RUGBY PREVIEWS: Services bid to keep run going despite absences, while Ivybridge look for first win

DEVONPORT Services will be looking to continue their 100 per cent start to the 2023-24 season when they host Regional One South West newcomers St Austell to the Rectory.

Services have picked up a full five points in their opening two games against fellow league newboys Matson and Devon rivals Okehampton.

However, this weekend they are missing a number of key players due to Richard West’s stag-do and injuries.

Mike Rickard, Liam Jarvis, Dylan Daley and Matt Neyle are among those who have played in the opening two games who area away, while captain Matt Gregory and front-rower Joe Daley are still missing. Andy Pond is also ruled out of contention with a head injury.

However, the good news for Services is that vice-captain Shaun Crawford is back after missing last week’s match, as are young forwards James Hocking and Oli Symons.

“We have got some back but some away as it is Westy’s stag-do,” said head coach Ben Russell.

“It would be nice to pick from everyone at one point, but it never really happens, does it?

“We’ve got a very competitive squad. Yeah, we are missing some very key players, but they are being replaced by people who will do a very good job and have the chance to get the shirt.”

Summer signing Dan Goldstone is set to be handed his first Services start in place of Dylan Daley, while Royal Navy player Matt Scott is likely to come into the second-row in place of Rickard, with Hocking returning in place of Liam Jarvis.

Young forward Ethan Millard, a summer arrival from OPMs, is in line to make his first home start after making his debut at number eight last weekend in their 35-19 win at Okehampton.

Mark Friend, Tyler Busfield and James McFarlane are also set to keep their places in the pack.

St Austell are still looking for their first win since their promotion but they have been agonisingly close in both their games against two of last season’s top three sides, Brixham and Chew Valley.

They drew 34-34 away at Brixham on the opening day, after the hosts snatched a share of the spoils deep in injury-time, while last week they were leading Chew until the final 15 minutes before losing 35-26.

“They stormed the league last year to get promoted,” said Services head coach Ben Russell. “But if you look at the year before there were four teams – St Austell, us, Lydney and Chew all finishing within five points. As I said last year, it was a bit harsh that they were promoted at the same time as us.

“But they have started well, same as Matson. Last week Chew were just more clinical in the end but the first game they thoroughly deserved it, although Brixham did well to come back.

“St Austell certainly aren’t far off and you look at Matson, they only lost to us by eight points and only lost to Exmouth by one point. The two promoted sides I think are very competitive.”

Ivybridge play the other promoted side – Matson – at Cross-in-Hand this week.

Both clubs go into the game looking for their first win of the season and keen to get over agonising defeats last week.

The Bridgers were beaten 34-32 at Lydney after the hosts scored a last-gasp try and kicked the touch-line conversion, while Matson went down 32-31 to Exmouth.

Ivybridge head coach Davy McGregor knows it will not be easy against a Matson side keen to prove a point.

“It will be a tough one,” said McGregor.

“If we play with the tempo and speed that we played with (at Lydney) then I don’t think there is hardly a team that will live with us, but we can’t keep giving the ball away as it is a momentum killer and the boys are having to work twice as hard all the time.”


PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks will hit the road for the first time this season in confident mood after picking up a full 10 points from their opening two matches.

Oaks visit Pirates Amateurs on Saturday after bonus-point home wins over Paignton and St Ives.

“We beat Paignton and then just left that on the pitch and then we have beaten St Ives and now we just have to focus on the Pirates,” said head coach Lewis Paterson. “It is a different challenge.

“We beat them down there last year so I think we are pretty confident. We have got a real good mind-set and we are not letting the results we have just got dictate that.”

Oaks beat the Pirates 25-18 in February – a result that ended up turning their season and pulling them clear of the bottom.

“We’ll have a bit of bragging rights as we beat them down there,” said Paterson. “We were up against it and they were right at the top of the league and at home.

“That was a turning point for us as we carried that forward.

“We are going down there to win and try and get another five points. We know it is doable if we play as well as we have done.”

Oaks hope to have Tom Richards and Alex Chapman coming back into their squad.

Tavistock will be looking to build on their impressive home win over Kingsbridge last weekend when they travel to Paignton on Saturday.

After losing 18-14 to Falmouth on the opening day, newly-promoted Tavistock really found their form against last season’s third-placed side Kingsbridge and beat them 38-26.

They are able to keep virtually the same team as last Saturday, with the only change coming in the backs where Charles Bowden will come in for Jack Rocks. Bowden will start at full-back, with Jack Easton moving to centre.

Al Spicer and Andrew Schuttacker, who weren’t available last week, are added to the bench.

“There are bits and pieces we can improve on from last week,” said Caddy. “If we can do that hopefully we will reap the benefits.

“Paignton will be a challenge. The last time we played them we lost.

“Last week was a pretty open and flowing game and hopefully it will be pretty similar this week. I imagine the ground will be hard and fast as they use it for cricket.”

He added: “In the next few weeks as more lads come out of the woodwork there is going to be some real competition for places.

“We have 33 players unavailable this week so in a minute we will have to have a third team on a regular basis to give everyone their rugby fix, but we’ll cross that bridge when it happens.”

Caddy says this week it is about his team turning up with the right mind-set and playing to the best of their ability as they bid for their first away victory since promotion.

Before their game there will be a minute’s silence for North Tawton player Gary Sizmur, who has died this week.

“That just puts rugby in perspective,” said Caddy.


THE first Counties Two Plymouth derby game of the season takes place on Saturday when newly-promoted OPMs host early leaders Devonport Services II at King George V Playing Fields.

Services II have made an impressive start to the campaign with a 31-24 away victory at Honiton and a 70-10 home victory over North Tawton last weekend.

However, Services II do have to make changes to their team with Richard West away, Andy Pond injured and Toby Knowles likely to be promoted to the first team.

OPMs are still looking for their first win since their promotion, but they have been competitive in both their opening two games, narrowly losing 26-20 at home to South Molton and 19-10 away at Withycombe last Saturday.

OPMs are planning a big VP, sponsors and family day on Saturday. Their second team – the Jesters – will play Services III at 1pm before the Counties Two Devon match at 3pm. The club will also be serving brunches from 12.30pm.

There will also be a walking rugby exhibition at half-time during their second team’s match.

“We are all very excited about this weekend,” said a club spokesperson.

Fellow league newcomers Plymouth Argaum are also in home action this weekend. They host Withycombe at Bickleigh Down.

Argaum have picked up six points from their opening two games. They beat Barnstaple II 29-24 in their opening match before narrowly losing 40-31 at South Molton last Saturday.

However, they are likely to have a much-changed team this weekend to face Withycombe, with the likes of Dan Smith, Darren Ewers, Tom Mann, Al Percival and Will Lloyd unvailable.

“We are just looking to bounce back,” said Argaum head coach Dean Avery.

“I’m not too concerned about the result last week. Going up to a higher league we were always going to come up against a better team on the road.

“We have a completely different outfit this week. We have a lot of new players in and a lot of debuts with people injured, but it’s quite exciting seeing new players come through.”

New signing Joel Hembury, who has been playing in Scotland, will make his debut in the second-row. Teenager Charles van Hagen, younger brother of JJ, is named on the bench.

With no specialist hooker available, JJ van Hagen will start in the number two shirt.

The good news for Argaum is that do welcome back Jack Green and Owen Gocher.

Avery does expect a tough test against Withycombe, who finished in the top four last season and who have opened this year’s campaign with wins over North Tawton and OPMs.

“They have won both games, but we can’t really worry about the opposition,” said Avery. “All we can do is go out and play. We’ve not really setting targets. This season is all about building a team and a squad as well as an ethos.”

In Counties Two Cornwall, Saltash have a massive home match against likely title-rivals Veor.

The season may only be two games in but Veor and Saltash already fill the top two spots. Both finished in the top three last term.

The Ashes did hammer Veor 70-10 at home last season but then suffered a costly 36-36 draw with them in January.

Veor did finish last season strongly, including beating St Ives, and they have continued their form this term.

Saltash will know it will be a tough game. They are still missing some key players, but they are boosted by the return of Lewis Wells, Will Morton and Ryan Rayner.

Former Old Techs player Harley Adams could make his first team debut after being named on the bench.


EARLY Devon South & West pacesetters Tamar Saracens are expecting a tough test on Saturday when they visit Salcombe.

Sarries have started the season in fine form, with a 50-12 away win at Tavistock II and a 72-0 home victory over Plympton Victoria.

But they expect Salcombe, who finished in the top five last season, to be a different proposition, despite their heavy defeat at Brixham II last weekend.

“We know it is going to be a difficult game up there,” said Sarries’ Pete Lethbridge. “Salcombe are really strong at home, but we have prepared well.

“We are looking forward to it.

“This will be our first big test, but then we have Torquay and Brixham in the following weeks, which are also going to be tests for us.

“We are missing a couple of front-row players – Adam Corbett and Tom Hicklin – but we have enough cover and will have a full squad and travelling reserves, which is good.”

Old Techs have a big home game as they welcome much-fancied Dartmouth to Weston Mill.

Dartmouth, who like Techs were handed a walkover on the opening weekend, showed their strength last week with a 53-7 home victory over Plymstock Albion Oaks II.

“We are expecting a tough game,” said Old Techs’ Shaun Bedford-Smith.

“Dartmouth finished last season really strongly and really turned it around after it looked like they could fold at one point. It just shows you what you can do if you just hang in there.

“They had a big win last week and they are on roll and won the Papa Johns Trophy.

“But we are at home and are looking fairly strong. I think we have 10 players back and we are looking forward to it.”

Old Techs are holding a sponsors and old boys’ day on Saturday with refreshments from 1.15pm.

They are boosted by the availability of Nathan Webb, Josh O’Hare, Jack Williams, Billy Evans, Kyle Hookway, Owen Martin, Joe Bailey, Ben Hill and Tom Blythe. They have also boosted their squad with the signing of former Stafford forward Marcus Bushe.

They were frustrated last week to narrowly lose 18-15 to a penalty at Paignton.

“It was a tough pill to swallow,” admitted Bedford-Smith. “It was another game we could have won, but that’s what happens when you go away a bit short. Our penalty count was just to high, but the good thing is that some new players got that experience of playing. It is good to bring younger players in.”

Plympton Victoria will be facing familiar opponents on Saturday when they host Kingsbridge II at St Mary’s Field.

Plym Vic are boosted by the return of a number of players who missed last week’s game at Tamar Saracens.

“We have Kingsbridge at home and we will see what joys that brings,” said Plym Vic chairman Chris Hunt.

“They came top of the Merit Table last year, but they tend not to be quite as strong at the start of the season.”

Plym Vic will take encouragement from the fact that they did beat them at home last year.

Elsewhere in the Devon West & South Division, Plymstock Albion Oaks II host struggling Totnes at Horsham Fields, while in Counties Three Cornwall, Saltash II visit Roseland.

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