DEVONPORT Services will be aiming to finish 2022 sitting in third place in Regional One South West when they travel to Devon rivals Brixham on Saturday.
A win or a draw will keep Services ahead of the Fisherman, who sit in fourth spot, just one point behind Services with a game in hand.
Services did enjoy a 37-18 victory over Brixham at the Rectory in September, but they know it will be tough to claim a double over their Devon rivals as the Fisherman have only lost once at home this season.
“Brixham are very good at home and they have also beaten Camborne,” said Devonport head coach Ben Russell. “It is third versus fourth and so it should be a cracking game.”
He added: “If you look back to that last game against them, for 60 minutes it was bish-bash-bosh but then we pulled away in the last 20.
“I think it is going to be one of those games where if both teams go at it, it will be about who can stay to the end.
“I would love a win before Christmas, just to solidify our position and then there’s only eight games left.”
Services will be looking to improve on their performance last week, despite beating Old Centralians 17-16 at the Rectory.
Richard West is set to return at fly-half for Services, with Kieran Down reverting to full-back in the absence of Rhys Williams.
Services have Tom Davies available again and he will start on the bench, while Aiden Taylor could make his debut after also been named among the replacements after his move from Plymstock Albion Oaks.
Fifth-placed Ivybridge will end the year with a long trip to the Forest of Dean to play sixth-placed Lydney.
Just one point separates the two sides in the table, with both winning seven matches and losing six.
Both clubs suffered narrow defeats last weekend. Ivybridge lost 30-29 at home to second-placed Chew Valley after conceding a penalty with the last play of the game, while Lydney went down 17-15 away at Exmouth.
Ivybridge had won their previous three games before last week’s heartbreaking defeat and are keen to bounce back.
“We’ll learn from it and prepare as well as we can do to go away to Lydney and try and get the win,” said Ivybridge’s director rugby Jamie Tripcony.
“We know that it will be a real tough place to go, but we are looking forward to that challenge.
“We are really looking forward to the challenge of going away to a real traditional club like Lydney and trying to turn those guys over.”
Ivybridge do owe Lydney one after the Gloucestershire club narrowly triumphed 39-34 at Cross-in-Hand at the end of September.
COUNTIES ONE WESTERN WEST
PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks will be aiming to continue their mini-revival when they host Penryn at Horsham Fields on Saturday in Western West.
Oaks have won their last two matches to move up from 11th to seventh in a tight league where just 10 points separate sixth place from second-from-bottom.
Penryn sit just one place and one point behind Oaks with two games in hand so it is another crucial game for Plymstock.
Chey Bryce could make his home debut for Oaks after featuring in their 27-12 victory at Paignton last weekend.
LEADERS Tavistock will be looking to move another step closer to the Counties Two Devon title when they visit Exmouth II on Saturday.
Tavistock are already 13 points clear at the top of the standings, albeit having played a game more than second-placed Torquay.
After this weekend there will be just eight games to go and so another win on Saturday would make it harder and harder for anyone to catch them.
But once again, Tavistock have to make wholesale changes to their team.
“We have got some unavailable from last week, but have others back,” said head coach Joel Caddy, whose team have only lost once this season.
“We seem to have to keep making lots of changes each week but it has not affected us so far.”
Among those unavailable this week are Charlie Charlton, George Cole, Charles Bowden and Jake Le Gassick, but top scorer George Hillson does return, as do Andrew Craddock and Andrew Schuttkacker, Dan Redstone, Toby Teague and Jack Giddy.
Centre Jack Rock is set to make his league debut in a young backline, while young front-rower Antonio Stan is also set to get a start.
Like a lot of second teams in the league, Exmouth II have been a bit inconsistent.
“We don’t know who they will have out, but we will just turn up and do what we can do,” said Caddy.
In the same division, Ivybridge II could do Tavistock a favour by beating third-placed Honiton at Cross-in-Hand, while Devonport Services II will host South Molton at the Rectory.
In Counties Two Cornwall, Saltash will be looking to end a successful 2022 with another win when they host Illogan Park at Moorlands Lane.
Second-placed Saltash have lost just one league game since the start of March and will be keen to keep the pressure on leaders St Ives.
They have recently boosted their squad with the return of back-rower Sam Snell, who has come back to Moorlands Lane after spells with Okehampton, Plymstock Albion Oaks, Tavistock and from playing rugby league for Cornwall RLFC.
Snell had been due to make his return last week in their game against Helston, but that match was frozen off, which also robbed James Sutton of debut in the second-row.
Sutton, though, will make his debut tomorrow, while Snell, who had been due to start in the back-row against Helston, will line-up in the centre on Saturday, with Billy Dover also getting a start at full-back.
The Ashes will again be big favourites this weekend against eighth-placed Illogan Park, who only have four wins to their name this season.
But Illogan have made life difficult for some teams this term and did score three tries against the Ashes in September in a 51-17 defeat.
In the same division this weekend, Liskeard-Looe host the inconsistent Redruth II at Lux Park.
COUNTIES THREE DEVON WEST
WEATHER permitting, it is another big weekend in the Devon West division.
The league is proving one of the most interesting divisions in the South West since the restructuring with the top five teams separated by just 10 points and with some with games in hand on leaders Tamar Saracens.
The eye-catching fixture this weekend is at Rackerhayes, where Dean Avery takes his second-placed Plymouth Argaum team to his former club Newton Abbot, whose second team sit fourth in the table, just four points behind Argaum.
“I have got a lot of history with Newton Abbot and I am looking forward to stepping back into the clubhouse,” said Avery.
“We have a reasonable side out for the game, but it is a bit disappointing we are missing a number of backs.
“Billy Stockwell, Jack Morris, Alex Percival and Preston Wilkins – that’s four of our backs from the Tamar Saracens game who are missing – and in the forwards we are without Tom Mann and Reece Gocher.
“So that’s six out of starting line-out that played against Tamar Saracens out, but we have got depth now in the squad so that we can bring players in who are going to stand up.
“We have Adam Walker back this week, which is good, and Dave Clack.
“I think there is enough depth in our side to be able to go up to Newton Abbot, even though they are in the top four, and get a result.”
Leaders Tamar Saracens are also in south Devon, with a trip to the unpredictable Paington II.
Paignton II have only won three matches this season but they have proved on their day that they can be competitive with the top teams and pushed Sarries hard at the Parkway in September before going down 24-7.
“When we played them before, even though the scoreline suggests we were 20 points better than them, it didn’t feel that way,” said Tamar Saracens head coach Mike Lewis.
“They really pushed us in some areas.”
Sarries are hoping to produce another performance like they showed at Salcombe last weekend to bounce back from their defeat to Argaum the week before.
“We played some really good rugby last week,” said Lewis, who admitted there was pressure on to win at Two Meads.
“If they (Salcombe) had won last week and got five points they would have been on the same number of points as us so it was a game that meant a lot.”
Sarries should be favourites this weekend but Lewis is more than aware that at the start of the Christmas holidays teams can be stronger.
“It is the last game before Christmas and no matter which team you are you always get a few extra coming in, maybe lads back from uni or something like that,” said Lewis. “I think teams often have different sides out at Christmas to what they would have on a normal Saturday in the middle of February.”
Sarries hope to have a relatively strong squad out this week but Lewis admits availability in their backs has been a bit of an issue this season.
“We always seem to have plenty of forwards,” said Lewis. “But we are always light on backs at the moment due to injuries and unavailabilities. We normally have a plethora of backs but this year we have had so many niggling injuries and so many unavailabilities that it has been tough on our backline.
“We have lost two games – against Newton Abbot II and Argaum – and in both those games we had just seven players who could play in the backs and in both matches had two back injuries so we had to put forwards on the wings and we lost our shape.
“But this week we should have eight or nine backs available which should give us that replacement that you need going to into games like this.”
Old Techs return to action this weekend with a trip to Teignmouth II.
Techs had a blank weekend last week, which has allowed them to get a couple more players back after a few tough weeks with injuries and availabilities.
Ben Hockey should return, along with Tom Blythe, who will finally give Techs a specialist scrum-half. Summer prop signing Mick Braybrook could make his first appearance since September after first injury and then having to go overseas with work derailed his Techs career.
Techs are also waiting to see if Billy Evans and Will Booth will be fit after injuries.
“We have got a few back this week,” said Techs’ Shaun Bedford-Smith. “I think we should have a squad of 20.
“After this weekend we will have done most of our travelling.
“We don’t have to leave Plymouth again in the league after this weekend.”
He added: “Teignmouth have been up and down, but so have we a bit.
“We would like to finish the year off with a win, but so would everyone else.”
Plymstock Albion Oaks II will be looking to build on their win over Teignmouth II last weekend when they host fellow strugglers Dartmouth at Horsham Fields.
OPMs are without a game in the Devon East division.