DEVONPORT Services are gearing themselves up for a top-of-the-table clash with Tamar rivals Launceston at the Rectory on Saturday.
Both clubs sit in the top four. Services are third, level on points with second-placed Barnstaple and just two points behind leaders Chew Valley, while Launceston are fourth, but they could go top if they win their game in hand and are the only team to have only been beaten once so far his season.
“They are where they are because they are winning by all means – they have always been finding ways to win,” said Service head coach Ben Russell.
“They have beaten Chew at home and Barnstaple at home.
“People might say they only scored one try last week against Chew but they still won 31-22 against the top of the league.
“If they win their game in hand they could be top, so we are playing one of the top teams and who have beaten the two sides that have beaten us.
“It should be a good one. Hopefully, the rain stays away.
“We know what they are going to bring – they are going to be physical and try and take on us up front but they do move the ball around a bit as well.
“This is when you have to stand up, especially when we are at home.
“At home this year we have been better than last year when we lost a couple.
“We are also normally very disciplined at home,” added Russell, who knows with the goalkicking form that Launceston’s Dan Pearce is in that they cannot afford to give away too many penalties.
Services are unbeaten at home so far this season, but recent games with Launceston have been close.
In January, Launceston won 18-13 at Polson Bridge, while Services edged them out 25-24 at the Rectory last October. Launceston did win the meeting before that at the Rectory 26-22 in March 2019.
Services are waiting on the fitness of back-rower James Hocking, who suffered a hip injury last weekend, but they do have Mark Friend back available.
Devonport are likely to include Rikki Bentham, Shaun Crawford and James McFarlane in their squad who have all played for Launceston.
The visitors, who did re-sign Greg Thomas from Devonport in the summer, last weekend handed former Saltash player Todd Crofts a first team debut against Chew Valley.
After pushing Services hard last week, Ivybridge have another Devon derby when they visit Exmouth.
The Bridgers have really found wins hard to come by this season, with their only one coming at home to St Austell at the end of September when they triumphed 36-35.
With the halfway mark of the season fast approaching second-from-bottom Ivybridge know they need to start picking up some points.
They have proved in their last two games against Services and Chew that they can cause the top teams some problems.
“We are maybe a few steps away from the top teams from a consistency perspective, but certainly not from a game’s perspective,” said Ivybridge head coach Davy McGregor.
“At the moment we just have to keep looking after ourselves and take one game at a time.
“The boys need to realise when they are on top of a game that they don’t take their foot off the pedal. Sometimes we don’t realise we are in charge.
“We have nothing to lose (against Exmouth). It’s difficult when you are away from home and they play their pitch well,” said McGregor, who did add that the positive about the league is that everyone can beat everyone on their day.
Kristian Davis, Sam Courtney and Henry Trudgill all picked up injuries last week against Services and the Bridgers also have a few other doubts ahead of this weekend.
COUNTIES ONE WESTERN WEST
LEADERS Plymstock Albion Oaks will be looking for another win when they make the long trip down to struggling Falmouth.
Oaks have only lost once this season, whereas Falmouth, who finished bottom last term, have only two wins to their name – but that is two more than last year.
“I think they (Falmouth) have just got a bit tighter,” said Oaks head coach Lewis Paterson. “Speaking to Penryn they said they have got better and just seem tighter as a group and I think you can see that by some of their results.
“And it is such a long way to go. I think even when we went down there at the end of last season it wasn’t a big score and was a tough old game. That was in February and so it will be similar sort of conditions.
“We know we have to go down with a good squad and try and play a bit of rugby, like we did last week, but I think it is going to be difficult, as it is whenever you go away from home.”
Falmouth’s home form has been quite good. Both their wins – against Tavistock and Bideford – have come there, while they have also just lost by one score to Kingsbridge, St Ives and Bude at home.
Tavistock will be hoping to end their two-game losing run when they visit Bideford.
They are missing a host of backs this weekend, including Conor Packwood, Jack Rock, Ed Tait, Charles Bowden, Jack Easton and Rob Grove.
Easton suffered a suspected broken thumb last week in their home defeat to Tiverton.
Back-row forward Jamie Legg was also injured in that game and will miss this weekend’s trip to north Devon.
Andy Yates, Soco O’Connor and Sean Donnelly are among the backs that come into the team, while Seb Cox will switch to number eight.
“We will have a vastly changed side,” said head coach Joel Caddy. “And we’ll have to see how everyone gels.
“We need a win really as we don’t want losing to become a habit, although it is only two on the bounce.
“But I’m sure we will go and give a good account of ourselves.”
Bideford are third from bottom but they have beaten Bude and Penryn at home, although they haven’t won since early September.
THE eagerly-awaited meeting between last season’s two Counties Three Devon champions OPMs and Plymouth Argaum takes place at King George V Playing Fields on Saturday.
OPMs claimed the Devon East title, while Argaum secured the Devon West crown, but they did not get to meet in the cup last season.
They are also only separated by three points in the league, with OPMs sitting ninth and Argaum 10th.
But not only will valuable league points be on the line on Saturday, but so to will be progress in the Lockie Cup. The clubs decided to make this weekend’s game a double-header rather than playing the cup game on World Cup final day.
“They (Argaum) are a good team, despite some of their results lately. They know how to play rugby,” said OPMs captain Billy Garratt on this weekend’s opponents.
“It’s a couple of years since we played them. I would like to think we have changed a bit and so we might keep them guessing.
“It will be an interesting one. It will be a tough game and it’s a (league and cup) double-header, which makes it more interesting and there’s even more to get out of it.
“We are expecting to see Argaum’s strongest team.”
Argaum were boosted by a win over North Tawton last weekend, which was only their second victory since promotion.
Head coach Dean Avery, who has returned to playing, is relishing this weekend’s game but knows his team have to tighten up defensively.
“Everyone is looking forward to it and pulling on that shirt,” said Avery.
“For us we are still conceding too many points. If we want to compete in this league we need we need to stop shipping points. We are scoring enough.”
Argaum are able to welcome back key backs Owen Gocher and Jake Turfrey.
The clubs will also play a second team match at King George V Playing Fields. That fixture will kick-off at 1.30pm.
Leaders Devonport Services II face a massive match this weekend when they travel to second-placed Torquay Athletic.
Services II have only been beaten once – a narrow 29-24 reverse at third-placed Barnstaple II. Torquay lost top spot last weekend by narrowly losing 16-12 at Withycombe.
“We should have a pretty strong twos side out this week,” said Services head coach Ben Russell.
“There’s a good mix – there’s a lot of youngsters in there with a few more experienced heads to help run the ship.
“We are doing all right and we are where we hoped to be.”
In the same division, bottom side Ivybridge II, who were boosted by a win over OPMs last weekend, host Exmouth II at Cross-in-Hand.
In Counties Two Cornwall, leaders Saltash will be looking for another home win when they host Newquay Hornets at Moorlands Lane.
The Hornets did move out of the bottom two last weekend by beating fellow strugglers Bodmin 22-12 at home.
Saltash welcome back captain Jay Moriarty after injury, but they are missing Devon Bennett-Murray. Frank Cozens coming into the Ashes’ starting line-up at lock.
TAMAR Saracens will be looking to bounce back from their first defeat of the season when they make the short trip to Horsham Fields to play city rivals Plymstock Albion Oaks II.
Sarries were beaten 10-14 last week by title-rivals Dartmouth, who scored in the last minute to take the victory.
“It was all our own doing, to be honest,” said Tamar Saracens head coach Mike Lewis.
“It was just one of those afternoons where everyone was up for it – but maybe too up for it.
“I think we got a bit nervous and were a bit scared. We said it at training on Tuesday, I think we were more scared to lose the game rather than more excited to win it.
“We just made some uncharacteristic errors really. It was just stuff we would do normally and that was the big difference.
“It was frustrating at the time and everyone was gutted, but to put things into perspective, having had a look back at it as a group on Tuesday we all just said ‘if we’d just done that instead of that we would have scored about 20 or 30 points’. That’s no disrespect to them, but we did create some chances but we just weren’t good at executing.
“We worked really hard to create those opportunities, but we just wasted them.
“It wasn’t a bad performance, but it wasn’t near our best really in terms of our finishing and clinicalness .
“But they (Dartmouth) did apply a good amount of pressure and we haven’t had a team press us that well this year.”
Lewis is expecting another tough test this week against mid-table Oaks II.
“Last year Oaks got beat convincingly every week but they always had a side and played with a smile on their faces. They have stuck it out and they deserve the results they have been getting this year.
“They could have a really good side out this weekend – it depends on who is available for them. We don’t know we are going to come up against, which is why we are not taking this game lightly.
“We know they are a side who can turn over anyone in this league on their day, but we just have to make sure it’s not us.
“Our boys are ready to try and put it right this weekend – just wrong those little errors. If we were just five or 10 per cent better we would have won that game.”
Sarries should welcome back Chad Smith, Greg Parrott and Scott Cooper, but Joe McKinley and Matt Trotter are missing.
Old Techs face a tough home game against third-placed Brixham II, who are keeping the pressure on Tamar Saracens and Dartmouth.
Techs had been on a four-game winning run, but were beaten away at Torquay Athletic last weekend.
“We had really good numbers at training last night – better than we’ve had in a long time,” said Techs’ Shaun Bedford-Smith.
“Even though we lost last Saturday no-one was disheartened and everyone enjoyed it.
“We actually played well. We were missing a lot of players but there were lots of positives.”
He added: “We are at home this weekend and I think it’s going to be a good game. It will be nice to see where we are.
“They (Brixham) have been doing all right. They have dropped down from the league above and by all accounts they have a very young side who are well-drilled and pretty quick. They are a big club so they will have some quality players.”
Techs should have a few players back including Josh O’Hare, Lewis Harvey and Ben Hockey.
After back-to-back wins Plympton Victoria will be on a high when they take on the fourth-placed Salcombe.
Salcombe last week hammered Tavistock II 53-12 so Plym Vic will know it is likely to be a tough match.
“They are another team that we have not played in a while,” said Plym Vic chairman Chris Hunt. “It will be a test, but it will be a chance to see how far we have come.
“We know it is going to be a pretty stiff challenge but we are looking forward to the game.
“At the moment we are just taking it game for game.”
In the same division, Tavistock II will field a much-changed team at home against Torquay Athletic II, while in Counties Three Cornwall, Saltash II visit St Austell III.