Tamar Saracens, Old Techs and Plym Vic all relishing Counties Three Devon for different reasons

TAMAR Saracens could hardly have been closer to going up last season.

They finished runners-up in Counties Three Devon West with the same record as winners Plymouth Argaum – 17 wins and three loses. However, in the end bonus points just made a diffence in who took the spoils.

“We were so close, yet so far,” said Sarries head coach Mike Lewis.

“In a way it is probably a blessing in disguise as it has given us another year to build on what we have already.

“We wanted to grow our core group of players – boys who are here every week – to 15-20 and we are almost there. Not all the boys can make every session, but we have now got 15 or 20 here every week wanting to play rugby, which is what you need. Then you have a few extras that can make it as best they can and that kind of brings the squad up to 30 players.”

Having finished as runners-up last season, Sarries are seen as the team to beat in the league this year.

“I’m not sure that is the case, but if it is then it means we are doing something right,” said Lewis.

“There are a lot of new teams in the league this year so it is a different challenge. It’s almost a different league.

“Tavistock II have come in, as have Plym Vic. There’s also Brixham IIs – they could have a fantastic team or they might not have a great team on one day, you just never know.”

He added:  “I think we are all setting targets really, but it is a bit of a cliché with coaches as we just say it is about each individual performing well and if all the team performs well then we will win games of rugby.

“The idea is to try and finish near the top of that table – if not top – but the true growth of a team is if you have 20 or 30 lads training every week and wanting to play. That’s what our main aim is.”

Sarries have lost a couple of experienced players with Scott Sheldon retiring and Sini Manu joining Oaks, while Lewis Swatton has returned to Ivybridge.

But they have boosted their squad with some new and old faces. Scott Cooper, Reece Boase, Adam Coutts, Lew Harris and Tom Rigby have all returned, while Chris McDonald and Joe McKinley have joined from Services, Alex Parry has also arrived as has former Ivybridge back Josh Perkin has come out of retirement to join his brother Callum.

They get their season underway with a trip to Sandy Park to play newboys Tavistock II.

Lewis, who previously coached Tavistock before moving on to Launceston and Services, expects a tough test on Saturday.

“What Joel (Caddy) has done up there is incredible,” said Lewis. “He has galvanised their squad and brought them all together and increased the participation of the younger lads and created a really strong second team.

“They have gone from a second team that didn’t always fulfil their fixtures to having 20 players available and a few extras.

“He has done a fantastic job up there. We know what the challenge is going to be. They are going to really try to play rugby and we are going to try and play rugby so hopefully it is a really good entertaining game on Saturday.”

Sarries go into the game without any pre-season matches. Due to injuries and unavailabilities they were forced to cancel the ones they had planned.

Asked if that was a worry, Lewis said: “It is and it isn’t. The worry is that we won’t be as match sharp as we hope to be, but at the same time we were unlucky with the hard ground and picked up a few rolled ankles, a few hamstring and knee injuries. We had 11 injuries in pre-season but eight of those are back ready for the first game. Preserving those players for the first game of the season was probably better than getting a few more injured before the start. However, whether it was a blessing in disguise we will see when it gets to the 60-minute mark on Saturday.”

ENJOYMENT, consistency, commitment and team-work are the buzz words around Old Techs going into the 2023-24 season.

Techs have had four consecutive mid-table finishes, either coming sixth or seventh.

In all those campaigns they have proved that on their day they can beat anyone, but they have also struggled to turn narrow defeats into wins and have also lost games they should have won due to lack of availability.

But there is a plenty of optimism around the club going into the new campaign.

“We have had good numbers at training,” said Shaun Bedford-Smith. “We have been getting over 20 every week and training and pre-season has gone well.

“We have not set any targets as such. The main target has just been getting numbers at training, been able to get a consistent 20 out every week without struggling and use the structure of how (coach) Dean (Oram) wants to play.

“But the main, main thing is just about enjoying it. We want that team spirit and have the socials as it is all about enjoying it.

“We are also putting a big emphasis on playing as a team.

“And at the moment it’s all very positive. Everyone has been buying into how we want to play.

“Pre-season went well. Newquay and Bodmin were tough games, but that was good.

“We have got new players and they have really impressed with their commitment.”

He added: “We were mid-table last year, as we were the year before. It is a bit frustrating as we can push teams close and beat teams at the top of the table but we just haven’t been able to do it consistently.

“The big thing for us is getting a squad of 20 going away from home.”

Techs will kick-off their season with a home game against league newcomers Kingsbridge II, who won the Devon Merit Table last term.

“Everyone is looking forward to starting the season,” said Bedford-Smith.

“Obviously, it is good to be playing at home. You want to win at home and you want to win your first game.

“But we have no idea what Kingsbridge will bring. We have not played Kingsbridge for a long time.

“However, we are just looking forward to get back playing rugby.”

AFTER four seasons in the Devon Merit Table, Plympton Victoria are back in league rugby for the 2023-24 campaign.

With their Merit Table rivals Kingsbridge II, Torquay II and Tavistock II all deciding to enter the league for this coming season, Plym Vic felt they had to do the same to guarantee regular competitive fixtures.

They know it is not going to be easy, but they relishing the challenge and looking forward to playing some teams they have not met in a while.

“It is always going to be difficult making that step from the Merit Table to league rugby again,” said chairman Chris Hunt.

“We’ve had a couple of players move on, but we’ve gained a couple more. I think we are mainly in the credit column when it comes to that and numbers have been pretty good.

“We had a couple of difficult warm-up games (against Plymstock Albion Oaks and Saltash) but you have to play hard to get the practice in. There’s no point having soft games in your off-season as it doesn’t prepare you properly.”

He added: “We already recognise the games that are going to be tough ones for us – those bigger clubs.  I think playing Saracens will be a tough day at the office and Old Techs generally are as well, while there are a couple of unknowns.

“We know there’s going to be some tough games ahead, but there always is in the league. It was a bit the same in the Merit Table – we knew there were going to be some tough games in that.

“There are three or four teams that were in the Merit Table with us who are now also in this league also so we will be familiar with them and know what to expect.

“We just need to get ourselves more mentally ready.”

Plym Vic showed in the opening 20 minutes against Saltash what they can do, but the players and coaching staff know they need to keep the intensity they showed in the first quarter of that game going for longer.

“We know the systems are working and the training is working as we played well for 20 minutes but then we just switched off a bit,” said Hunt

Plym Vic will start their season with a home game against Brixham II, who were relegated from Counties II last term.

“I think generally there is a good feeling around the club and we are looking forward to the start of the league,” said Hunt.

“It has come around quickly. Brixham II will be an interesting game and it’s nice to have that little bit of advantage in playing at home. We are looking forward to it and the challenges it will bring.

“This season it will also be good to go to some of the places that we haven’t been to for a while like Dartmouth.”

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