DEVONPORT Services are hoping to kick-start 2023 with a home win against Okehampton at the Rectory on Saturday and banish memories of their last outing of 2022.
Services were surprisingly beaten 52-13 away at Brixham just before Christmas, which was their biggest loss in four years.
But they are still in the top four of Regional One South West and are hoping they can stay there with five home games in their remaining eight fixtures.
“Looking through the video they (Brixham) were virtually exactly the same side we beat 37-18 at home and they played the same type of rugby, but we just gifted them so many easy points really,” said Services head coach Ben Russell, who missed the game due to a pre-arranged Christmas holiday.
“Looking at the score you would have thought we were awful, but looking through the video were weren’t that bad but just gave them everything.
“But we just have to get back to winning ways now. We have to push hard and try and fix the wrongs from the Brixham game.”
He added: “We have eight league games left and five are at home. Our only away games are to Launceston, Exmouth and Chew.”
Russell hopes the three weeks off for Christmas will have helped refresh his team, although they will be without the likes of Matt Gregory, Dylan Daley and Tom Richards this weekend, while back-rowers Mike Hunt and James Hocking are still missing through injury, but are closing in on returns.
“I think to be honest, the break was good for everyone,” said Russell. “I think it was much-needed after a tough period.
“I have said it before, but I don’t understand why the RFU put in 22 games that finish on March 11 when players asked for more weekends off to rest their bodies and spend time with their families. All they have done is condenced the league and stuck cup fixtures at the end of the season.”
Okehampton sit second-from-bottom in the table, but over the years they have proved tricky opponents for Services.
“They started the season well but then went through quite a big blip, but recently their form has picked up again,” said Russell. “They only lost by two points at home to Camborne, they did then lose away to Brixham but then beat Weston-super-Mare at home in their last game.
“It should be a good game and the weather doesn’t look too bad.”
There should also be a good game at Cross-in-Hand where fifth-placed Ivybridge host leaders Camborne.
Ivybridge really owe Camborne after a shock 78-18 defeat in Cornwall at the start of October.
But the Bridgers finished 2022 off in good form, winning three of their last four games of the year. Their only loss was a last-gasp 30-29 defeat to second-placed Chew Valley. That was only Ivybridge’s second home defeat of the season and both their home losses have been by just one score.
Ivybridge do have a good recent home record against Camborne. The Cornish club have not won on their last three visits to Cross-in-Hand and were beaten 40-17 on their last trip there last March.
The Bridgers are pretty much at full strength. They name the same backline that featured against Chew Valley in their last outing, while Matt Finn returns at tight-head prop and their only other change sees Alex Garner come in for Jacob Gaskin at blind-side flanker.
COUNTIES ONE WESTERN WEST
PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks face another crucial weekend in Western West as they visit Bude – the team that sit just one place behind them in the table.
Oaks currently lie in eighth spot, having lost with the last play to Penryn in their final fixture of 2022, with Bude, sitting just behind in ninth. However, Bude, who are four points behind, do have two games in hand on Oaks.
Both clubs have got five wins each to their name since coming up from the Cornwall/Devon League last season and both will be desperate to make it six on Saturday and put a bit more distance between themselves and the bottom three.
Bude, who lost Angus Hodges and Kyle Speare at the start of the season to Plymouth Albion, finished 2022 strongly with three consecutive wins.
They, like Oaks, are far stronger at home, with both sides having only won one game away from home this term.
Plymstock, who have never won a league game at Bude, will be hoping to have a few more forwards available for the trip to north Cornwall, having been missing a few for their last game against Penryn.
TAVISTOCK could take a massive step towards the Counties Two Devon title if they could beat second-placed Torquay Athletic at Sandy Park on Saturday.
Tavistock are currently eight points ahead of the Tics with both sides having played the same number of games.
If Tavvy could win this weekend then they could open up a 12 or 13 points lead with just eight games to go. However, if Torquay were to become the first team this season to triumph at Sandy Park then a title battle would be well-and-truly on.
“Every week we have been facing big games as we have been sitting there at the top of the tree,” said Tavistock coach Joel Caddy.
“We are planning on winning, but no doubt Torquay will be doing the same.
“We just have to see what they come with. When we played them away they did have a lot of injuries but we will also have a different team out.
“We are back to having a lot of players available again. Competition is pretty fierce at the moment. Our Moorlanders (second) team is pretty strong this week and I was also able to name a third team of 20 players that weren’t available this weekend but have played and trained this season.
“We are potentially playing for five trophies across the two teams and it is the players’ hands.”
Caddy knows the next mont or so could be crucial.
“In the next five weeks, I think we play four of the clubs just below us,” he said. “But they also have to play each other.”
Tavistock are set to hand a debut to Jack Rock on the wing on Saturday, while Charlie Brown is back in the side after returning from Launceston before Christmas.
Tavistock have also re-signed forward Dan Oner from Devonport Services.
In the same division, Devonport Services II travel to Brixham II, while Ivybridge II head to North Tawton.
In Counties Two Cornwall, title-chasing Saltash will start 2023 with a league and cup derby match against Liskeard-Looe at Lux Park.
Since the reorganisation of the leagues, this is the Ashes’ only league derby of the season.
Liskeard did make it hard for Saltash in the first half of the home match at the start of October before the hosts ran out 62-0 winners.
Second-placed Saltash have not played a league game since December 3 and so have fallen 15 points behind leaders St Ives, but the Ashes do have two games in hand and also have to host St Ives at Moorlands Lane in February.
Liskeard did win their final match of 2022, beating Newquay 15-0 on December 10.
James Sutton is set to make his long-awaited debut for Saltash in the second-row on Saturday, while Sam Snell is set to line-up in the centre, with Billy Dover handed the number 15 jersey.
COUNTIES THREE DEVON
TAMAR Saracens will be looking to extend their lead at the top of Devon West when they host bottom side Totnes at the Parkway on Saturday.
Sarries are currently three points clear at the top but they have played a game more than second-placed Plymouth Argaum, who are not in action this weekend.
Like most of the teams in Devon West, Sarries have not played since December 10, but head coach Mike Lewis is not too worried about the lengthy break.
“I think it was good to have a bit of a break,” he said. “We had a few niggling injuries and a few long-term injuries and it has given them an extra few weeks without any rugby to just recover a bit and also get those energy levels and hunger back.
“When you get to this time of the year and it’s wet and cold it sometimes can be tough to get some people to training. Every club has those sort of issues, but hopefully, now every has that extra imputus to go into this weekend.”
He added: “I think Totnes will be quite a good test for the first game back after Christmas.
“When we played them before, they weren’t bad at all. They try to play a bit of rugby and their position doesn’t really do them justice. I think their league position is just down to availability.
“Depending on what team they have available this weekend will decide what type of game it is.”
Old Techs are also at home in Devon West when they play in-form Dartmouth at Weston Mill.
Dartmouth went from not winning any of their opening eight games of the season to winning their final five of 2022 to move up to seventh – just one place behind Techs.
“Dartmouth are on a bit of a roll,” said Techs’ Shaun Bedford-Smith. “They have had quite a turnaround in fortunes so it is going to be a tough game.
“When we played them at their place they were a bit understrength, but we’re not expecting the same again.
“We have not won for a while and so we want to put in a good performance and get back to winning ways, but so does every team.
“It is just nice to be at home again. We have three home games in January and our only other game is away at Plymstock so it’s nice not to have much travelling to do.
“I think we are looking okay for Saturday. We had good numbers at training.
“We’ve not played for a month but that’s the same for most teams. People have been able to get over injuries but some match fitness might have been lost.
“I think it is going to be an interesting, tight game.”
Struggling Plymstock Albion Oaks II are another team at home. They play out-of-form Paignton II, who have not won since they beat Oaks 35-15 at home in November.
In Devon East, OPMs will be aiming to maintain their lead at the top of the standings when they visit struggling Torrington on Saturday.
OPMs have only lost once in the league this season and will be big favourites against second-from-bottom Torrington, who have only claimed two wins this term.
The Old Boys did triumph 48-0 when the sides met at King George V Playing Fields in October but Torrington are always stronger at home.
In the Devon Merit Table, OPM Jesters will host Saltash II, while Tavistock II will visit Torquay Athletic II.
Meanwhile, Plympton Victoria will play a friendly against Plymouth Argaum at St Mary’s (12.30pm).