DEVON RFU will begin their Bill Beaumont County Championship campaign on Saturday when they travel to Cinderford to take on Gloucestershire (3pm).
The Green and Whites will be looking to build on last season when they got a long-awaited win in Cornwall.
A large number of last season’s squad have returned for this year’s campaign, but there are also some new faces in the team, like Plymouth Albion players John and Frank Kelly.
Fellow Albion player Dan Mugford, who last played for Devon as a teenager, has also made himself available for the county.
“After last season’s high of beating Cornwall down at Camborne it has made more people and clubs buy into Devon,” said head coach Dan Parkes.
“A few Albion lads have made themselves available this year, which helps lift the level up a bit further.
“We are really happy with the squad we have going to Gloucestershire.”
This will be Devon’s third season back in the top flight of county rugby and Parkes hopes they can keep improving.
“We want to win at least two out of our three games and we should be looking to try and get to Twickenham,” he said.
“Looking at our squad on paper, I’m very optimistic, and I think we can open a few eyes this year.
“We have also done very well with the fixtures this year as after Gloucestershire we have two matches at home.”
However, Parkes knows Gloucestershire will be tough to overcome at Cinderford. They have beaten Devon in the last two meetings.
“They have a lot of good clubs to choose from, like Cinderford, but Devon is also a massive rugby county and I have no doubt we can compete and put up a good battle on Saturday,” said Parkes.
Devon will be without captain Nathan Hannay for Saturday’s trip to Gloucestershire as he will be playing for his club, Honiton, in the RFU Senior Vase final at Twickenham the following day.
“We are missing a couple of players with Honiton at Twickenham, but we wish them all the best and hopefully they will be back the following week,” added Parkes.
Hannay said: “Devon asked me to captain the side again so I am disappointed to miss the first game. But I think the boys can do the job and I looking forward to joining up with them after Sunday.
“Last year was probably our most successful season for a long time and it is about just slowly progressing and building on those performances we had last year.”
After playing Gloucestershire away, Devon will have two home games against Hampshire and Cornwall. They will play Hampshire on Saturday, May 11 at Okehampton (3pm) and then host Cornwall at Brixham on Saturday, May 18 (2.30pm).
Devon: 15 Charlie Briant (Ivybridge), 14 Billy Pinkus (Ivybridge), 13 Rhys Palmer (Okehampton), 12 Mitch Pinkus (Brixham), 11 Frank Kelly (Plymouth Albion), 10 Tom Putt (Unattached), 9 Ben Watts (Ivybridge), 1 Matt Dowrick (Newton Abbot), 2 Ashlee Crouch (Plymouth Albion), 3 Matt Finn (Ivybridge), 4 Jamie Tripcony (Ivybridge), 5 John Kelly (Plymouth Albion), 6 Mark Friend (Devonport Services), 7 Wayne Sprangle (capt, Bridgwater), 8 Caleb Sampson (Barnstaple). Replacements: 16 Dean Avery (Unattached), 17 Oliver Schuster-Wood (Cullompton), 18 Charlie Tribble (Exmouth), 19 Ben King (Ivybridge), 20 Dan Mugford (Plymouth Albion), 21 Jacob Nash (Taunton), 22 Lewis Paterson (Ivyvbridge).