THIRD-placed Devonport Services are expecting a tough test when they host Devon rivals Exmouth at the Rectory on Saturday in Regional One South West.
The Cockles sit in sixth spot and have lost just one more game than Services this season.
Last term the teams met four times – twice in the league and twice in the Devon Cup – with both clubs winning their two home fixtures.
“On their day they are one of the hardest teams to beat,” said Services head coach Ben Russell. “They play a lovely brand of rugby – they move the ball around and have some big ball carriers.
“They smashed Brixham away, but lost to Barnstaple at home and only scored three points.
“So it’s whether they turn up but we also have to turn up.”
He added: “Last year it was two-and-two. We had the cup semi-final and that was close for 60 minutes before we just pulled away a bit at the end.”
Saturday’s match is the first of three high-profile fixtures in three weeks for Devonport. After facing Exmouth, Services will visit Ivybridge before hosting Launceston.
Russell will be hoping his side will still be in the top three by the time November 18 comes around.
He is also hoping by then that he will have virtually a full squad to select from.
“By Launceston I hope to have a massive squad to choose from with everyone apart from those long-term injuries back fit,” he said.
Services should have captain Matt Gregory available again this week, but they are still missing fellow back-rower James Hocking.
Back Freddie Davies and prop James McFarlane should also be available again as should scrum-half players Dan Goldstone and Dylan Daley, who has been out for a number of weeks after a serious concussion, but full-back Harrison Coonick is set to miss this weekend after injuring his knee in training after recovering from concussion.
Luke Stannard and George Pooley remain long-term injuries, while front-row forward Joe Daley has still not recovered from a knee injury which threatens to ruin his hopes of a final game before going to Australia.
Struggling Ivybridge also have a big three weeks ahead of them.
They travel to leaders Chew Valley this weekend before hosting Services and then travelling to Exmouth.
The Bridgers find themselves in a troublesome position. They sit second-from-bottom and have only won one of their opening seven games.
Their biggest problem has been their set-piece and the number of penalties they have been giving away.
“Our set-piece is a weak part of our game,” said head coach Davy McGregor after their last match against Brixham. “We know that and we are not shying away from that.”
Owen Garner is set to start at hooker, with Ben Hooper in line to begin at loose-head prop, with Henry Trudgill not available and Adam Northcott moving back to number eight from hooker.
Marcus Prout is set to return to the pack, but Kristian Davis and Tom Scoles are missing from the backline that started their last match against Brixham.
Youngster Harry Cane is set to make only his second appearance for the first team, while there could be a debut from the bench for front-rower Will Johnson.
Chew Valley sit top of the table and have only lost once – a 39-36 defeat at Brixham after they had a player sent off.
The Somerset club did win both games against Ivybridge last season, although only by one point at Cross-in-Hand in the last meeting in December.
COUNTIES ONE WESTERN WEST
TAVISTOCK will be aiming to make it three wins in row in Western West when they travel third-from-bottom Bude.
Tavistock find themselves in fourth place following their promotion and have only lost two of their opening seven fixtures. However, both those defeats have come away from home against sides below them so they will not be taking Bude lightly, especially in heavy conditions.
Tavistock did get their first away win in their last match when they beat Wiveliscombe 37-19, but they do have a number of players missing this week.
Conor Packwood, Al Spicer, Ethan Lamerton are among the backs unavailable, but Dan Redstone is available while on a break from university. In the pack, Tylo Coupland is definitely going to be missing, while the club wait on the fitness and availability of others.
“We are still waiting to finalise our team,” said head coach Joel Caddy.
“Our backline will be a bit different, but we will still be going up with a decent side.
“We went to Wiveliscombe with several old heads missing.
“We will just have to see what happens.”
In the same division, second-placed Plymstock Albion Oaks are also heading to the north coast as they visit out-of-form Bideford.
The north Devon side won their opening two games against Bude and Penryn, but have since lost their last five matches.
Oaks have only lost once this term and are only three points behind leaders Kingsbridge with a game in hand.
They will be favourites to pick up another win this weekend, but they will be wary of Bideford, who are always stronger at home.
In last season’s meetings between the two clubs home form proved massive, with Oaks triumphing 60-19 at Horsham Fields and Bideford winning 43-17 at King George’s Fields.
A week before their first teams clash in Regional One South West, Ivybridge and Devonport Services’ second teams lock horns in Counties Two Devon on Saturday at Cross-in-Hand.
Like their first teams, the clubs are having contrasting seasons in Counties Two.
Devonport Services II sit second in the table, just two points behind leaders Torquay Athletic, having lost just one game all season, while Ivybridge II sit at the foot of the table, with just one win to their name and zero points having lost five for not fulfilling one of their fixtures.
Services II will be big favourites on Saturday with Ivybridge’s resources again pushed due to unavailabilities in their first team.
Devonport will be missing Richard West but should have a specialist scrum-half again this week after Billy Sutton was promoted to the first team for their last game due to the absence of Dylan Daley and Dan Goldstone. With Goldstone and Daley back, Services have plenty of nine options for their two league teams this week.
Last season the two league fixtures between Services II and Ivybridge II went the way of the away side.
OPMs will be hoping to pull further clear of the bottom three when they travel to second-from-bottom North Tawton on Saturday.
The Old Boys got a much-needed 18-16 home win over Honiton in their last match, which was only their second victory since promotion. That has left them in ninth place, four points above the bottom three.
The Honiton win was a big boost to OPMs, but their opponents on Saturday, North Tawton, are also going into this weekend’s fixture on a high after getting their first victory of the season against Ivybridge II in their last outing.
OPMs captain Billy Garratt is hoping his team can keep their momentum going, but he says they will not be taking North Tawton lightly.
“We are not taking anything for granted,” said Garratt. “We know they are struggling but they are a good side. They have a lot of good players in their team.
“We can’t go up there, expecting that we are going to win straight away. We have to be cautions of North Tawton as they are still a good side.”
North Tawton have won the last six meetings between the clubs, but the sides have not met in the league since 2019.
Third-from-bottom Plymouth Argaum will be keen to get a win when they travel to Honiton, who sit just two places above them.
The Roborough-based club will be travelling to Honiton with a strong squad, although they are missing Reece and Owen Gocher, Tom Mann and Chris Perkins.
But they do have the likes of Darren Ewers, Dan Smith, Al Sullivan, Al Percival and Luc Phillips available.
“We are missing a few key players,” said Argaum head coach Dean Avery. “But we still have plenty returning and we should have a big pack who will be looking forward to fronting up in the mud and rain.
“It’s a very positive camp and we are looking forward to trying to get back to winning ways.”
In Counties Two Cornwall, leaders Saltash host Illogan Park at Moorlands Lane on Saturday.
Saltash will start with the same pack that beat Helston 48-7 in their last outing, with Ryan Rayner returning to the bench, but there are changes to their backs. Will Morton is back again for the Ashes after his injury, while Jason Carroll is also back but Danny Snook is missing.
Saltash: Ryan Cruickshanks, Will Morton, Greg Eatwell, Jason Carroll, Lewis Stuart, Billy Dover, Jack Pritchard, Ryan Simmons, Rob Walsh, Liall Honey, Lewis Wollaway, James Sutton, Lewis Wells, Phil Eatwell, Devon Bennett-Murray. Reps: Ryan Rayner, Steve Hillman, Alfie Libby, Tom Hollyman.
COUNTIES Three Devon South & West leaders Tamar Saracens will be hoping to avoid a potential banana skin when they travel to Paignton II on Saturday.
Saracens have only played one game in the last month – away at bottom side Totnes – and so they might not be as match sharp as they should be.
They also know Paignton II cannot be under-estimated, having beaten Old Techs, Plym Vic and drawn with Plymstock Albion Oaks II and having pushed third-placed Brixham II all the way before losing 21-18 away in their last game.
“I looked at their results earlier in the week and when they have lost they have been very close and when they have won it has been close,” said Saracens head coach Mike Lewis.
“They have not let a team run-away with it. They do look quite resilient and looks like they can be quite frustrating with their defence.
“It looks like they are can frustrate teams and can score a few tries.
“This is probably the biggest banana skin we have faced so far. It’s one of those where you hope the boys don’t take it too lightly, especially as it’s an away trip.”
Lewis is just hoping the game does go ahead after all the recent rain.
“We are hoping it will be,” said Lewis. “They said it would be on earlier in the week.”
He added: “We’ve played one game in just over a month – and that’s the second month of the season.
“I don’t know who puts five games in the first month and only two in the second?
“I think every team in this league should play three games a month with a week off or something like that.
“But we have consistently trained throughout the month and had a really good session on Tuesday in the water. Our boys are really looking forward to this weekend. They are really keen to get their teeth stuck into this one.”
Saracens will be without Marc Cioffi, Frazer Tatchell, Richard Bush, Ryan Deacon, Ryan Currie, Greg Parratt, Chris MacDonald, Lew Harris, Callam Perkin and Joe Wyatt.
“Like I said last time, our team still looks like a starting XV, even without all those boys which I think is key,” said Lewis.
Alex Parry set to make his first start for Sarries, while 17-year-old forward Finn Harvey could make his debut after receiving clearance to play.
There should be a good game at Weston Mill where Old Techs entertain Salcombe.
Fifth-placed Techs just sit one place above Salcombe courtesy of points difference, with Techs’ defence proving the meanest outside the top three.
Last season’s clash at Weston Mill between the two clubs was tight, with Salcombe just edging it 14-12.
Both sides go into this weekend’s match on the back of wins. Salcombe beat Plymstock Albion Oaks II 34-20 in their last outing and Techs overcame Plym Vic 24-7 away at St Mary’s Field.
“It always seems to be close between us and them,” said Techs’ Shaun Bedford-Smith. “They are never easy games with often only a couple of points in it.
“They beat us twice last year and we were a bit disappointed with the defeat at our place.
“We are expecting another closely-fought game, but it would be nice if we could win.”
Techs are boosted by a number of returning players, including front-rower Connor McQueen, who has re-signed for them from Oaks.
Nathan Webb, Steve Wilkinson, Jenson Baker, Ollie Davey, Josh O’Hare, Dan Pullen an Lewis Harvey are all back in the mix this weekend, but Will Booth, Billy Evans and Brett Tunnicliffe are missing.
“We had really good numbers at training on Thursday and we are going to have to leave some players out,” said Bedford-Smith.
“You don’t like leaving anyone out but as a club you want that competition.
“Some weeks you can have no front-rowers available, but this week we have six.
“Hopefully, we are turning the corner in terms of availabilities and injuries.”
Plym Vic have another Plymouth Combination derby game this weekend when they travel to familiar opponents Tavistock II.
Both clubs came up together from the Devon Merit Table and have both been finding their feet at the higher level.
Plym Vic are still looking for their first win, but they have produced some good performances in recent weeks against Old Techs and Dartmouth.
Tavistock II lost their first four games but have won two of their last three against Totnes and Paignton II.
Also in Counties Three Devon South & West, fourth-placed Plymstock Albion Oaks II host eighth-placed Torquay Athletic II, while in Counties Three Cornwall, eighth-placed Saltash II visit Polson Bridge to play Launceston II.