REGIONAL ONE SOUTH WEST
EARLY league leaders Ivybridge face their first away trip of 2022-23 when they visit newly-promoted Chew Valley on Saturday.
The Bridgers have enjoyed home wins over Exmouth and Weston-super-Mare in their opening two games, but they are expecting a tough test at second-placed Chew.
The clubs have not met for 16 years so no-one in the Ivybridge squad knows what to expect from a trip to Chew Lane.
“We will be going into the unknown a bit,” said Ivybridge’s director of rugby Jamie Tripcony. “I don’t think I have been there.”
Ivybridge might have won both their opening two games, but no-one at Cross-in-Hand is getting carried away.
“We still feel we have 10-15 per cent still in us. It is trying to find a way to get that intensity – and there’s no better start than this week away from home.”
Ivybridge have given a number of young player debuts in their opening two games and they have fitted in well.
“We have great strength in depth, which is pleasing,” said Tripcony.
Jack Skinner and Charlie Teague come into Ivybridge’s starting line-up for the trip, with Ben Mallett and Kristian Davis unavailable.
Newly-promoted Devonport Services will be looking to make it two away wins in a row when they visit Gloucester side Old Centralians on Saturday.
Services opened their season with an away victory at another Gloucestershire side, Lydney, but did not play last week due to the death of the Queen.
Devonport are certainly getting their long away trips out of the way early on.
“Other than going to Chew Valley, which I think is in March, we have the five worst away trips in the first nine weeks,” said Services’ head coach Ben Russell.
“In a way that is quite good as you get them all out of the way early and when it is a bit drier.”
He added: “We are looking forward to this weekend.
“They (Old Centralians) had their first game last weekend (a 36-22 defeat at Launceston), but going there is unknown for us.
“We both have only played one game each.
“By all means we would have loved to have played last weekend, but it was out of our hands.”
Although most of the Services players may not have been to Old Centralians before, Russell certainly knows what to expect.
“I remember when I used to referee there and I know it is a challenging place to go,” he said. “They are quite a tough side at home, so we will just have to see how we go.”
He added: “Gloucestershire is a rugby county and there’s a lot of teams in that area and they all want to be the best team in Gloucester.”
Services are waiting on a couple of players but expect to be pretty much at full strength and have boosted their squad with the signing of experienced prop James McFarlane, who could make his debut in Gloucestershire.
“We have got a very competitive squad and everyone is pushing each other week in, week out in training,” said Russell.
COUNTIES ONE WESTERN WEST
PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks will be hoping to bounce back from their heavy defeat away at Kingsbridge last weekend when they host Paignton at Horsham Fields.
After opening their new campaign with a home win over Falmouth, Oaks were well beaten 59-15 last Saturday in the South Hams.
But they always prefer playing at home and they are familiar with Paignton.
“They were in our league before covid and they went up ahead of us by 0.3 of a point,” said Oaks player-coach Aiden Taylor.
“I think it will be a good game against them. I think it will be close, like the Falmouth game was, but we are at home and not many teams come here and win.
“We are used to winning at Horsham and hopefully that continues in this league.”
He added: “This has got to be one we target. It is going to be another tough game, as every game in this league is. But it’s about getting the right players when we have our home games. If we can win them then we will be safe and all right.”
EARLY Counties Two Devon leaders Tavistock will be aiming to continue their 100 per cent record when they host Brixham II at Sandy Park.
Tavistock have picked up a full five points from both their opening fixtures. They beat North Tawton 33-13 at home in their first game and then overcame South Molton 31-24 away last Saturday.
They are able to welcome back Hammy Kerswill, Dan Redstone, Andrew Schuttkacker and Jake Le Gassick to their squad this week, but they are without Josh O’Neill, Seb Cox and Connor Packwood, who suffered a head injury last week.
“We have three matches up at the club on Saturday and have a VP and sponsors day so we want to try and put on a good show,” said Tavistock head coach Joel Caddy.
“Brixham’s backs are supposed to be quite a handful so it should be a good game. It the first chance for us to take the scalp of one the big boys.
“We have stuck ourselves up there after two games and so we have to try and keep it going.”
Tavistock are facing three games in seven days after agreeing to play a combined Australia and New Zealand navy side at Sandy Park on Thursday.
“That’s going to be something a bit different,” said Caddy. “You don’t often get a chance like that.”
Also in Counties Two Devon, Devonport Services II will host North Tawton at the Rectory, while Ivybridge II will entertain Exeter Saracens.
In Counties Two Cornwall, Saltash will be looking to maintain their impressive start to the 2022-23 campaign when they host Helston at Moorlands Lane.
The Ashes have scored 140 points in their opening two matches against Camborne School of Mines and Hayle and not conceded a single point.
Saltash will be a bit unsure what to expect from Helston, who finished fourth in Cornwall One last season.
They beat Newquay Hornets in their opening game but were hammered by Redruth II last week.
Saltash are boosted by the return of player-coach Lewis Wells, who missed the opening two games of the season due to suspension. He will start on the bench, while they also welcome back fellow back-row forward Phil Eatwell and scrum-half Jack Pritchard.
Liskeard-Looe visit Newquay Hornets in the same division.
COUNTIES THREE DEVON
OPMs finally get their season underway on Saturday when they host Exeter Athletic at King George V Playing Fields in the Devon East league.
The Old Boys have had to watch on as all their city rivals started their campaigns two weeks ago.
But strangely, OPMs were put in the Devon East league, whereas Tamar Saracens, Old Techs and Plymouth Argaum are all in the Devon West league.
They are now just keen to get going under new head coach Andy Williams.
“The start of the season is always exciting,” said Williams, ahead of his side’s opening game.
“We have had two pre-season games with two very different teams out and I still haven’t seen all the players that played last year in action.
“But, hopefully, we are going into Saturday feeling like we have prepared the best we can and we will see what the result is and move forward. Regardless of the outcome, I’m sure there will be things to work on.”
Williams added: “To be honest, I know very little about them (Exeter Athletic). I can only go on what I have been told about them from last year, but I am not so worried about them as we just have to focus on ourselves and do what we have been training to do and what we have been working on.
“We just have to try and execute it to the best of our ability. If we do that we will be difficult to stop. And, if we don’t, then the boys will have to think on their feet and go to plan B.”
OPMs are planning a double header on Saturday with their second team playing Ivybridge IIIs at lunchtime.
“It’s going to be a big day and hopefully there will be a lot of familiar faces around,” said Williams.
“As long as we put on a performance, I’ll be happy.
“Obviously we would love to win and get the season off to a great start, but for me it is about the performance. I want to see the level we can play at and the intensity we can play at.”
OPMs have been boosted by keeping highly-rated full-back Fred Smale, despite plenty of interest from clubs much higher up the rugby pyramid.
“We have a really strong core of players who I think will rise to the challenge,” said Williams.
He added: “There are a lot of second teams in this league, which we don’t know about. There will be a lot of fringe players in those second teams who have aspirations to play first team rugby and so will want to put on a show, but we have to match that intensity and fitness.
“Rugby is not rocket science – you win the ball, keep hold of it and if you don’t let the opposition get hold of it then you will win games. But if only it was that easy!”
In Devon West, early leaders Tamar Saracens will be hoping to keep up their 100 per cent record when they host Salcombe at the Parkway.
Sarries have already seen off Topsham II and Plymouth Argaum and scored 40 points or more in both games, but they have let in more tries than they would have liked.
“It’s going to be another tough one against Salcombe,” said director of rugby Pete Lethbridge. “But, hopefully, we can produce some more good attacking play but just tighten up in defence a little.”
Plymouth Argaum will be hoping they can get their first win of the season on Saturday when they visit Totnes, who are also looking for their opening victory.
Argaum have picked up bonus points in their opening two games against Salcombe and Tamar Saracens but head coach Dean Avery now wants that win.
“We need to try and pick up a first win,” he admitted. “We have had two bonus points in our last two games but now we are looking for that win. It will come – I’m not worried – and we are not looking to do anything different. I am pretty sure we can get a win.
“There is a good buzz around the club.”
Argaum were missing a number of players last week but do have captain Dan Smith, Jake Turfrey and Tom Worboys back this week. They are also boosted by the return of versatile Dan James, who was a key member of the club’s double promotion winning team. He is set to start at centre against Totnes, with the club missing Jack Morris, who scored two tries last weekend.
In the same division, Plymstock Albion Oaks II are set to visit their Teignmouth counterparts, while Old Tech are without a game this weekend.
Plympton Victoria are set to open their Devon Merit Table season when they host Torquay Athletic II at St Mary’s.
Plym Vic have enjoyed an encouraging pre-season and have strengthened their squad from last term.
They are able to name a squad of 25 players for the tough fixture against Torquay.
Probably their most high-profile signing of the summer is former Plymstock and Tavistock back Ben Hadfield, who will start at full-back on Saturday.
Tavistock II and Saltash II will also start their Devon Merit Table fixtures by meeting at Sandy Park.
The Plymouth Fijians are without a match this weekend. DHSOB should have been playing OPM Jesters but have pulled out.