FOURTH-placed Devonport Services face a massive home game on Saturday when they welcome leaders Chew Valley to the Rectory.
Services are looking to bounce back from their narrow defeat to Ivybridge in their last fixture, which was only their third defeat in 10 games since promotion to level five.
They came up from South West One with Chew Valley, who they narrowly edged out at home 17-9 last season before losing 30-14 away.
“We hear on the grapevine that they have got a couple of new players which has strengthened them a little bit,” said Services head coach Ben Russell.
“They have certainly been going really well this season.
“They have been fantastic. They are top of the league and they deserve to be there. They have only lost once – at the start of the year – and probably feel they shouldn’t have lost that anyway.
“I think they are unbeaten in eight games.
“It will be tough. They will be strong in the forwards.”
He added: “It would be nice if it was a dry day to have both teams throwing it around a bit. However, I think the weather will stop us playing a real expansive game, but it will be the same for them.
“They have put 50 points on a lot of teams this year so they like to throw it around as well but also have a big pack.
“I think we are almost the same sort of teams but they have just been doing it a bit better.”
Russell and his side were frustrated to lose to Ivybridge in their last outing.
“We started the season really well and you can’t take that away from us but at this level it is about doing it every week and having that physical battle every week,” said Russell.
Forwards Mike Hunt (ankle ligaments) and Greg Thomas (hamstring) both had to go off in the opening 10 minutes of the game at Ivybridge and both are likely to be out until Christmas.
Centre Shaun Crawford is also out for at least a couple more weeks, while young back-rower James Hocking is still injured and might be out until January.
Tyler Busfield is also unavailable this weekend, but Services do have Liam Jarvis back fit.
“We are still a little bit light, which is not ideal,” said Russell. “But we are looking forward to the game.”
Sixth-placed Ivybridge are hoping they can finally get off the mark away from home on Saturday when they make the long trip to Drybrook.
The Bridgers have an impressive home record this season, winning five out of six at Cross-in-Hand, but they are still waiting to taste success on their travels.
Drybrook are second-to-bottom in the table, but their two wins have come at home and they did beat Ivybridge at their place last season.
But the Bridgers want to build on their impressive derby win over Devonport Services when they make the long trip to Gloucestershire.
“It was an absolutely great week for the club with four local derby wins so we will take great belief from that,” said director of rugby Jamie Tripcony.
“We’ve had the chance to recover and rest bodies from that and we are all gearing up to a real hard fixture away at Drybrook.
“We haven’t won away from home and going away to Drybrook is a real tough place to go, but we are going to prepare as well as we can to make sure we put ourselves in the best position to try and grab that first away win.”
He added: “It is a really tight league. It has been for the last few years and every point does count.
“We were very encouraged by our performance (against Services) but it is about making sure we perform and turn up again.
“We do have a real appetite to go away from home and put in a performance that means as much as it does a local derby at home.”
Ivybridge are likely to have to make a number of changes to their team that beat Services.
“Availability is a bit of an issue this week,” admitted Tripcony. “But, as we keep saying, we pride ourselves on having a big squad and we will make sure we have the right two sides going out to try and get two wins this weekend.”
REGIONAL ONE WESTERN WEST
PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks player-coach Aiden Taylor has confirmed that he will be leaving the club at Christmas.
Taylor is in his fifth season with the Horsham Fields side and has helped them reach level seven, but feels the time has come for him to move on.
“I have decided that I am going to be stepping down as coach after Christmas and I am going to leave the club,” he said.
“It has been a big decision, but I have been thinking about it for a while.
“I feel like I have done everything I can for the club and I just think after Christmas is a good time to leave.
“I have been at Oaks five years now and I have put a lot of effort in to the club. But I am teaching as well now and it is just taking up too much of my time.”
Taylor, who is Oaks’ top try scorer this season, is likely to just concentrating on playing in the new year.
Chey Bryce is set to replace Taylor as hooker and player-coach at Oaks, where he will once again link up with Dan Parkes and Lewis Paterson.
Oaks have a big game away at Wiveliscombe on Saturday.
They have not yet won on their travels and have lost their last five matches to fall into the bottom three so they are keen to try and get a victory.
However, they are set to be under-strength for the trip to Somerset.
“Availability is not great,” admitted Taylor, who is one of those injured. “But the target is the next three games after Wiviliscombe. They are three massive games.”
COUNTIES TWO DEVON
LEADERS Tavistock face a massive match away at second-placed Honiton on Saturday in Counties Two Devon.
Tavistock currently sit five points clear of Honiton, who after losing their opening two games have now won seven of their last eight. The east Devon club’s only defeat since September was a 45-44 loss to Exeter Saracens.
“It’s a bit of a mini cup final this week,” said Tavisock head coach Joel Caddy, whose team has only lost once this season.
“I don’t know a lot about them but they have been scoring quite heavily so it should be an interesting game as our defence is the measliest.
“It is the halfway mark of the season this week and then we have three more games before Christmas.
“It would be nice to be at the top of the table at Christmas, but we just have to keep doing what we have been doing.”
He added: “We have got several missing this week again but we do have a few back.”
Among those not available are Hammy Kerswill, Seb Cox, Jake Le Gassick and Josh O’Neill, but Tavistock are able to welcome back Andrew Schuttacker and George Hillson, who will start at nine, with Charles Bowden switching to fly-half.
Elsewhere in the division, Ivybridge II have a tough home game against fourth-placed Withycombe, while Devonport Services II make the long trip to Barnstaple II.
COUNTIES TWO CORNWALL
SALTASH will be aimimg to bounce back from their first defeat of the season when they make the tough trip to St Austell II on Saturday in Counties Two Cornwall.
The Ashes’ 15-game unbeaten league run was ended last weekend when they went down 32-17 to a strong St Ives side down in west Cornwall.
That defeat came at a cost. Not only did they lose the lead at the top of the table but they also picked up a number of injuries.
Their main injury came to key forward Ryan Rayner, who broke his ankle in the match and now faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Captain Jay Moriaty and Greg Eatwell who also came off last weekend with knocks are fit enough to feature against St Austell, but fellow back Danny Snook has not recovered in time to face the Saints.
Snook’s place is taken by the experienced Nick Blake, while in the pack Devon Bennett-Murray moves from the second-row to number eight and Matt Coker comes in at lock.
Saltash know it will be tough at St Austell, who sit fourth in the table.
“It is another fairly stern test away from home for us,” said head coach Steve Down.
“We haven’t played that many away from home and we need to settle into how we play away from home and build some structure around that.”
Elsewhere, Liskeard-Looe make the trip to Helston.
COUNTIES THREE AND DEVON MERIT TABLE
IN COUNTIES Three Devon West all eyes will be on Weston Mill on Saturday where Old Techs host big rivals Tamar Saracens in a Plymouth derby match.
Sarries go into the clash sitting top of the table, with Old Techs in sixth spot.
“Tamar Saracens are top of the league and they are not there for nothing,” said Techs’ Shaun Bedford-Smith. “They have only lost one game this season so people will be saying we are the underdogs.
“It is a while since we have beaten them, but we are looking forward to it.
“These are the games you want to play in. When the fixtures come out people always look to see when we are playing Sarries.
“Yeah, it is just another game, but it does have a bit of an edge to it.
“The players are up for it and they don’t want to lose, but Sarries won’t want to lose either.”
He added: “We are going to have to make half-a-dozen changes from the last game, but what has been good this year is we can be making nine changes and still getting a squad of 20 out.
“Once we do get players back from injury and the army lads return then we are going to have a selection headache.”
Techs are set to be without the likes of Danny Bond, Will Booth, Al Murray, Jack Williams, Ben Hockey and Dave Chorley this week.
They are combining the game with their 90th anniversary celebrations. After the match they will be showing the England v South Africa game before moving to the main function room for an anniversary party, which all former players, committee and supporters are invited to.
Sarries have also got a few missing, including captain Joey Pook and Joe Staniforth.
They are also looking forward to the derby clash.
“The game itself is an equaliser – it’s a derby game, everyone’s up for it, everyone will be frantic and wants to do everything right and then the weather again is another leveller,” said Sarries head coach Mike Lewis.
“It is another week of who is going to want it more.”
He added: “It’s their 90th anniversary celebrations as well, which adds another dynamic to it. You have England v South Africa at 5.30pm which is perfect timing so it should be a really well attended game, even with the weather.
“I think there should be a fantastic crowd down there on Saturday watching.
“I think both clubs are going to try and play a bit, even though it is derby. Both have been trying to play a bit this season.
“They have won some really big games – they destroyed Teignmouth – and as long as they have reasonable availability you know they are going to have a good side.”
Lewis knows that as his side are top of the table everyone is going to be trying to knock them off the perch.
Second-placed Plymouth Argaum will be hoping to continue their good form when they travel to Paignton II.
“We have really good availability this week, which is good on the road,” said Argaum head coach Dean Avery. “That is what I have been asking for, so let’s see what we can do on the road against a good outfit.
“We will go there confident. We’ve had a really good couple of weeks training. We’ve had good numbers and everyone is looking forward to the next block of four games.”
Argaum have Tom Mann, Owen and Reece Gocher, Dan Smith and Tom Worboys back for the game, but they are missing backs Jack Morris, Preston Wilkins and Chris Perkins.
Argaum will be wary of Paignton II, who beat a strong Oaks II side last weekend. The Oaks side included the likes of Pete Keanie, Duncan Bibby, Lance Davies, Sean Wills and Nathan Akers.
Oaks II should have another strong team out for their home game against fellow strugglers Totnes at Horsham Fields on Saturday.
In Counties Three Devon East, second-placed OPMs have a big home match against third-placed Cullompton II.
OPMs suffered their first defeat of the season two weeks ago when they went down 36-8 away at Crediton II.
They are now one point behind new leaders Crediton and they will know they need to try and beat Cullompton to keep the pressure on at the top.
Cullompton did surprisingly lose their last match Okehampton II, which was only their second defeat of the season.
OPMs will be hoping to be stronger than they were at Crediton where they travelled without a number of key players.
In the Devon Merit Table, Plympton Victoria will host Plymouth Fijians at St Mary’s Field.
Plym Vic were named the Devon Merit Table team of the month for October after winning all their matches last month.
But they were left frustrated last weekend after suffering a late 28-26 away defeat to the University of Plymouth
They will be hoping to bounce back from that but will know that the Fijians will offer a stern test.