IVYBRIDGE could move into the top three of Regional One South West – if they can beat Devon rivals Brixham at Cross-in-Hand on Saturday.
Third-placed Brixham sit just three points ahead of the Bridgers, although they do have two games in hand.
Both sides have been in good form. Brixham have only lost one of their last five matches – although they haven’t played yet in 2023 – while Ivybridge have won three of their last five, only losing to last-gasp penalties to top two sides Camborne and Chew Valley.
“It is going to be a hell of a challenge,” said Ivybridge’s director of rugby Jamie Tripcony. “They are a top three side and have all the momentum in their favour.
“We are playing at home and we will go into it with good confidence, but we have to make sure we respect Brixham. They are obviously playing some good stuff.”
Ivybridge are hoping for a big crowd at Cross-in-Hand on Saturday.
And Tripcony said: “Hopefully we will get one and that will play a big part.”
Ivybridge keep the same backline which beat Old Centralians away last weekend, but they make changes in their pack.
Second-row Ben Mallett and flanker Sam Furse are missing so Harry Arkley and Jacob Gaskin come in, while Luke Richardson will start at loose-head prop, with former Brixham player James McFarlane starting on the bench.
Brixham did include former Ivybridge players Mitch Pinkus, Nathan Reeves and Scott Puleston in their starting line-up in their last match against Devonport Services.
Devonport Services will be desperate to get back to winning ways when they host struggling Weston-supre-Mare at the Rectory on Saturday.
Services have lost their last three matches and could drop out of the top four if they fail to win again.
Weston-supre-Mare are third-from-bottom but Services will be mindful that they lost to second-from-bottom Okehampton in their last home match.
Devonport are not helped this week by yet more injuries and unavailabilities.
Joe Daley, Jonah Moore and Matt Neyle are ruled out this week, joining the likes of Rikki Bentham, Greg Thomas, Matt Gregory, Mike Hunt, James Hocking, Harrison Cooper-Meadows and Oli Mulberry on the sidelines.
Services are missing an entire front-row and a back-row. They are hopeful Aiden Taylor will be fit to make his first start, while veteran prop Tony Sibley could come into the squad. The one positive is that Tom Richards is back this weekend.
“We are very, very light, but it is what it is,” said Services head coach Ben Russell.
“We have done exceptionally well this season, but it is a big step up. I don’t think the boys understood when we did it just what a massive step up it is. When we had a full squad to pick from we were flying, but then as some of our key players have got injured we have missed them.
“But we will be all right. We played much better at Launceston last week, it was just defensively we got let down with a couple of soft tries again. That’s why we lost the game.”
He added: “I would love a win this weekend. We are at home. We are light and we know what they are going to bring – they do have a big pack – but if we defend well, we will win the game. We will look after ourselves in attack, but we just can’t switch off. We have switched off at certain points in some games and it has killed us.”
Services will also remember that they switched off away at Weston. They were 41-0 up at one point but in the second half allowed Weston back into the game and it ended up 41-36.
COUNTIES ONE WESTERN WEST
PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks will be desperate for a win when they host Tiverton at Horsham Fields on Saturday in Western West.
Oaks not won in their last three games to increase their relegation worries.
Last week they were unable to get a full team to face leaders Cullompton and so handed them a walkover before playing a friendly to hopefully avoid a points deduction.
They will hope to have a host of players back for their first home game of 2023.
A win could actually move them as high as sixth, although they have played more games their all their rivals.
However, a defeat to fifth-place Tiverton would leave them in trouble, especially with a trip to title-chasing Topsham on the agenda next weekend.
LEADERS Tavistock will have a point to prove on Saturday when they host second-placed Withycombe in a top-of-the-table Counties Two Devon clash at Sandy Park.
Withycombe are the only team to have beaten Tavistock this season, triumphing 22-12 at Raleigh Park at the end of October.
If Tavistock could get revenge for that loss on Saturday then it would make it hard for anyone to catch them.
They are already 15 points clear of Withycombe and 16 ahead of third-placed Torquay, who do have a game in hand, but those two do meet the following week.
“We are looking forward to it,” said Tavistock head coach Joel Caddy. “I think the boys are champing at the bit.
“But there’s going to be pressure on as we will have 70-odd old boys on the sidelines who are having their dinner on Saturday.
“We are not dwelling on what happened away; it is all about what happens this week.
“The lads know they did not perform up there.
“We don’t know what type of side they will have out, but we just have to go out and do what we can do.”
Tavistock are set to welcome back co-captain Martin Budden to their team after a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Charles Bowden is also back, but Josh O’Neill and Andy Yates are missing.
Tavistock are also sending a strong second team to play Plymouth Argaum II on Saturday.
“A lot of the Moorlanders have played in the first team this season,” said Caddy. “People are really pushing for places at the moment, which is good.”
Elsewhere in Counties Two Devon, fourth-placed Ivybridge II will visit bottom side Brixham II, while injury-hit Devonport Services II visit Torquay Athletic.
In Counties Two Cornwall, Saltash face a tricky to the Recreation Ground to face Redruth II.
The Ashes did beat the Reds’ second string 56-15 at Moorlands Lane in October, but they will not be taking them lightly.
Redruth II only lost by one single point away at Veor last weekend, which was their first defeat in four games.
Second-placed Saltash have not played a league game since December 3 but they did get a decent run out last week in a Plymouth Combination Merit fixture against OPMs, who offered them a match after they were both handed walkovers.
The Ashes do have their eyes on facing title rivals St Ives on February 11 at Moorlands Lane, but they know they cannot afford any slip ups in three tough away games to Redruth II, Veor and Helton before then.
“I think what we need to try and do is build some momentum again,” said Saltash head coach Steve Down, whose side have been handed three walkovers in their last six games and not played a home league game since October.
“But it has been really difficult and that’s why I wanted to play the last two weeks (against Liskeard-Looe and OPMs). We just want to build some momentum and get a run going again.
“They (St Ives) have some tough games and so do we, but I think we are relishing it.”
COUNTIES THREE DEVON AND DEVON MERIT TABLE
PLYMOUTH Argaum could move to the top of Counties Three Devon West – if they can overcome in-form Dartmouth at Bickleigh Down.
Argaum, who have not lost since September 10, will be hoping to take advantage of leaders Tamar Saracens not playing.
Argaum sit just three points behind Sarries with this weekend’s game in hand.
But they are expecting a tough test against a Dartmouth side who are on a seven-game winning run and who have been title-chasing Topsham II and Old Techs in their last two matches.
“They will be tough opponents,” said Argaum head coach Dean Avery, whose team edged them out 20-5 away in October.
“Dartmouth have won seven on the bounce so it means it is going to be tough.
“Hopefully, we play like we did in the first half last week (against Teignmouth II) and not the second half.
“We have our twos at home as well against Tavistock II so it will be a big day for us.
“There’s a lot of fighting for shirts at the moment which is good.”
Old Techs will be hoping to get a game and get back to winning ways when they host Paignton II at Weston Mill on Saturday.
Techs, looking to end a losing run, were frustrated last Saturday when struggling Plymstock Albion Oaks II, whose first team were short of players, postponed their scheduled game at Horsham Fields saying all their pitches were waterlogged, although their women’s team did play at the venue last weekend.
Paignton II have been inconsistent this season, but Techs will be hopeful of getting their first win since beating them 22-21 away in October.
“We just want to try and get that win,” said Techs’ Shaun Bedford-Smith.
“We have been on a bad run, result wise, there’s no getting away from that and we spoke about that at training on Thursday.
“But we have lost matches to teams at the top and only by the odd few points. We lost to Argaum and Tamar Saracens by just four points and we went away to Topsham II and gave them a really good game.
“We know we are there or there abouts but our problem is always about player consistency.
“But we have gone back to basics a bit at training and just trying to concentrate on getting the right.
“It’s not great when you lose but the spirit in the team is still good. We are not getting by 40 or 60 points, just by the odd score.
“Hopefully, we can get that win this week but it won’t be an easy game against Paignton as we only beat them by a point away.”
Techs are without a number of their 29 Commando players who are away, but they should have a few players back from the team that narrowly lost to Dartmouth in their last outing two weeks ago, although Eddie Ramazani is away.
Neither Tamar Saracens nor Devon East leaders OPMs are in action this weekend, while Plymstock Albion Oaks II are due to visit Topsham II.
In the Devon Merit Table, Plympton Victoria have a tough test when they host leader Kingsbridge II at St Mary’s.
Plym Vic, who suffered a heavy defeat away at Tavistock II last week in the Ellis Trophy semi-finals, are hoping the ‘home factor’ can help them this weekend against unbeaten Kingsbridge.
Plymouth Fijians’ game against Torquay Athletic II has been postponed. The Fijians do have a lot of their military players away but they are hoping they can finish the season strongly.