DEVONPORT Services and Ivybridge both face tricking games this weekend in Regional One South West.
Services travel to Devon rivals Exmouth, while Ivybridge host Launceston at Cross-in-Hand.
Fourth-placed Services edged out Exmouth 18-15 at the Rectory at the start of November and they expect another tough test at the Imperial Ground, where Exmouth beat Old Centralians 67-11 last weekend.
“It is a tough place to go,” said Services head coach Ben Russell.
“They came to us and played some good rugby. We got dominance in the front-row without getting the penalties we should have, but they came back at the end of the game and we only won by a whisker.
“They are a good side – they play some good rugby, have some very big ball carriers and a big pack.
“It should be a very good game. It is a cliche, but whoever performs best on the day will win the game.”
Services are boosted by having a few forwards back again. Joe Daley returns to the squad as do Rikki Bentham and James Hocking.
Young back-rower Hocking has not featured for the first team since picking up an injury in October.
“He was outstanding before he got injured,” said Russell.
Hocking and Bentham are likely to start on the bench, but Services are now hit by more injuries to their backs. Matt Richards has joined Oli Mulberry and Rhys Williams on the sidelines.
Scrum-half Mulberry torn his bicep in Devonport’s last league match against Drybrook and has had an operation. But fellow number nine Dylan Daley did return from injury last weekend in a second team match.
Services are likely to give Greg Thomas some game-time this weekend in the seconds as he returns from a hamstring injury he picked up in the opening minutes of his side’s match with Ivybridge in November.
Fifth-placed Ivybridge entertain bogey side Launceston at Cross-in-Hand.
The Bridgers have lost their last four meetings with the Cornish All Blacks, including a 44-27 defeat at Polson Bridge in November.
Ivybridge are looking to end a three-match losing run. Launceston have won four of their last five games – their only defeat was a narrow 18-17 defeat to third-placed Brixham last weekend – to move up to seventh in the table.
The Bridgers’ director of rugby Jamie Tripcony may say it is just another game against his former club, but he admits his team are desperate to win.
“We’ve had some really good games with them and we’ll be hungry, really hungry, especially playing at home,” he said.
“We have a few things to put right.
“Launceston are in really good form at the minute. And they have come to our place and turned us over and we are well aware of that, but we want to stamp our authority on this league a little bit now and push on and get results going our way and hopefully we can do that on Saturday.”
Ivybridge are able to welcome back Tom Scoles, Charlie Teague, James McFarlane, Matt Finn, Will Peakman and Seb Musgrove after their 22-10 loss at Lydey last weekend.
COUNTIES ONE WESTERN WEST
PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks face a massive home on Saturday when they host Bideford at Horsham Fields.
Third-from-bottom Oaks are trying to pull clear of the drop zone and they know they need to make home advantage count against fifth-place Bideford.
Oaks and fourth-from-bottom Bude are both on the same number of points, but the north Cornwall club do have one extra win than them and two games in hand.
Both clubs have got Wiveliscombe and bottom side Falmouth to play, but it is this weekend that could be key.
Oaks know if they can get good availability then they could beat Bideford, who have only won three games away all season.
COUNTIES TWO CORNWALL
IT IS a crucial weekend in Counties Two Cornwall, where second-place Saltash know they have to beat leaders St Ives at Moorlands Lane to have any hope of the title.
St Ives are the only team to beat the Ashes in a league game for nearly a year, triumphing 32-17 in a game that was much tighter than the scoreline suggest in west Cornwall in a rearranged match in November.
But even if the Ashes win on Saturday in their first home league match since October, they will still be relying on the Saints to slip in up in another game, although they do have tough trips to Veor and St Austell still to come.
“We need five points and keep them to nil, which we know is a tough ask, but we are up for it and going to go for it,” said head coach Steve Down.
“We have a few key players missing which isn’t going to help, but we have a really good squad and we trust the guys that are going to come in.
“We are relishing the challenge. We will be up for it as we have a point to prove. Regardless of the result, we need to put a performance in as we did not do ourselves justice down there.”
He added: “We are relying on other people to do us some favours now, but we are going to attack it with everything we’ve got. We have to go for it and you just don’t know what is going to happen.
“The boys are just enjoying their games now. We are just talking about the next game as the one that matters the most – we are not worrying too much about what the season brings.
“There are a lot of frustrations with the league – not getting games and loss of revenue in the bar and things like that.
“There are a lot of issues going on, but we’ve just got to enjoy ourselves – that’s the main thing.”
Counties Two Cornwall has been plagued with walkovers and mis-matched games.
Saltash have particularly found it difficult to get games at home, where they are unbeaten in more than a year since Topsham narrowly won 40-30 last January.
Having not had a home league game for more than three months, they are expecting a big crowd on Saturday.
“It is a bit of a fortress here,” said Down. “And it is sponsors day so we would love to put on a performance for a big crowd.”
The frustration for Saltash is that they are missing Cornwall players Lewis Wells and Will Morton, while Ryan Rayner is still not fit again after breaking his ankle against St Ives away.
In the same division, Liskeard-Looe play Camborne School of Mines for the second weekend running.
Last week, the Lions beat Camborne SoM 24-12 away and so they will be confident of doing the double over them at Lux Park.
COUNTIES TWO DEVON
LEADERS Tavistock face a tough match when they head to in-form Barnstaple II on Saturday in Counties Two Devon.
Tavistock are 17 points clear at the top of the standings, but second-placed Torquay Athletic do have a game in hand.
The Moorlands know that just three more wins would guarantee the title and they would love to get one this weekend.
However, overcoming fourth-placed Barnstaple on their own pitch will not be easy. The north Devon side have won their last four matches and are unbeaten at home since September 10.
Barum also made Tavistock work hard for the win at Sandy Park in November, before the hosts ran out 17-8 winners.
“It should be an interesting encounter,” said Tavistock’s head coach Joel Caddy. “They are a decent side and so it should be a good game.”
Tavistock are missing a host of key players, including top scorer George Hillson, props Toby Teague and Joe Burbage and back-rowers Martin Budden and Andrew Schuttkacker.
But they do have Charles Bowden, Hammy Kerswill, Danny Oner and Jack Easton back in their squad. Oner could be making his first appearance since returning to the club from Devonport Services.
“We have got a few missing this week, but it has been like that all season,” said Caddy. “And we do have lads pushing each other for places.”
Tavistock will be hoping Ivybridge II can do them a favour when they visit Torquay Athletic and that Devonport Services II can upset third-placed Withycombe at the Rectory.
COUNTIES THREE DEVON AND DEVON MERIT TABLE
COUNTIES Three Devon West leaders Plymouth Argaum will be looking to continue their title push when they host city rivals Old Techs at Bickleigh Down in one of the matches of the weekend.
Argaum have not lost since the second week of the season and now have a five-point lead at the top of the table.
But they know not to underestimate Old Techs, who on their day have proved they can be a match for anyone in the league.
Techs recently upset second-placed Topsham II 25-0, while they could have beaten Argaum in horrible conditions at Weston Mill in November before the Roborough visitors won 11-7 in a very tight contest.
“It is a massively important game for us,” said Argaum head coach Dean Avery. “But I think we have a full side out for possibly the first time this season.
“It is a derby and so form will go out of the window.
“It all depends on our boys and how much they want to lower themselves and get involved. It is about us sticking to our game-plan and playing as we have done over the last five months and trying to continue our unbeaten run.
“We do have a hard run-in, but the players are starting to look now and there is a buzz around the club possibly getting promoted.”
Argaum have Jake Turfrey, Jack Morris, Dave Clack and Reece Gocher, who all missed last weekend’s trip to Paignton II, while front-rower Tom Mann has recovered from a nasty gash picked up last Saturday.
Old Techs will be looking to bounce back from their defeat at Teignmouth II last weekend. They should have a few players back after they travelled with a makeshift squad to south Devon.
Third-placed Tamar Saracens are keen to bounce back from their loss to a strong Newton Abbot II side last weekend when they host in-form Dartmouth at the Parkway.
Sarries need to win to keep the pressure on Argaum and Topsham II.
“I think the boys were a bit critical of themselves last week,” said Tamar Saracens coach Cory Moore. “But they need to pick themselves up and show up what they can do.
“I wasn’t at last week’s game but I’m told in the last 15 minutes we were pretty outstanding and the week before that we were really, really good and played some lovely stuff. Hopefully, we can just get back to that now.
“We have said to the boys that they have to stay in the fight. Things happen and we can’t let our heads go now.
“It’s not over yet – there’s still a lot to play for.”
But Sarries expect a tough test from Dartmouth, who have won eight of their last nine games. Only leaders Argaum have beaten them since Sarries beat them 33-0 at the start of November.
“When we played them up there it was terrible conditions, but they put up a good fight,” said Moore. “But our boys really came together and got the win and that’s what they need to do again this weekend.
“We just have to concentrate on what we know and what we have been telling them to do and the rest will take care of itself.”
In the same division, struggling Plymstock Albion Oaks II face a tough trip to fifth-placed Salcombe.
In Counties Three Devon East, title-chasing OPMs had been hoping to play their first home match since October, but bottom side Buckfastleigh have handed them a walkover.
The Old Boys have found that in the second half of the season no-one has wanted to make the trip to Elburton, with four home walkovers.
Their on-off season has not helped their momentum. Unless they can find a friendly game this weekend the face having to go into next weekend’s title-showdown with Crediton II short of match fitness.
The five points they have picked up for the walkover has moved them back to the top of the league and they will be hoping Okehampton II can help them out this weekend when they host Crediton II.
In the Devon Merit Table, third-placed Plympton Victoria will host bottom side the University of Plymouth at St Mary’s Field.
Plym Vic will be looking for revenge after the students narrowly beat them 28-26 in November.
Victoria will have take plenty of encouragement from their performance against a strong Saltash II side last weekend and from beating leaders Kingsbridge in their last home game.
Elsewhere in the Merit Table, OPM Jesters are due to host second-placed Torquay Athletic II at King George V Playing Fields, while Saltash II play Tavistock II again.