-7.
Devonport had further chances to score but had to wait until the last 20 minutes to increase their lead with two tries from winger Joe Rider.
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