DEVONPORT Services make their longest trip of the season on Saturday when they visit Drybook in Regional One South West.
After this weekend Services, who sit fourth in the division with five wins from seven games, will not have to leave Devon or Cornwall again until March – and they will have completed their three furthest journeys, having already visited Lydney and Old Centralians.
“It’s great as it the last long trip until Chew Valley in March,” said Devonport head coach Ben Russell.
Drybook are second-from-bottom in the table, but they have won two of their three homes games and only lost their other by three points.
“I think they started slowly but they have picked up a couple of wins recently,” said Russell.
“They will be tough. They are a proper Gloucestershire side and there’s always a rivalry up there about who is the best team.
“They have been getting better and better. They beat Okehampton convincingly in their last home game.
“So we are going there with the mind-set that we have to be bang on our discipline, bang on our defence and bang on our application. If we do that then I think we will come away with something, but if not, it could be a long afternoon.”
Services have made an impressive start to life at level five, but Russell is still looking for his team to put in a full 80-minute performance.
They are going to have to make changes to their side that started last week’s game against Weston-super-Mare.
“There’s going to be a few changes as we have got some injuries,” said Russell
Centres Tom Richards and Shaun Crawford are both ruled out. Richards has a foot injury and Crawford pulled his hamstring last Saturday which could keep him out for five or six weeks.
Richards and Crawford have started all of Services games so far this season.
“We have been consistent there and they were growing as a partnership and getting better and better each week,” said Russell.
Services also have not got Tom Davies back from Plymouth Albion, while Harrison Reburn, who finished last season so strongly at centre, has not played yet this term due to injury.
It means Devonport are likely to have a temporary centre partnership at Drybook.
Forward Mike Hunt is also out due to a shoulder injury.
“He’s been outstanding this year,” said Russell of Hunt, who has made the step up to level five after spells with Plymstock Albion Oaks and Plymouth Argaum.
Russell added: “It’s probably not going to be our strongest side but it is still going to be a good side.
“We have got a squad that can go there and win but we just have to get everything bang on.”
Ivybridge will be looking to continue their good home form when they welcome Devon rivals Okehampton to Cross-in-Hand.
The Bridgers have not won away yet this season, but they have triumphed in three of their four home matches and only lost the other match by one score.
They will be looking to settle a score with Okehampton after agonisingly losing 28-27 to a late score in a Devon Cup game at the Showground earlier this month.
Last season, both clubs won their corresponding home league fixtures, with Ivybridge triumphing 34-11 at Cross-in-Hand and Okehampton winning 33-12 at the Showground.
Okehampton currently sit third from bottom, with two wins from seven games. Those victories have come against Launceston away and Brixham at home.
Ivybridge are boosted by the return of experienced backs Ben Watts and Charlie Briant, who both missed last week’s game at Brixham, and second-row Will Peakman, while Adam Northcott returns to the starting line-up.
However, prop Matt Finn is missing after picking up a red card a Brixham last week. Luke Richardson comes into the front-row.
COUNTIES ONE WESTERN WEST
PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks face a tough test this weekend when they host high-flying Topsham at Horsham Fields.
Topsham sit in second place behind Cullompton in Western West table and have run in some big scores this season, including 83 points against Bude last weekend, 76 against Paigton and 78 against Falmouth.
However, all those big scores have come at their Bonfire Field ground. Away from home they have found life a bit tougher and have not won by more than seven points yet on their travels.
Oaks, who sit in seventh place, have won three out of four of their home games, but did come unstuck in their last match at Horsham Fields against Cullompton.
They know they need to be on top form to try and see off Topsham.
“They are a tough team who are flying this season,” said Oaks player-coach Aiden Taylor. “We need to try and rough them up a bit.”
Oaks are relatively happy with how their opening couple of months have gone at level seven.
“We are doing all right, we just have to keep trying to push on,” said Taylor. “Hopefully we can get some points this week and just be positive.”
COUNTIES TWO CORNWALL
SOMETHING will have to give at Moorlands Lane on Saturday as unbeaten Saltash and Veor clash in Counties Two Cornwall.
Both clubs have seven wins from seven, with Saltash top of the table, just one point ahead of Veor, who sit third, level on points with second-placed St Ives.
The Ashes have scored 50 points or more in all their matches so far but they are expecting a much tougher test this weekend against Veor.
“By all accounts they are having some good games and are really going for it,” said Saltash head coach Steve Down.
“I think it was one win each last year between us, but I think both teams have probably moved on and improved since then – I know we have.
“It will be a tough challenge up front. I think we need to take them on up front and try and nullify that. As long as we stick to what we do, I think we will score some points.
“But we are under no illusions, we know it is going to be a tough game. I think it could even mark the season and I don’t think we can under play it.”
Saltash have certainly enjoyed an impressive start to the season and seem to have a good mix of experienced players and youngsters.
“We have got some nice little things going on, like picking up maximum points in all our games so far, but it is all about the whole season,” said Down. “We are focussed on what we are trying to do game by game.
“As we have said before, we are just trying to prove that we are in the wrong league. All we can do is just keep winning and proving that. We just have to hope the RFU are looking at not only the top of the game but the bottom of it as well.”
It is a big week in the Cornwall division, as second-placed St Ives have to visit Redruth II, while Liskeard-Looe entertain St Austell II.
COUNTIES TWO DEVON
TAVISTOCK will be aiming to bounce back from their first defeat of the season when they host Ivybridge II at Sandy Park on Saturday.
After such a good start to the season – claiming bonus point wins in their opening six matches, Tavistock slipped up last Saturday, going down 22-12 at Withycombe.
“There’s a few things we want to put right from last week,” said Tavistock head coach Joel Caddy.
“Judging by training, I think the lads are up for it.
“Hopefully, if we play to our potential we should be in a decent place.”
Ivybridge have won four of their seven games, however, their only win against a first team side was against North Tawton at home.
“We know Ivybridge have a fairly large player pool,” said Caddy. “But as I say every week, we can only worry about ourselves.”
Tavistock will include former Ivybridge scrum-half Charles Bowden at nine on Saturday. That means that top scorer George Hillson will move to fly-half again.
Tavistock do welcome back Andrew Schuttkacker and Jamie Legg in their pack and Dan Redstone at full-back but they are missing centre Jake Le Gassick. Andy Yates will come into the centre for Tavistock.
Meanwhile, Devonport Services II will be keen to build on their impressive win over Torquay Athletic last weekend when they host Exmouth II at the Rectory on Saturday.
COUNTIES THREE DEVON
TAMAR Saracens and Plymouth Argaum have both been left frustrated after their scheduled opponents pulled out of fixtures against them.
Sarries, after two weeks off, were due to host struggling Teignmouth II’s at the Parkway, but their south Devon opponents are unable to raise a side.
Tamar Saracens have been handed the walkover which takes them back to the top of the league, but having not playing since October 8, they wanted to fixture.
“We just wanted a meaningful game of rugby,” said head coach Mike Lewis.
Sarries had offered to play under the RFU’s ‘game on’ principles if Teignmouth did not have a full 15, but that option was turned down.
Argaum, meanwhile, have been let down by Plymstock Albion Oaks II, who are also unable to get a team together to visit Bickleigh Down.
Despite injuries to the likes of Dan Smith, Reece Gocher and Chris Perkins, Argaum still have 28 players at training on Thursday hoping to play on Saturday.
Argaum have won their last five league and cup games and head coach Dean Avery is delighted with how his squad has grown.
This week they re-signed Harrison Truswell and also added Adam McCrohan and James Peterson to their squad.
“This year is all about building a squad and seeing what people have and the attitude they have,” said Avery. “And I have said I want to see us get a second team out.”
Argaum had been particularly looking forward to this week’s game as they have a number of players in their squad who had also played for Oaks.
Murray joined Eddie McGinley and Dave Chorley in joining Techs in the past week.
However, Murray is the only one of those three new faces who is available for this weekend’s tough trip to Topsham II.
Both Topsham and Techs have won their last five games and are separated by just two points.
Topsham are the league’s top scorers so far so Techs know they will be in for a big test at Bonfire Field.
“We have another away game and they don’t get any easier,” said Techs’ Shaun Bedford-Smith.
“It is going to be tough. They are top of the league but we will see it as a challenge. I think you want to be playing these type of games as you see where you are and if you have progressed or no.
“We do seem to have been picking up injuries recently so this weekend will be a test of our strength in depth.”
Going into this weekend, just five points separated the top five in Devon West.
“I think it is going to be a tight league,” said Bedford-Smith. “I think the lead is going to change hands quite a lot.
“We are quite happy with how we have been going but we know we have got some tough games coming up and some unavailabilities.”
In the Devon East division, leaders OPMs will be trying to make it six wins out of six when they host Tiverton II at King George V Playing Fields.
OPMs will be favourites and they will be hoping to have a few players back after travelling to Sidmouth II with an under-strength squad.
In the Devon Merit Table, Plympton Victoria are due to host Tavistock II at St Mary’s Fields.
Plym Vic were worried about whether they would be able to find a referee for the fixture but with a number of postponements in Devon West they might be in luck.
Tavistock II look like they will be strong as they have a number of players back after last week.
The Plymouth Fijians were hoping to try and find a match to celebrate their national day at Plymouth Albion, but had not had any success by the close of play on Thursday.
Elsewhere, in the Merit Table, OPM Jesters are due to host Kingsbridge II at King George V Playing Fields.