Familiar worries could hit Bridgers challenge
On the eve of the new rugby season, Herald Sports Writer Phil Stoneham considers the prospects for local clubs kicking off their campaigns in Western Counties West and the Cornwall-Devon League.
LAST SEASON: Third from bottom
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PLAYERS IN: Tim Walker (New Zealand)
PLAYERS OUT: Richard Young (Devonport Services)
ONE thing for sure is that Ivybridge's team who open their Western Counties West campaign at Penryn tomorrow will look nothing like the side who contest the rest of the season.
The list of missing players either on holiday, working or unavailable for some other reason could almost make a team.
Matt Lamont is shortly joining the Services, while forward Kelvin Trent and number 10 Tommy Newman are otherwise engaged in trying to get Ivybridge's cricket team promoted. Back Sam Kingscott and second row Scott Puleston – arguably one of the Bridgers' best players last year – are also unavailable.
Ivybridge's team are a rather intelligent lot, many of their promising colts players have passed their A-levels and are off to university.
On the up side, scrum-half Tim Walker, who played briefly and well for the club before disappearing to New Zealand for a year, has returned to Ivybridge and is looking good in training.
Assistant head coach Neil Thomson acknowledges that the South Hams club are up against a perennial problem when it comes to recruiting – they don't pay players, while a good many of this season's opponents do.
"Last year was always going to be a tough year for us after we got relegated from South West One," said Thomson. "But we did well to avoid relegation last year and we've now got to look up.
"I think teams will look at us as someone who should be beaten and that, I believe, could work to our advantage.
"We did well last season, because although we got beaten, we didn't get hammered by anyone and we learned a lot from it.
"We reckon that three-quarters of the teams in our league are semi-professional, but we want to stay as an amateur club, which obviously makes it difficult to attract players.
"But (head of rugby) Paul Setter and I have been pleased with the numbers at training. They've all trained well and they want to play."
GROUND: Sandy Park
LAST SEASON: Cornwall-Devon League champions
PLAYERS OUT: None
PLAYERS IN: William Gibbs (full-back, Teignmouth)
TAVISTOCK head coach Mike Lewis is targeting a top four or five finish in a highly competitive Western Counties West division – but he said that last season and his team finished as Cornwall-Devon champions.
Lewis is being realistic about Tavvy's chances. The moorlands team were relegated before being reborn as the side to beat in Cornwall-Devon and their preparation for the upcoming campaign has been erratic.
"We haven't had the best of pre-seasons," admitted Lewis. "We've had people away because of family matters, holidays and all that sort of thing.
"We were due to have a pre-season friendly at Wadebridge, but that got rained off, so it's all been a bit disjointed.
"It's a bit of a lottery going into the first three games of the season anyway. We've picked up a few injuries in training and the numbers have been down a bit. I've said to the players if it goes on like that, then we will be struggling.
"We've got the players with ability to do well, but we need to get that consistency going again and if that happens, I'm hoping for a top four or five finish. If not, somewhere mid-table.
"You've also got to remember that most of our boys are 19 or so, relatively inexperienced, yet they've got a championship under their belts, so they know what they've got to do."
Tavistock are at home tomorrow to Exeter Saracens, a possibly less difficult task than it could have been for the Cornwall-Devon champs' season opener. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the availability of some of Tavvy's squad, team selection is being delayed until nearer the game.
Lewis, who never takes any match for granted, said: "Saracens finished fourth or fifth from bottom last season. I had a little look at what they did last season and they looked pretty solid and maybe should have won more matches than they did.
"The season could go either way, but I'm looking forward to it."
GROUND: The Rectory
LAST SEASON: Fourth bottom
PLAYERS IN: Rocky Young and Declan Sexton (Ivybridge), Dylan Cossey (Devonport Warriors), Jason Stead (Brixham), Jack Martin (Plymouth Barbarians), Richard Hewitt (Paignton)
DEVONPORT Services have tried to add that little extra something that was missing from last season.
Services weren't that far off from competing with some of the division's heavy hitters, but still had what was, for them, a disappointing season.
To rugby chairman Dave Oakley, who recruited new head coach Bryan Crichton in place of the departed Trevor Brazier, that little something extra has to do with the morale of the team.
Oakley, who expressed himself pleased with the club's efforts during the summer break, said: "We have given ourselves three objectives for the forthcoming season.
"Firstly, we want to bring the spirit back into the club, a spirit that has been lacking of late. It has shown itself on the pitch and consequently the results have matched it.
"We felt that at times last season we were close to most teams but something was lacking."
Oakley added: "We have attracted quality players over the summer which has improved our second objective of increasing and improving our player base and creating a sustainable development path for our exciting young players.
"Our third objective is to continue to improve our facilities at the Rectory and our training facility in Keyham.
"Maintaining our deep service roots is also a factor that will bring us success.
"We had over 50 services players during last season from all corners of Plymouth."
Oakley added: "Four wins from four in pre-season friendlies has begun to help the players believe in what they are being taught both on and off the field.
"With what could have been a very difficult trip to Wellington this weekend, is now a challenge we cannot wait for.
"We have prepared well and with a full strength squad we will want to put down a marker of our intentions to the rest of the league."
Devonport Services: J Geraty, S Bennett, D Sexton, J Stead, R Young, N Stokes, S Bartlett, J Mellor, D Cossey, M Gregory, C Moore, N Wonnacott, M Morrison, M Anstis, H Elliott, C Attis, M Symes and B McGowan,