DEVONPORT Services are expecting their toughest test yet as they travel to former National League side Barnstaple on Saturday in Regional One South West.
Services have enjoyed an impressive start to the season with three bonus-point wins out of three against Matson, Okehampton and St Austell.
But Barnstaple have won two out of three – beating Weston-super-Mare 57-14 and Brixham 33-20 both at home, although they did slip up at leaders Chew Valley last weekend.
“This is the first real big test,” admitted Services head coach Ben Russell. “They are very strong at home.
“They have replaced Camborne in the league and they have been at level four and been up and down for past six or seven years.
“They have a big pack and have lads that have played up a level for a number of seasons. They haven’t changed that much – yeah, they have change a few but they still have that core. Jake Murphy has been there since I used to referee up there. And they really like playing at home.
“They get big crowds at home – it’s a bit like going to a Lydney or a Luctonians, where rugby is their sport.”
Services have a tough run of games coming up. After Barnstaple, they will play Brixham at home before heading to Chew Valley.
“We have two games and then a week off so we can empty the tank and leave it all out there and see where we are after these two games,” he said.
Services are still without the injured Luke Stannard, Joe Daley and Andy Pond, but they do have Liam Jarvis, Mike Richard, Dylan Daley, Matt Neyle and Richard West back available after missing last week’s game against St Austell.
Matt Gregory is also ready to start his season after missing the opening few weeks after undergoing an operation in the summer, but he is likely to make his comeback in their second team game against Plymouth Argaum.
Russell certainly has some big calls to make this weekend.
“We still have a few injuries, but we have got lots are back and so we have plenty to choose from,” said Russell.
“I think we have 54 players to pick from this week and we will have three teams out.
“Matt Gregory is back but he won’t be in the ones this week as he needs to get some game-time, so he will be running out for the twos. It is big for us getting him back, but he knows he needs match fitness.”
He added: “Some boys will drop down from the ones to the two and some boys will come back in.
“The boys that stepped up did a fantastic job and we won, but some of the players we have back have been exceptional and been on-form for the last six months. Rickard and Jarvis have consistently been two of our best players on the park.
“The lads who did go back down to the twos just have to keep pushing and keep getting even better.
“Players are really buying into what we are doing and they know we have a really competitive squad. This is probably our strongest twos team ever this week.”
Ivybridge will be desperate for a win when they travel to Okehampton on Saturday.
Both clubs are still looking for their first win of the season.
Ivybridge have at least got three points from their first three games, which have all been close, but Okehampton have not even got a point yet, although they have had tough games against Chew Valley, Services and Exmouth.
Ivybridge’s biggest problem has been their discipline. They have had two players sin-binned in all three of their opening three games and giving away some costly penalties.
They will know if they can keep 15 players on the pitch then they will have a good chance of winning.
The Bridgers have not had the best of recent records at the Showground, losing on their last four visits.
Ivybridge are still missing injured prop George Montgomery, who was carried off in their first game against Launceston. Young hooker Jed Soper is also missing this week, meaning Ivybridge’s front-row at Okehampton will be Henry Trudgill, Owen Garner and Ben Hooper.
The only other change to the pack sees Will Peakman come in for Marcus Prout, while in the backs Sam Brown moves to fly-half, with Ben Watts returning at scrum-half and Giles Clarke moving to full-back. Taine Morgan also comes in on the wing, while Kristian Davis reverts back to centre.
COUNTIES ONE WESTERN WEST
EARLY Western West leaders Plymstock Albion Oaks will be aiming to keep their 100 per record going when they travel to winless Bude on Saturday.
Although on form, Oaks should be big favourites, their record at Bude is terrible and they have never managed a league victory there.
“Bude are a good side,” said Paterson. “They beat us down there last season so we need view it as we owe them one and use that as energy and make it a big thing. We need to see it as massive for us to go down there and hunt a win.
“But we are not putting too much expectation on ourselves. We have just wanted to create a good culture where people enjoy their rugby.
“Yeah, there are goals for the season, but it is just about each week – seeing who we have available and how we are going to play to get the win.”
Tavistock will be hoping to claim another big home win when they welcome fellow Western West newcomers St Ives to Sandy Park on Saturday.
Although Tavistock are still looking for their first away victory at level seven after a narrowly defeat at Falmouth and a high-scoring 37-37 draw last week at Paignton, they did kick-off their home campaign with an impressive 38-26 victory over much-fancied Kingsbridge.
“We are pretty much unchanged this week,” said Tavistock head coach Joel Caddy. “We are getting a bit of consistency with the team.”
He added: “We don’t know really anything about St Ives. I think Hammy (Kerswill) said we haven’t played them since 2015.
“But we will just worry about ourselves. We are aiming for the win, but it’s never that simple. I’m sure they are coming to us to try and beat us.”
Tavistock do have a sponsors and VPs day as well as a birthday group so they are expecting a good crowd for only their second home match since promotion.
Jack Rock is available again but he will start on the bench, where he will be joined by former colts hooker/back-rower Mack Tuckwell, who could make his league debut.
“He has looked pretty good in training,” said Caddy. “And he seems quite clued up rugby-wise and takes on board what you tell him.”
PLYMOUTH Argaum are set to face a strong Devonport Services II side when they two clubs clash at the Rectory on Saturday in Counties Two Devon.
Services head coach Ben Russell has already said they are likely to be fielding their strongest second team since entering the league, with club captain Matt Gregory pencilled in for his comeback following an operation.
Argaum were missing loads of forwards last week in their 29-7 defeat against Withycombe and could not win any set-piece ball.
“Hopefully, we can function in the set piece,” said Argaum’s Dean Avery. “If we can get our set-plays functioning we know we can go through phases and keep the ball for long periods.
“The big thing for us is that we will have two teams out and we’re looking forward to it.”
Argaum are still missing Dan Smith, Will Lloyd and Dave Clack, but they should welcome back Tom Mann, Darren Ewers, Aaron Anderson-Smith, Tom Worboys, Jake Turfrey and Kai Bloomfield.
Argaum’s second team will play Devonport Services III.
“The thing about playing the second teams in this league is that their first teams all play at a very good level,” said OPMs captain Billy Garratt. “Services are level five, Ivybridge are level five as are Exmouth, so they are going to have structure and will have good players. And occasionally, they will two or three first teamers.”
Although OPMs have not got a win yet, they have been very competitive and Garratt is confident victories will start coming.
“It is a lot tougher than last year, but I think we could potentially do well,” he said. “We just haven’t quite clicked yet coming off the back of a league-winning season.”
Elsewhere in the division, Ivybridge II host South Molton at Cross-in-Hand.
Ivybridge are struggling a bit for forwards but do have quite a strong backline which includes Luke Martell, Lew Swatton and Hayden Coles.
In Counties Two Cornwall, early leaders Saltash are due to host bottom side Camborne School of Mines at Moorlands Lane.
Camborne have yet to play away after they handed St Just a walkover in the second week of the season.
Saltash, who were handed a home walkover at the start of the season by St Just, will just be hoping the students do travel.
The Ashes did move to the top of the table last week after impressively beating Veor 42-12 at Moorlands Lane.
Saltash do make changes to their team, with James Sutton, Steve Hillman and Jason Carroll coming into their starting line-up, while captain Jay Moriarty is back on the bench after missing the start of the season.
TAMAR Saracens are looking forward to hopefully playing their first ‘proper’ game in three weeks on Saturday when they host Torquay Athletic II at the Parkway.
Sarries played a friendly against Salcombe last week after the South Hams club awarded them the walkover before the match due to a lack of front-row players, while the week before they played a shortened 12-a-side match against Plympton Victoria under the ‘game-on’ format.
“It has been a bit frustrating for the players, even though they have had games of rugby,” admitted Sarries head coach Mike Lewis.
“We picked up three injuries last week – Callum Perkin broke his collarbone and we had two hamstring injuries (Reece Boase and Josh Perkin).
“In the end we did have a great game of rugby, but when it gets to game-on the risk and result is all on the team with more players.
“But we are fully on top of these game-on rules now and I think it fires our players up to try and get out of this league.
“Torquay have already confirmed they are coming to us and we are looking forward to it.
“If we play the way we can play then we should win, but they will be coming across thinking they can maybe nick one. We don’t know what type of side they are going to have out. Their team looks quite variable at the moment.”
Sarries are going to have to make changes in their backline with the two Perkin brothers and Boase set to be missing.
There should be a good match at Horsham Fields where Plymstock Albion Oaks II will host city rivals Old Techs.
Techs have had a bit of a frustrating start to the campaign. They were handed a walkover on the opening day by Kingsbridge II, then narrowly lost by one score with a weakened team at Paignton II before going down to a strong Dartmouth side 22-5 last week.
Techs will be hoping they can get their season properly up-and-running this weekend.
“I think they (Oaks II) have improved from last season,” said Techs’ Shaun Bedford-Smith. “They have strengthened their first team and that then strengthens their seconds.
“They will be a different proposition to last year when they were often struggling to get a side out at times.
“We are expecting a difficult game as we are playing them at their home.
“We are looking okay. We have a squad of 23 to select from. There’s some missing from last week and some back, which is always case.
“We had no complaints about last week’s loss to Dartmouth. They were the better side. I think if they can keep that side and travel well away then they will be up near the top.
“We were just a bit disappointed with our own display. All the players came off disappointed with how they played individually.
“But training numbers have been good. It is just about finding that extra detail on the pitch.
“We have got new players and so it might just take a little bit of time.”
Tavistock II are set to field a strong side for their trip to unbeaten Dartmouth.
Their backline looks particularly formidable with the likes of Ed Tait, Charles Bowden and Rob Grove starting and Sean Donnelly and James Lovering on the bench.
“I think the Moorlanders backline is the strongest they have had,” said Tavistock head coach Joel Caddy, who says the team are aware that they are likely to face a physical test at Dartmouth.
Also in the division, Plympton Victoria will visit Paignton II.
Plym Vic were disappointed with their display against Kingsbridge II last week and so will be looking to right a few wrongs.
In Counties Three Cornwall, Saltash II will make the trip to St Agnes.