DEVONPORT Services make the short trip to Launceston on Saturday hoping to avoid a third successive defeat in Regional One South West.
Services, who sit fourth, have been beaten by Devon rivals Okehampton and Brixham in their last two matches.
It is the first time since their promotion to level five that they have lost back-to-back games and head coach Ben Russell does not want it to become three in a row.
However, he is more than aware how tough a trip to Polson Bridge in January can be, especially as Services only beaten Launceston 25-24 at home in October.
“We know they are hard to beat at home,” said Russell.
“We didn’t win last week so this week is a big one.”
Russell knows that conditions are likely to be tough, especially as the Polson Bridge pitch was played on last weekend as the Cornish All Blacks beat Weston-super-Mare 14-5.
“Their pitch is horrendous at the best of times in January and it did take a battering last Saturday, so it is not going to be very nice,” said Russell. “But it is what it is; it’s the same for both sides. Who manages the conditions the best will win the game.
“Last week (against Okehampton) we would not have lost the game had we managed it better. We had most of the possession, most of the territory, but we just didn’t manage the game very well second half and that was our downfall.
“That is our biggest emphasis this week – to manage the game better and play in the right areas.”
Services will be missing Oli Mullberry and Aiden Taylor, who picked up injuries last week. They are also still without captain Matt Gregory and centre Tom Richards, but Dylan Daley should be available again this week after missing last Saturday’s game.
Fifth-place Ivybridge will also be looking to avoid a third consecutive loss when they travel to Old Centralians.
The Bridges have suffered late heartbreak to top two sides Camborne and Chew Valley in their last two fixtures. They lost 30-29 to Chew before Christmas and 29-26 to Camborne last week. In both games they were beaten by late penalty kicks.
Ivybridge did win their three games before those and director of rugby Jamie Tripcony says his team have taken positives from their recent performances.
“The main thing for us is that we take the positives forward,” he said.
Ivybridge will be looking to do the double over Old Centralians, having beaten them 29-18 at Cross-in-Hand in October.
The Bridgers also won 50-24 on their last visit to the Gloucestershire club last January.
However, Saturday’s match is set to be played at a different venue, with the fixture moved to St Peter’s School.
Ivybridge are set to make just one change to their starting line-up from the team that push Camborne all the way, with James McFarlane starting at loose-head prop in place of the injured Wes Vermingle. Luke Richardson and Cameron Dale come on to the bench.
COUNTIES ONE WESTERN WEST
PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks face possibly their toughest challenge of the season on Saturday when they make the trip to unbeaten Western West leaders Cullompton.
Cullompton are looking odds on for promotion with 13 wins out of 13, including a 76-31 victory over Oaks at Horsham Fields in October.
Oaks, like Services and Ivybridge, are looking to avoid a third successive loss after defeats to Bude and Penryn.
Plymstock had boosted their hopes of staying in the division with wins over Kingsbridge and Paignton in early December but they have now fallen back into a relegation battle.
They will be hoping to travel to Cullompton with a stronger squad than which travelled to Bude last Saturday.
Cullompton could be a bit rusty having not played a match for more than month due to postponements.
LEADERS Tavistock will be aiming to overcome a potential banana skin on Saturday and take another step towards the Counties Two Devon title.
Tavistock opened up an 11-point lead at the summit last weekend with a hard-earned 8-7 victory over second-placed Torquay Athletic at a wet and windy Sandy Park.
Conditions could again be tricky when Tavistock make the short trip to Devonport to play the unpredictable Services II.
The match is set to be moved to Stonehouse Creek as the Rectory pitch has not recovered from last week’s Services v Okehampton match and the weather forecast for the weekend is not great.
Services II are down in eighth spot, but their home form has been good, with all six of their wins this term coming at the Rectory. They have already beaten top four sides Torquay and Honiton at home so Tavistock know they cannot take them light, even though they convincingly beat them 51-5 at Sandy Park in October.
“We know conditions are not going to be the same as two months ago, but we have demonstrated recently that we can win in more than one way,” said Tavistock head coach Joel Caddy.
“It might be a case of having to roll up our sleeves again as I can’t imagine it is going to be dry under foot, but we just have to go out there and do what we can do.
“I do have plenty of faith in the lads.
“I think there is a sense of excitement in the players now as they know the next three or four weeks could decide the season.”
He added: “We just have to make sure we look after the ball this week and if we can get our set-piece right then we should be in a pretty good spot.”
Tavistock are set to have a similar pack out to last week, although Andrew Schuttkacker is set to come into the starting line-up after his match-winning try last week, but they do have to make wholesale changes to their backline.
“I think in the backline only Rob Grove an Ethan Lamerton are starting in the same positions as last week,” said Caddy.
Charles Bowden is unavailable and so George Hillson will move from scrum-half to fly-half, with Freddie Fuller coming in at nine. Jake Le Gassick and Dan Redstone are also unavailable so Jack Rocks will move to the centre.
Services II have not played since beating South Molton 34-25 just before Christmas.
In the same division, fifth-placed Ivybridge II host South Molton at Cross-in-Hand.
In Counties Two Cornwall, title-chasing Saltash will be hoping to play their first home match since the end of October, with ninth-placed Newquay Hornets set to visit Moorlands Lane on Saturday.
Second-placed Saltash have had four away games, a home walkover and a postponement since they beat Veor 70-10 at Moorlands Lane on October 29.
The Ashes have not actually played a competitive game since December 3, but they did play a friendly against Liskeard-Looe last weekend after their east Cornwall neighbours had already handed them a league walkover.
Saltash will be keen to make their mark and continue their chase of leaders St Ives, who have been handed their fifth league walkover of the season this weekend with Liskeard-Looe pulling out of making the long trip to west Cornwall.
James Sutton will be finally hoping to make his long-awaited league debut for the Ashes in the second-row, with Sam Snell also still waiting for his first league game since returning to the club from Okehampton.
COUNTIES THREE DEVON AND DEVON MERIT TABLE
DEVON West leaders Tamar Saracens will be looking for revenge when they visit Newton Abbot II on Saturday.
Newton Abbot were the first team to beat Sarries this season when they triumphed 31-8 at the Parkway in October.
That is just one of two defeats Sarries have suffered this term – the other been against city and title-rivals Plymouth Argaum.
“I watched the video of that previous match this week and it was just one of those games where we just did not switch on enough, didn’t play our patterns and had the bare minimal of backs and ended up with forwards on the wings,” said Tamar Saracens head coach Mike Lewis.
“It was one of those days almost best forgotten, but hopefully we can put that wrong right.
“We do need the victory.
“It has been good to win the last two when Argaum haven’t played and to get those games and points in hand, but we have to keep that pressure on.
“Everyone has to perform well in games like these.”
Sarries are set to keep the majority of the team that played last weekend against Totnes. The only player likely to be missing from last week is Scotty Sheldon, but Lew Swatton is available again after missing the Totnes match.
Sarries have also re-signing Callum Perkins and he could go straight into the squad.
Plymouth Argaum hope to be back in league action for the first time since the start of December when they visit Teignmouth II.
Argaum have suffered a walkover, a postponement and a blank weekend since beating Tamar Saracens 33-0 on December 3 to put themselves right in the title race.
“We have been without a game since our 33-0 at Sarries so we are a bit rusty at the moment, especially as we have only been able to train twice as well,” said head coach Dean Avery.
“We could have done with a couple of fixtures, but we have a reasonably strong squad this week.
“We beat them 97-0 at our place when we played them, but I don’t expect that again.
“You don’t know what they are going to bring.
“We also might be playing on their alternative pitch, but the main thing is that we get a game as we want to play rugby.”
Argaum have suffered a blow with news that Adam Walker has been forced to retire from rugby due to on-going issues with concussion.
“It is a blow and it is really sad to see,” said Avery. “Hopefully, we can find a role for him within the club, although I’m sure we might see him refereeing in the future.”
Argaum are likely to be missing Tom Matt, Tom Shephard, Jake Turfrey, Preston Wilkins and Adam McCrohan.
But they do have the experienced Dan James and Aaron Anderson-Smith back available and could also had a league debut to recent signing Jamie Fellows, who scored for their second team against Plympton Victoria last weeken.
Old Techs are desperately hoping they can get back to winning ways when they visit struggling Plymstock Albion Oaks II on Saturday.
Techs have not won in their last six games, coming out on the wrong end of a number of tight games, including an 18-12 defeat to in-form Dartmouth last week.
They will be favourites on Saturday against an Oaks II side that have only actually won one game this season, but Techs are certainly not going to take them lightly.
“Dartmouth said last week that was the strongest team they’d had out in two years,” said Techs’ Shaun Bedford-Smith.
“We know that any team in this league if they can get their strongest side out can trouble anyone and you can’t take anyone lightly
“Last week was disappointing. It was another one game where there was just one score in it, just like Tamar Saracens and Plymouth Argaum games.
“We just have to cut out silly errors and get back to basics and our game-plan.
“I don’t think it helped last week that we hadn’t played for a month. It was a hard game and we have no complaints. If Dartmouth have that team out every week then they will do well.
“But for us it is just about retifying those things that can be retified.
“We didn’t get carried away when we won five on the bounce and we are not getting carried away now. We just have to get back to how we were playing and try and get that win. The players are still working hard and this week is all about focusing on what we have to do.”
Recent 29 Commando signings Harry Nurhone and Finlay Watts are now away with work, but the likes of Jenson Baker, Nathan Webb, Joe Schoner an Eddie Ramazani should be back for Techs.
Oaks II will be looking to bounce back from a 61-7 home defeat to Paignton II last weekend.
Like Saltash in Counties Two Cornwall, Devon East leaders OPMs will be hoping to play their first home league game since the end of October on Saturday when they host Sidmouth II.
Since beating Tiverton II 62-0 on October 29, OPMs have played four away games and been handed two home walkovers.
The good thing for them now is that four of their remaining six league matches are at home, including against title-rivals Credition II.
They will be expecting a tough test this weekend against a Sidmouth II side who sit in fourth spot and whose only defeat in their last five matches was a 29-24 reverse to Credition II.
When the sides met in east Devon earlier in the season, OPMs narrowly won 18-12.
In the Devon Merit Table, Plympton Victoria visit Tavistock II for a league and Ellis Trophy double-header.
Plym Vic go into the game encouraged by their performance against an Argaum XV last weekend.
“We played some belting rugby in the first half last week, but now we are just looking towards Tavistock II,” said Plym Vic’s Chris Hunt.
“It is a league and cup double and should be an interesting game.”
Elsewhere in the Merit Table, Saltash II are due to travel to Torquay Athletic II, while Plymouth Fijians are unable to make the trip to Kingsbridge.