Services might have an illustrious history, but since league rugby was introduced in 1987 they have never played higher than level six, with most of their time spent at level seven and even once drop as far down as level nine.
But now they have joined the likes of Exmouth, Brixham, Ivybridge, Launceston and Camborne in Regional One South West.
“I think everyone at the club is just excited,” said player-coach Richard West.
“There’s a really good atmosphere around the club.
“It’s been a long time coming (getting to this level) and we have worked really hard for it, so we are certainly not going to take it for granted.
“We now have a great opportunity to try and establish ourselves at his level.”
West added: “When me and Mike (Lewis) came in and we were in Western Counties, players would leave to go and play for other clubs at this level (five) so we always found it hard.
“But we have now managed to work our way up to that level, which is a great achievement, but we want to make sure we do ourselves justice.”
Lewis stepped down from his role as head coach in the summer due to work and family commitments after guiding the club up two levels.
They have found that since their promotion and with their second team joining the league system at level eight, they have had more players wanting to sign for them.
Former Launceston and Saltash back Shaun Crawford is the latest to join the club after spending the summer training with Plymouth Albion.
“He’s a quality addition who has played at this level before and knows what it is about,” said West.
Plymouth University and Peninsula Medical School player Tom Davies has also arrived, as has Saltash fly-half Kieran Down, while the likes of Joe Brearley, Olly Whitfield, Mike Hunt and Jay Warren have joined from Plymstock Albion Oaks.
Their back-row options, which were already strong, have been boosted even further by the return of Jonah Moore from university and Mark Friend from long-term injury.
“Players do seem to want to come and play for us, which is credit to how the club is run,” said West.
“We also have a great youth section. I think 80 or 90 per cent of the players in the St Austell game in the final match of last season all came though the Devonport youth system.”
By visiting Lydney on the opening day of the season, Services start their campaign with their longest trip of the year. After that they only have to go out of Devon and Cornwall four times.
“It’s weird we have gone up a league but the travelling has probably been cut in half,” said West.
“We are looking forward to going up there (to Lydney). It’s always a good place to play rugby as they have lots of fans.
“We have had some close games with them. It’s never been one-sided up there. They have always been pretty tough and close games.”
Summer arrivals Down, Crawford and Hunt will all start at Lydney.
Services second team will play in Counties 2 Devon and they will open their season with a home game against Exeter Saracens.
“It will be a challenge, but I think it’s what our second team needs,” said West. “We have always been there or there abouts in the Devon Merit Table with the likes of Ivybridge, Barnstaple and Exmouth, but this is a real good opportunity now to try and push on and be part of a stronger league.”
The two clubs have enjoyed some great battles over the years and both will probably be keen to finish as Devon’s top club in Regional 1 South West.
“A Devon derby at home for the first game – we’re looking forward to that one!,” said director of rugby Jamie Tripcony.
Ivybridge are once again not short of derbies this season.
The 12-strong league features five Devon teams – Ivybridge themselves, newly-promoted Devonport Services, Exmouth, Brixham and Okehampton – and two Cornish clubs – Launceston and Camborne.
“It is a brilliant league – really exciting with lots of local derbies,” said Tripcony.
“I’m sure that will be great for the neutral and rugby in the local area.”
Eight years ago, Ivybridge, Services and Okehampton were all in Western Counties West, but they gradually have followed each other up the divisions.
“It’s great to see rugby in the area has progressed so well,” said Tripcony.
Ivybridge have not quite had the preparations they would have liked for the start of the new season.
Two of their pre-season games were cancelled so they only had fixtures against lower league Paignton and Wadebridge.
“We have been very frustrated,” admitted Tripcony. “Unfortunately, we should have had more than double the amount of pre-season games than we did have, but for one reason or another we only had two.”
Charles Bowden, Jacob Gaskin, Adam Lilley, George Vertessey and Jamie North are among those hoping to push their claims for senior spots.
They also have Charlie Teague coming back from injury and have welcomed former young Saltash back Kristian Davis, Charlie Day, Cameron Dale, Will Peakman and Ben Mallett to the club. Former player Alex Percival is also back at Cross-in-Hand.
But the club have lost Sam Brown and Jay Toogood to National League sides. Powerful centre Brown has joined Plymouth Albion and Royal Navy back Jay Toogood has signed for Taunton Titans.
“We’ve had some new players come in and some of our colts come through but there’s lot of the old faces that are as keen as mustard for the season,” said Tripcony.
“Of course, we have ambitions going into a league system. I’m not sure there’s any team that doesn’t go into the season wanting to win every game, but you have to be realistic. Only time will tell.”
Ivybridge’s second team, like Services’, will play in Counties 2 Devon this season. They will start with a trip to Exmouth II.
COUNTIES 1 WESTERN WEST
Oaks thought they had narrowly missed out once again on going up after finishing fifth last season in the old Cornwall/Devon League.
However, when the fixtures were announced at the start of the summer they found themselves in the new-look Counties 1 Western West.
They are joined by Pirates Amateurs, Topsham, Cullompton and Bude, who they played last year. They will also face Bideford, Falmouth, Kingsbridge, Paignton, Penryn, Tiverton and Wiveliscombe.
“We know every game is going to be tough,” said Oaks player-coach Aiden Taylor. “If you look at who we have to play then you can see there are no easy games in there.
“We did play quite a few of the teams last year and we beat all apart from one at home, so we know there are some winnable games, but it is just about getting a squad out every week.”
Oaks, with Dan Parkes still as head coach, will start their season off with a home match against Falmouth, who finished second-to-bottom of Western Counties West last season.
“I don’t really know much about Falmouth, to be honest,” said Taylor.
“We will just have to see how Saturday goes.
“The lads have worked hard in pre-season.
“We have lost a few players to Services, but we are going to have two teams out this Saturday, which is the main thing.
“We just need to try and get some points on the board.
“It is good to play at home first and we have a bit of a club fun day planned. We should have some good support and hopefully we can score some tries and get off to a winning start in this new league.”
Oaks will be without new player-coach Lewis Paterson, who damaged his ribs in the pre-season match with Saltash. They also lost Ryan Wills in that warm-up game and he is likely to be out for a while after popping his AC joint, which might require an operation.
Plymstock are also waiting to see if influential number eight Ryan McKibbin is available after becoming a father last Saturday. He is likely to only be available for home games this year.
Oaks’ second team have been admitted in Counties 3 Devon West where they will be up against the likes of Tamar Saracens, Old Techs and Plymouth Argaum.
“It could be tough, but it is something they wanted,” said Taylor. “We did speak about it before it all happened and they all wanted to be a proper league.
“It will keep players happy as there will be a game every week now. At least then if players have to come up to the first team had had some rugby or if players are coming back from injury they can get some competitive rugby rather than friendlies.
“We have got a lot of young boys in there and it’s going to be good for them. It will give them experience as they are going to be playing some good sides in that league.”
Oaks’ second string will begin their league season away at Newton Abbot IIs on Saturday.
COUNTIES 2 CORNWALL
SALTASH are going into the new campaign in confident mood after an encouraging pre-season and a strong finish last term.
The Ashes won their final five Cornwall/Devon League fixtures in 2021-22 and averaged more than 50 points a game. They also reached the Lockie Cup final.
And they have continued their form on in pre-season. Although they lost to level five side Devonport Services, they did beat higher league Plymstock Albion Oaks 40-10 and Tavistock 14-12 last weekend.
They were in the same league as Oaks and Tavistock last term but, following the RFU’s summer restructure, they find themselves in Counties 2 Cornwall, with the old Cornwall/Devon division split back into two county areas.
Although it is supposed to be the same level as the Cornwall/Devon League, the new structure has not done Saltash many favours with far more travelling and less derby games.
And they have made no secret that they would like to try and get back to level seven, where they were before covid.
“We want out and I think we are going to go for it,” admitted Saltash’s head coach Steve Down.
“After three years of struggling and rebuilding we are now getting our confidence back.”
He added: “Most of the teams (in this league) are new to us and we don’t know what we are going to face. We just have to take each week as it comes
“But we just have to play our game and go out firing – start strong like we have been doing (in pre-season) and see what happens.”
“We just don’t know what they are going to be like,” said Down.
“But pre-season has done us quite well. We have bought into some of the RFU conditioning things and their injury prevention and I think that has paid us dividends. We have had a couple of people hobble off, but nothing major.
“We have just been trying to tick all the boxes and it’s not just about the game-day but all the preparation.
“I think that will help us and the guys are giving them respect.”
Saltash blooded lots of youngsters last season and they have grown around the more experienced players.
“I think because they have that experience around them they are stepping up well and taking their chances,” said Down. “They don’t look out of place, do they? We have got some quality youngsters.”
Saltash have lost one of their star youngsters from last season – teenager Kristian Davis, who has joined level five side Ivybridge – while fly-half Kieran Down has also moved to level five by joining Devonport Services.
Another talented youngster, Andrew Walsh, is due to go away to studying at university in Cardiff, but the club hope he will be available to play when he is home.
However, the Ashes do have more youngsters coming through like fly-half Ollie Crawford, who impressed in their final pre-season game against Tavistock, and also a number of their successful Twickenham squad returning.
Saltash’s match against Camborne School of Mines kicks off at 3pm, but traffic is likely to be busy in the town as it is regatta weekend.
Liskeard-Looe, who had a really tough season in 2021-22, will kick-off their campaign at home to Illogan Park.
COUNTIES 2 DEVON
TAVISTOCK are likely to find themselves viewed as one of the teams to beat in Counties 2 Devon after a top six finish last season in the old Cornwall/Devon League.
The five teams that finished above Tavistock last term have all been promoted into the new Counties 1 Western West, but the Sandy Park club do now have to contend with the unpredictability of five seconds teams in their division.
“I’m not making any targets as that just puts a big target on your back,” said Tavistock head coach Joel Caddy when asked about his club’s goals. “We’ll see how it goes.
“In effect we want to be higher than sixth and we’ll see where we go from there.
“Hopefully, we will have a decent season.”
Tavistock, who finished last season strongly and won the Lockie Cup, have kept most of their key players from last term and have also added to their squad with some new players and some youngsters who have progressed through their colts.
But they have picked up some injuries in pre-season, including to prop Darren Guppy and half-back Jack Easton last week against Saltash.
Injuries in the first half of last season probably cost them the chance of promotion and Caddy is hoping to avoid that scenario this term.
“You have to be confident, but you don’t know what injuries you are going to pick up, like last season,” he said.
“But we are looking forward to it. The lads are fairly champing and there is real pressure on for places. It should be a good season.”
Tavistock will kick-off their new campaign with a home game against old rivals North Tawton.
The teams met in Tavistock’s first home fixture of last term and it turned out to be a thriller which ended 26-26.
“We have North Tawton to start with and then we have to go to South Molton, so they’ll be a fair bit of batter flying around on social media.”
Tavistock are set to hand league debuts to youngsters Liam Watts, Jack Giddy, Gerald Hunter and Dan Redstone, who has moved from north Devon, while, with Easton on the sidelines for a few weeks, veteran former Launceston back Andy Yates will start at fly-half after moving to Sandy Park in the summer.
“Easton’s injury is better than we thought and hopefully he may only be out for a month,” said Caddy. “With Jack out, Andy Yates, who played in the Championship for Launceston, will start at 10. He will bring a lot of experience which will be good as we are quite a young side.
“We are looking pretty good, but we will see what happens. Let’s hope the game is as exciting as the one at the start of last season.”
In the same division, Devonport Services II will begin life in the league with a home game against last year’s Devon One champions, Exeter Saracens, while Ivybridge II visit Exmouth II.
COUNTIES 3 DEVON WEST
TAMAR Saracens will probably start as one of the favourites in the new Counties 3 Devon West league.
Sarries have been knocking on the door for promotion for the last few seasons.
In 2018-19 they came fourth in Devon One, the follow year they came second but were denied the chance of promotion due to covid and last season they finished a frustrating fifth.
But the four teams that finished above them last year are not in their league this time around and over the summer they have brought in a high-profile new coaching team of Mike Lewis, Cory Moore and Arran Webb.
However, this season the league could be more unpredictable with five seconds teams joining the division.
Sarries will start their campaign against one of them – Topsham II, who won the David Butt Trophy last term and could be one of the teams to beat.
“We’re really excited about the start of the season,” said new head coach Lewis.
“There is a real good buzz around the club.
“At training people are putting a lot of time and effort into it and they are really buying into what we are trying to achieve, which is fantastic.”
He added: “You would think this could be one of our toughest fixtures, but it’s the first game of the season anything can happen. It can be a bit of a lottery as you are rusty, people might not be match fit and this, that and the other.
“As the schools are still not back we have a few missing, but they probably will have to.
“There’s no form book in the first game. They could well be the best team in the league but so could we.
“Obviously, we would like to think that we would be one of the teams near the top of the league with our players, but you don’t know.”
Despite many people tipping Sarries for success, Lewis is refusing to set targets for his side.
“There are so many variables when looking at outcomes so it’s really important to just look at the performance and the things you can control.
“Yeah, ultimately you want to finish top of the table and win every single game, but is that likely to happen? Probably not.
“It’s just about performing well and having fun. Hopefully, having some fun replicates into people doing the right thing at the right time.”
He added: “As coaches we have to make sure we can get the best team we can out every week and make sure they are fit and healthy.
“We have to manage the team the best we can as we haven’t got huge depth in our squad.
“When you are only a one-team club you are not going to have the same depth as a club with a second team so we have to make sure we look after everyone throughout the year.
“The more we can keep them fit, the more they can play and the more chance we have of finishing near the top of that table.”
Services are set to be missing experienced influential players like Marc Cioffi and Frazer Tatchell this week, while Reece Boarse is also likely to be unavailable, as is new South African player Jake Wakeley, who injured his AC joint in pre-season.
Among their other new players this summer are backs Matt Cates and Greg Parrott and lock Harrison Truswell.
The one downside for Tamar Saracens, who celebrate their 50th anniversary next year, is that this will be their last season at the Parkway after the venue was brought by Plymouth Argaum.
PLYMOUTH Argaum are hoping to continue their improvement this season under new coach Dean Avery.
Avery replaced his former team-mate Brett Stroud in the summer.
Stroud got Argaum going again last season after a few tough years at the Roborough-based club. They ended up finishing ninth with nine wins, which included beating promoted South Molton, third-placed New Cross and Exeter Athletic and putting 102 points on Totnes.
Argaum have kept most of their squad from last term and have also added to it with some new players like youngsters Owen Goucher and Jack Corber and the experienced Dave Clack. All three could make their debuts this weekend when they host Salcombe at Bickleigh Down.
Argaum had been due to visit Salcombe, but the south Devon side’s ground was ruled unplayable and so the fixture was switched.
“We have kept most of the squad and there’s a lot of new guys as well,” said Avery. “There’s a really positive feeling at the club.
“I have been really impressed with the whole club – the guys in the kitchen, behind the bar, in the changing rooms – the Argaum family, as they call themselves.”
He added: “What I have said to the players is that we are not setting targets for the season but only for the first block of games – the first four games – Salcombe, Sarries, Totnes and Newton Abbot IIs. I have said to the players to come to me with their target and just take it from there. We’re certainly not going to get carried away.
Avery is looking forward to coming up against his former Brixham team-mate Eoghan Grace at the weekend when Salcombe visit.
Argaum do have forwards Dan Smith and Tom Mann back after they missed last week’s pre-season fixture against Illogan Park, but Giddeon Berends, Will Lloyd and Adam Griffiths are missing and Adam Walker is doubtful.
Old Techs should have been kicking off their season with an away trip to Totnes, but that fixture has now been postponed after both clubs’ pitches were ruled unplayable.
Totnes’ was the first to be ruled out before Techs’ Weston Mill ground was inspected by an independent referee and also ruled unplayable.
OPMs are in Counties 3 Devon East and so they do not start their league season until September 17. This weekend they are due to visit Crediton IIs in a pre-season friendly.
The Devon Merit Table South & West League does not kick-off until next weekend.